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Afghan promoter Abdul Wasi Sharifi desperate to flee country after Taliban makes MMA illegal in Afghanistan

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Abdul Wasi Sharifi is the head of Truly Grand Fighting Championship.
Photo via Abdul Wasi Sharifi

The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan shortly after the United States military withdrew from the country in August, leaving a trail of chaos and death that has also impacted the MMA world.

Scenes have gone viral online as Afghans attempted to break into airplanes in the Kabul airport to leave the country. One of the men desperately trying to flee the country was Abdul Wasi Sharifi, founder and CEO of Afghan MMA promotion Truly Grand Fighting Championship.

Speaking with MMA Fighting via text message from Kabul, Sharifi said “people are really worried about the Afghanistan situation which is getting worse day by day.”

“I know that many civil activists and journalists were arrested [Thursday] during demonstrations against the Pakistani interference and the Taliban is hitting them with sticks and wire line,” Sharifi wrote. “They also hit me when I was at the airport gate.”

Sharifi said he spent “a few nights” around the Kabul airport alongside fellow TGFC officials, but couldn’t enter the gates.

“We‘re trying to leave country ASAP and hopefully the MMA community around the world, specially the biggest MMA industry like UFC and other promotion, can help us to leave Afghanistan,” he said. “We are one in the combat community.”

The situation has become worse as time goes by, and Sharifi is shocked that the Afghan army wasn’t able to fight off the threats.

“When the U.S. army started leaving Afghanistan since 2014, we had a new president, Ashraf Ghani, who assured the Afghanistan people that he would make Afghanistan forces strong and they are able to protection their people and country and the last date for leaving Afghanistan for U.S. army was Sept. 11,” he said. “But before that, on end of July, the war between Taliban and Afghanistan National Army intensify while Afghanistan had 300,000 military, but Taliban made people shocked and entered the capital and took all Afghanistan under their control.

“Everybody was surprised how Afghan forces are being surrendered without resistance. And we were disappointed how weak forces we had and why our president and other politicians [left] our country.”

The head of TGFC has promoted 13 events between May 2018 and May 2021, mostly in Kabul, but is now unable to hold events for as long as the Taliban is controlling the country. Earlier this year, Brazilian MMA fighter Leonardo Barbosa revealed he threw a fight after bring threatened by a gunman during a TGFC event. Sharifi denied the allegations at the time.

“I’ve invested in this sport in Afghanistan and our show was the biggest in the country and region but Taliban is against MMA and they are adding that punching in the face is prohibited under their law,” he said. “And also that athletes should wear long trunks till under the knees.”

Sharifi is hoping that the United States will help in some way and allow him and his partners to leave the country. The first attempt of aid came from Australia as Jason Hoad, the president of Australian MMA promotion BEAST Championship, submitted a refugee and humanitarian visa application for Sharifi and three MMA fighters.

“He is a genuine amazing person and he was going to be launching BEAST Championship with TGFC and as soon as the Taliban seized power, I was instantly worried,” Hoad said. “As a veteran frontline soldier who has hunted the Taliban, I have seen their barbaric attacks first hand.”

Hoad said he will “get them involved with BEAST Championship in any capacity I can” if the group make it to Australia.

“Knowing their ruthless intolerance with any kind of sport I immediately worried for Sharifi and other MMA athletes,” he said. “I message Sharifi every couple of hours to make sure his keeping low and on the move.”

Taliban hasn’t been in control of Afghanistan for the past few years but that doesn’t mean they had no power over those in the country. According to Sharifi, death treats had been made towards him after he promoted women’s MMA and boxing bouts years ago.

“We are not able to organize MMA shows in Afghanistan now,” Sharifi said. “I organized a women’s MMA show two years ago and received many letter threats and phone calls from Taliban regime to stop girls events and models in the show. We didn’t stop our shows, and again organized women’s shows live on TV.”

With “face-punching” now illegal under the Taliban regime, MMA is basically banned from Afghanistan until further notice. Sharifi had to cancel a Road to TGFC event in August due to threats from the group, he said.

“Their law also prohibits organizing [fights] in the cage,” Sharifi said. “It’s a serious matter. According to them, humans are not like animal to compete in the cage. … My team are talking with Taliban and they denied [doing the event] with serious conversations. There is no role for MMA from their side.

“I’ve received calls from an unknown number talking trash to me, saying that I’m not a Muslim, that I was making obscenities in the country, and it was not good for me and my family to do it again. I posted the video and photos [online] and it made the situation very serious for me. I received a threat letter and so many calls. I was not going out for a few days and was scared, then I deleted the video and photos.”

“I organized another women’s event in 2019,” he continued. “But this time it was a pro boxing event, and I faced with the same situation. I couldn’t organize any other event because they continued their threats until I cancelled a women’s fight from TGFC 12. They were threatening to kill me if I don’t cancel the women’s fight on TV. MMA for women is prohibited here and no one has courage to open the gym for them.”