Ariel Helwani: Usman, Gaethje, & Cejudo Visiting Kadyrov Is “Disappointing”

MMA reporter Ariel Helwani has reacted after Kamaru Usman, Henry Cejudo, and Justin Gaethje traveled to Chechnya at the invitation of controversial leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

The link between sports and politics has long created debate, and the topic has risen close to the surface in recent times owing to the 2022 FIFA World Cup‘s host nation, with Qatar accused of multiple human rights violations regarding the migrant workers used to build stadiums and the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.

But while soccer may currently be on the discussion’s agenda, mixed martial arts’ often-debated connection to controversial topics has also been prevalent in 2022, largely in relation to Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic.

The leader has been accused of well-documented human rights abuses in the past, including executions, torture, and attempts to rid the region of homosexuality.

Despite that, a group of successful MMA stars recently drew negative headlines after accepting an invitation from Kadyrov to attend a special forces facility in Chechnya. Usman, Cejudo, and Gaethje are all managed by Dominance MMA CEO Ali Abdelaziz.

A number of media members have spoken out against those in MMA who enable Kadyrov’s attempts at sportswashing, including Helwani.

Previously, the Canadian has addressed the presence of Kadyrov’s son at UFC 280. Ali Kadyrov attended alongside Chechen-born Swede Khamzat Chimaev, and was seen taking pictures with the likes of Daniel Cormier and Dana White.

Helwani has now expressed his disappointment at the latest incident, which came at a time when attention on the region’s actions is at an all-time high owing to Kadyrov’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Helwani: “There Are No Excuses Now”

During a Q&A session on the most recent episode of The MMA Hour, host Ariel Helwani was asked about the group of Dominance-managed athletes making the trip to Chechnya and testing out firearms at a facility that trains special forces prior to joining the Russian army.

Given the nation that former UFC welterweight champion Usman, former two-division titleholder Cejudo, and high-ranked lightweight contender Gaethje all represent and the flag they fly, Helwani questioned what they were thinking when they agreed to the visit.

“I have talked about his (Kadyrov’s) involvement in the sport, and I have talked about some of his, shall we say, conflicts and uncomfortable storylines, to put it mildly, associated with the sport,” Helwani said. “I will also say, when I saw the video, and the footage, and the photos of those three fighters in particular… disappointing.

“Given everything going on in the world right now — and given how this country, whom they are proud citizens of, who the likes of Henry Cejudo has represented on the world stage, who the likes of Justin Gaethje walks to his fights holding the flag of, who the likes of Kamaru Usman have said gave him and his family a batter life,” Helwani pointed out. “In this climate, to go over there and partake in this stuff when this country views that individual as a war criminal, a dictator… what are you thinking?”

In terms of the current climate, Helwani is seemingly referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As well as being a supporter of the war, which has resulted in Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War ll, Kadyrov and his son were filmed with apparent Ukrainian prisoners of war just days before Ali had a cageside seat for Islam Makhachev‘s title crowning in Abu Dhabi.

With that in mind, Helwani insisted that there’s no excuses for accepting such an invitation.

“There are no excuses now,” Helwani said. “What will you do for a dollar? How far will you go? We know the answer as it pertains to certain people, and it’s disappointing, to say the least. I guarantee a lot of fighters would say no to this… This sport is filled with questionable characters.”

Helwani: “What Do You Want MMA Media To Do?”

Ariel Helwani did, however, question some of the responses to the latest incident, which saw his name come up among some fans’ criticism of how the MMA media responds to such actions from fighters.

While the Canadian insisted that he’ll always call athletes out, he noted that he can’t dedicate his entire coverage to the negative side of the sport, especially when so many great characters also exist in it.

“I saw someone on Twitter say, ‘Ariel doesn’t have the balls to talk about this because he’s afraid of losing access to all these fighters.’ Do you realize how dumb you are?” Helwani stated. “I haven’t had access to his (Abdelaziz’s) fighters, other than the ones who are able to stick up… since 2019. I don’t give a f*ck.

“What do you want me to do? What do you want the MMA media to do? I guarantee you, even this clip right here, people will be like, ‘Look at this spineless coward!’ Only in this sport, it seems like… you want everyone to cover every aspect of the sport… Let me be clear, it’s incredibly disappointing, it’s disheartening. I wish it wasn’t the case,” Helwani concluded.

What did you make of Usman, Cejudo, and Gaethje’s decision to travel to Chechnya at the invitation of Ramzan Kadyrov?

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