As a sport, MMA is right up there with Football in terms of acknowledging that some people’s sexual preferences step outside of the traditional Biblical sense – at this point in time, there are only a handful of openly ‘out-and-proud’ fighters, and most of those are women. Obviously, fighting is a fairly macho pursuit, but the MMA community has, for the most part, been fairly accepting of the LGBT fighters in it’s midst.
Enter rising Russian/Chechen promotion, Absolute Championship Berkut. ACB has seen a phenomenal rise in popularity since they have begun putting on shows all across Europe, branching out into the UK with events in Manchester and Glasgow that have brought together the top UK fighters to compete against some of the best in Europe, and co-operate with a number of European promotions to exchange fighters.
The promotion is owned by Chechen native, Mairbek Khasiev, who founded the Fight Club Berkut in Grozny, back in 2009 and, under his guidance, it has grown into ACB MMA and the Berkut BJJ Invitational grappling competition. Khasiev himself is massive MMA fan and an avid BJJ practioner, who holds the rank of purple belt and earned a silver medal at the 2015 IBJJF European Open at blue belt Master.
ACB is a promotion that very much lives by it’s own rules, and is no stranger to controversy – earlier this year, most UK referees boycotted their Manchester show after the promotion decided to overturn a refereeing decision in favour of a domestic ACB fighter and, several months ago, Khasiev was forced to cancel ACB 59 after inciting racial tensions by calling Ossetians “Iranian Jews” during a social media rant.
More recently, Mairbek has found himself under fire for turning down a sponsorship deal with US sporting apparel giant, Nike. The negotiations between the two companies were at an advanced stage and a deal was close to being struck for sponsorship of the league when someone pointed out to Khasiev the fact that Nike are staunchly pro-LGBT rights.
At this point in time, Chechnya is not the best place to be a gay man – recent ‘purges’ under Ramzan Kadyrov have allegedly seen people kidnapped, incarcerated, tortured and executed and Nike’s open stance is deeply at odds with Khasiev’s own philosophy.
Posting on instagram, he explained his reasons for not working with Nike; “‘Women were created for men and men for women. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? If we allow gay marriage, a man worse than an animal.’ – Manny Pacquiao said. After these words, Nike broke a contract with Manny!!! Friends, for a few months we have had negotiations for a Nike sponsorship with ACB but after such a demarche on the part of well-known company, I consider it beneath our dignity to have any relationship with them! I add to all this one expression – “Sometimes the devil is afraid of the thoughts within a f****t’s head.”
Here, in the UK, it’s easy to forget that this nation of ours is a lot more progressive and liberal than current political alliances/newspaper headlines might suggest, but that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is some proper stone cold cave-man shit.