I doubt many MMA fans were expecting Sean O’Malley to be a shining example of moral virtue, but he seems to be one of the few guys on the UFC roster willing to shut down an invite from Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov has been sanctioned multiple times by the U.S. government and European Union for “numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.”
That hasn’t stopped numerous fighters from cozying up to the warlord. Chechen native Khamzat Chimaev has regularly appeared in videos training alongside Kadyrov and his sons. Kadyrov even attended Chimaev’s wedding in May and released the only official footage from the event.
Then there’s a more recent visit to Chechnya by Kamaru Usman, Justin Gaethje and Henry Cejudo at the end of November. Footage from that visit showed the former UFC welterweight champion shooting guns at a facility used to train soldiers on their way to war in Ukraine. All that was part of a birthday celebration for one of Kadyrov’s sons, and apparently Sean O’Malley got a similar invite.
“The reason we never really ended up going [to Chechnya] is because we were saying like, who is this for? And then we didn’t really get an answer,” O’Malley said in a recent video on his YouTube channel (via Sportskeeda). “So, I’m like, ‘F— that!’ Imran [Jawaid], you know, I listen to Imran’s advice and Imran was like, ‘Hey, I don’t have a good feeling about this. Let’s not move forward with that.’”
Imran Jawaid is the CEO of combat sports equipment company Sanabul and is one of O’Malley’s business advisors.
“They went over to Chechnya,” O’Malley continued, referring to Usman, Gaethje, and Cejudo. “And the guy [Kadyrov] is a murderer, basically. The top dog. Like, best friends with Putin. He’s not a good person, and that’s who they went there, to his kid’s birthday party. And, that’s where I got invited to go. And, yeah, I’ve heard that they’re getting some backlash for going.”
Kadyrov has long used mixed martial arts as one of the rallying points for his base, and is known to splash local and international fighters with cash and gifts so long as they’re willing to participate in a little social media sportswashing.
He’s also been known to come down hard on detractors in his sphere of influence. In 2016 he was accused of being responsible for an incident where Fedor Emelianenko’s daughter was attacked and hospitalized. Emelianenko had publicly criticized the Chechen leader for holding MMA fights involving children under 10.
Shortly after the birthday visit from UFC fighters, the New York Times did a deep dive on fighters continuing to associate with Kadyrov. The Times wrote that the U.S. State Department was aware that UFC fighters were hobnobbing with Kadyrov, and noted that several fighters in his orbit were finding themselves unable to secure a visa to enter the United States.