Several top prospects may be affected by U.S. sanctions on Kadyrov’s MMA institutions

From left to right: Salamu Abdurakhmanov (ACA middleweight champion), Alikhan Vakhaev (ACA light heavyweight), Chersi Dudaev (ACA welterweight), Abdul Rakhman Dudaev (ACA featherweight title challenger), Imran Bukuev (ACA flyweight), Abuzayed Vismuradov (Kadyrov's right hand and President of Akhmat MMA), Magomed Bibulatov (UFC veteran), Beslan Ushukov (ACA welterweight), and Abubakar Vagaev (top-ranked ACA welterweight). Credit: Abdul Rakhman Dudaev, Instagram.

On Thursday, the United States Department of the Treasury announced a significant slate of increased sanctions against Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kadyrov, who is accused of “serious human rights abuses” including “kidnapping, torturing, and killing members of the LGBTI population in the Chechen Republic,” is a major player in the global MMA landscape.

A strongman who has used his territory’s incredible wealth of top combat sports athletes as part of what is known as a ‘sportswashing’ campaign, “a term used to describe corrupt or authoritarian regimes who use sport and sports events to whitewash their image internationally,” according to CNN.

Kadyrov built an “8000 square meter,” state-of-the-art MMA facility, Akhmat Fight Club, as the home to his own MMA team, Akhmat MMA. The gym has produced several UFC talents, including Maxim Grishin (31-8-2), Abdul-Kerim Edilov (17-4), Magomed Ankalaev (14-1), Said Nurmagomedov (14-2), and Liana Jojua (8-4), and an array of high-profile combat sports stars have visited the gym.

In late 2018, Kadyrov’s own MMA promotion, World Fighting Championship Akhmat (WFCA), merged with Russian powerhouse Absolute Championship Berkut (ACB) to form Absolute Championship Akhmat (ACA). The resulting, consolidated organization boasted a world-class roster of athletes — mainly comprised of Russian competitors, though many nations throughout Europe and the wider world were represented, too — and developed a reputation for all-action events replete with highlight-reel finishes galore.

Both Akhmat MMA and ACA were included in the recent wave of Global Magnitsky sanctions, with the Dept. of the Treasury stating that both — among six total entities listed — “continue to provide Kadyrov pride and significant profit.”

The implications of the sanctions levied by the U.S. federal government are as follows, per the release:

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the persons above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to [Office of Foreign Assets Control, (OFAC)]. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.”

Of note are the clauses indicating that “OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons,” likely rendering ACA’s pay-per-view business model in the U.S. an impossibility, and that “The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person,” which likely bars athletes of American origin or in the U.S. from having an affiliation with Akhmat MMA or Kadyrov, or fighting in ACA.

This may preclude fighters affiliated with ACA or Akhmat MMA from relocating to the United States for training, as well as fighters looking to sign with a U.S.-based promotion.

On ACA’s official website, at least five American athletes — including the promotion’s newly-crowned heavyweight champion, Tony Johnson Jr. — appear on the roster.

Below are some of the top prospects likely to be affected by the sanctions listed above, in that if they remain affiliated with either the Akhmat FC gym or the ACA promotion, they may be in violation of the terms levied by the federal government.

Abdul-Rakhman Dudaev (24-6)

Former ACB and WFCA bantamweight champion and two-time ACA title challenger Abdul-Rakhman Dudaev quickly made a name for himself on the Russian MMA scene as a force with which to be reckoned.

The 5’5″ 28-year-old pairs a creative striking game and lightning-quick submission skills with uncanny athleticism, coming at his opponents like a whirlwind before locking up his patented guillotine choke.

Prone to spinning attacks and flying knees, Dudaev’s arsenal on the feet is both effective and enticing, but his grappling savvy is the true story of his rise to the top of the Russian bantamweight divisions.

A product of Akhmat FC, Dudaev has faced the likes of now-PFL standout Movlid Khaybulaev, stablemate Said Nurmagomedov, Bellator mainstay Joe Taimanglo, and the stout Oleg Borisov during his career.

In his two title appearances, he came up short to renowned undefeated prospect Rustam Kerimov (14-0) and current ACA kingpin, Brazil’s Daniel Oliveira (28-7-1) in wildly entertaining and back-and-forth affairs.

Today, Dudaev is listed as the third-ranked bantamweight in all of Russia, according to fight database Tapology. He would be a boon to any major promotion but may face additional difficulties following the latest degree of scrutiny placed on Kadyrov.

Salamu Abdurakhmanov (12-1)

The reigning ACA and former WFCA middleweight champion, Salamu Abdurakhmanov (12-1) may well be one of the best prospects in the world at 185 pounds.

The 28-year-old Russian standout has faced a strong slate of opposition since capturing the WFCA title in 2016, including the likes of Ultimate Fighter and UFC veteran Delson Heleno (30-11), then-undefeated prospect Shamil Abdulaev (12-1), Bellator mainstay Brett Cooper (27-15), and M-1 Challenge destroyer Valery Myasnikov (15-2-2).

While poised and ever-improving as a striker — and with heavy hands, to boot — Abdurakhmanov is most comfortable on the canvas, where he has five submissions. In his most recent bouts against Cooper and Myasnikov, Abdurakhmanov showed off his positional control and opportunism, locking in a D’arce choke to put Cooper to sleep and a rear-naked choke to force Myashnikov’s submission.

Riding a seven-fight winning streak and looking better and better each time he makes the walk to the ACA cage, Salamu Abdurakhmanov is easily one of the sport’s blue-chip prospects in the middleweight division. With Magomed Ismailov’s promotional future uncertain and Artem Frolov’s ACA 155 loss, a title defense against third-ranked Nikola Dipchikov may be on the horizon.

Abubakar Vagaev (19-3)

Akhmat Fight Club product Abubakar Vagaev (19-3), 27, is yet another prospect whom the U.S.’s sanctions against Kadyrov might affect.

The 6′ welterweight, who currently fights for ACA, has in the past challenged for the WFCA welterweight title. Vagaev sports a low finishing rate of just 26%, but his caliber of opposition has been strong.

Vagaev has defeated the likes of European MMA mainstay Yasubey Enomoto (20-12) — who he defeated in his last fight, avenging his first career loss — backflipping UFC star Michel Pereira (24-11), and Bellator veteran Fernando Gonzalez (28-18), among others. Vagaev’s last loss came in 2018 at the hands of then-WFCA and now-ACA welterweight champion Murad Abdulaev (20-7).

Today, Vagaev rides a three-fight winning streak that saw him even the score with Enomoto in the co-main event of October’s ACA 112. Given the history between Vagaev and Abdulaev and Vagaev’s top-ranked status in the official ACA rankings, a title rematch should be next for the Kadyrovite.

Apti Bimarzaev (16-3)

Tapology’s second-ranked Russian featherweight, Bimarzaev’s eight knockouts and extensive twelve-fight winning streak put him in a prime position for a title fight on the horizon. With Bimarzaev ranked fourth in the ACA rankings, a championship match against Brazilian titleholder Felipe Froes (18-4-1) beckons.