Mma superstar nurmagomedov: islamist cage fighter

Former MMA great Khabib Nurmagomedov lashes out at France’s President Emmanuel Macron with hate mail after his plea for Western values.

Invoking the punishing God: martial arts superstar Nurmagomedov is out for revenge Photo: Mahmoud Khaled/dpa

Anyone who has surfed Russian sports portals in recent years has seen a great many posts about soccer, many ice hockey stories, news from the world of figure skating and, alongside all that, a conspicuous number of reports about a certain Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The martial artist, who over the years has become one of the most successful professionals in the mixed martial arts spectacle of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), was already a big deal in Russia before he defeated the UFC’s biggest star to date, Irishman Connor McGregor, in 2018. 25 million fans follow the man from the Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Instagram. By comparison, the most popular Russian soccer player, Artyom Dzyuba, is followed by 1.2 million fans.

More than 3.5 million people have now tagged an Instagram post by Nurmagomedov with a little heart showing French President Emmanuel Macron with a black footprint on his face. The text added: "May the Almighty disfigure the face of this creature and all its supporters who, under the slogan of freedom of expression, hurt the feelings of more than one and a half billion Muslims."

It was Nurmagomedov’s reaction to the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty. After this crime, the French president had called for unconditional defense of freedom of expression. One of these is the cartoons from the magazine Charlie Hebdo, which are so deliciously critical of religion and which the teacher Samuel Paty had discussed in his lessons.

Beating up as a purpose in life

Just one day later, Nurmagomedov followed up with another post: "And may Allah punish all those who violate the honor of the best people of the Prophet Mohammed." Nurmagomedov had declared his combat sports career over after winning his 29th UFC fight in late October. After the success against the US-American Justin Gaethje, the hearts of the combat sports world had flown to the Russian. The tears he shed after the victory and his farewell speech, in which he remembered his recently deceased father and coach Abdulmanap, provided a heartbreak story that caused a stir beyond the combat sports scene.

His latest hate postings are now reminiscent of the sinister image Nurmagomedov gave after his fight against McGregor. There he pounced on attendants of his competitor and tried to beat them up. In Russia he was celebrated for it. President Vladimir Putin received the fighter and showed understanding for his outburst.

The fact that Nurmagomedov had already developed a closeness to radical Islam did not bother Putin. The fighter became known in his native Dagestan as a preacher of a pure Islamic life at the latest when he supported the religiously motivated protests that led to the cancellation of a concert by Russian rapper Egor Kreed in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala. His closeness to Ramzan Kadyrov, the openly Islamist president of the Russian republic of Chechnya, was no longer a secret. The fact that the mufti of Chechnya, Salah Haji Meshiev, is now celebrating the fighter from Dagestan for his statement against Macron fits the picture.

Kadyrov has also taken a stand against Macron. For this, he has caught a rebuke from the Kremlin, which has reminded him that foreign policy is not the business of regional princes. Kadyrov doesn’t care, and he continues to blithely agitate against Macron on his Telegram channel. Meanwhile, Austrian MMA fighter Mairbek Taisumov, who hails from Chechnya and has also fought in the UFC, posts videos of dinner with Kadyrov. And just as Islamism threatens to slip away from the Russian president in his Caucasus republics, it is making its way into the combat sports scene.

The new Islamist sports movement has also reached the Russian Premier League in soccer. Resiuan Mirsov of the Moscow suburban club Khimki shared Nurmagomedov’s Instagram post. His club has summoned him to report.