Heroic Hasbulla: How a Russian internet sensation landed a UFC contract and earned worldwide fame
Dagestani social media star Hasbulla Magomedov has struck a five-year deal with the UFC. It was officially confirmed the other day by the organization’s boss, Dana White: “Yes, we did sign Hasbulla. What he’s going to end up doing remains to be seen.”
He also teased on Twitter that Hasbulla would easily take on former two-weight world champion Conor McGregor: “He [Conor] shouldn’t f*ck around because he will get his ass whooped if he runs into him [Hasbulla] on the streets.”
The statement was White’s reaction to Hasbulla’s recent altercation with McGregor, who tweeted earlier: “I would love to boot that little g*mp Hasbulla over a goal post. How much to get him on the volley?” Although Conor later deleted the tweet, Hasbulla had a chance to respond:
“Hey uncle Dana White and UFC please make it happen. Let me eat this chicken Conor McGregor. I am hungry, I will smash him with my mountain spirit. My brother Khabib Nurmagomedov smashed him and all his team, now is my time to rise!”
Magomedov has never lost a fight – though, to be fair, he hasn’t had any, yet. He is no ordinary UFC fighter: his weight (less than 20 kilograms/44 pounds) is about the third of the lightest UFC weight class, and his height is no more than 93 cm (3 ft). Although Magomedov is unlikely to fight in the octagon, his uniform and merchandise are already available on the UFC website. How was this small guy from Dagestan, who does not even speak English, able to reach stardom?
Rise of a young eagle
Little is known about Hasbulla’s childhood years. His exact date of birth is unknown, but he is believed to be about 20 years old. Born in Dagestan, Hasbulla was affected by an unknown disorder that halted his physical development at the age of five. According to Hasbulla himself, he was shown to multiple doctors, but not one was able to make a clear diagnosis. Despite his childlike appearance, mentally he matches his actual age. Hasbulla always asks to be called by his full name, without diminutive suffixes.
Hasbulla first gained popularity by posting a TikTok video of himself eating strawberries and commenting on it:
Strawberries are the bomb, honestly!
The video first went viral in Dagestan, then took the rest of Russia by storm. In the TikTok clips that followed, Magomedov kept eating things on camera and making funny remarks about the process. Strawberries were followed by other fruits and vegetables: watermelon, cucumber, and raspberries.
Ever since his childhood, however, Magomedov’s real passion has been martial arts. There are several videos of him fighting with children – though much younger than Hasbulla, they were in his weight class. When his TikTok videos made it to the English-language part of the web, Hasbulla came to be known as ‘Mini Khabib’, in reference to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dagestan’s most popular UFC fighter. Hasbulla feels this connection to Khabib is important to him: He has even called himself “the second eagle of Dagestan after Khabib Nurmagomedov” and stressed that he trains in the same gym as the former UFC champion.
Hasbulla has no trainer and there are no videos of his professional bouts to assess his fighting skills. The popular Chechen MMA blogger Askhab Tamayev said in his video about Magomedov’s training that he saw the young man winning against “two other guys who were pretty good.” He didn’t show the recording, claiming “YouTube will probably block it.” Later in his blog, he mentioned a few times that he could not upload Hasbulla’s fights on the platform because of the man’s unconventional appearance, inviting his viewers to subscribe to his Instagram account instead.
In one of Tamayev’s videos, Hasbulla declared he was ready to fight anyone in his weight class if the money was right. At the time, he was ready to fight for around $1,500. The Tajik singer Abdu Rozik accepted his challenge.
Friend, foe, and opponent
Abdu Rozik is a year younger than Hasbulla and shares his disorder. His parents sent him to school when he was only 12 years old out of fear a car could hit him or grazing cattle attack him on his way to school.
Organizing the fight between Hasbulla and Abdu Rozik was Askhab Tamayev, who had prior experience in organizing amateur MMA fights. By then, he’d already had a few video collaborations with Hasbulla, paying him around $300 for each. Initially, the prize was set at around $15,000, but after seeing the attention the event drew, each fighter was promised a fixed sum a few times larger than that.
Hasbulla’s true fame came after his press conference with Abdu Rozik in May 2021. As of today, the video has around 17.5 million views, which is half a million more than the Connor–Khabib conference achieved over four years. The popularity of the video benefited all parties. For Hasbulla, he enjoyed more invitations to Tamayev’s blog, this time for around $8,000 per video.
The rivalry of the pair made waves well beyond Russia’s borders, eventually reaching Dana White, the UFC President. At some point, he even proposed organizing the fight under the auspices of the UFC.
Tamayev said the conference was taking place the day before the fight, but even though six months have passed since then, the fight still hasn’t happened. Hasbulla has repeatedly stated he is ready to fight at any time, but his opponent is chickening out. Abdu Rozik has been saying the same about Hasbulla, comparing him to Conor McGregor, who is famous for his trash talk.
Another reason the eagerly-anticipated fight may have been called off might be Hasbulla’s falling out with Ashab. Little is known about the conflict for certain, although Tamaev has alluded to the corrupting influence of money and fame on Magomedov.
Prior to his press conference with Abdu Rozik, Hasbulla had agreed to fight him for 100,000 rubles ($1,620). He later hiked that sum to 20 million (about $325,000). Hasbulla openly admitted he was only going to fight Abdu Rozik for money. As his popularity grew, so did his financial appetite. Still, in spite of his apparent success, Hasbulla’s parents disapprove of his choices and say Muslims shouldn’t fight each other, with or without getting paid.
Ashab Tamaev’s YouTube channel launched Hasbulla’s personal brand, turning him from a little-known TikTok personality into a Russia-wide phenomenon. The rest was Magomedov’s own work.
A small community
Even though the fight fell through, it generated a lot of hype. Hasbulla’s clash with Abdu Rozik was covered by major media outlets, with journalists and experts debating, among other things, the ethical aspects of the situation. Ulyana Podpalnaya, the head of the Russian Dwarf Athletic Association, denounced the fight, calling it a “show meant for laughter,” evidently alluding to the historical practice of using dwarves and other smaller people as jesters in the courts of aristocrats.
“This is not even an exhibition fight. They are paid a lot of money to do a show, so that people can have a laugh. There is nothing serious about this, this is not a sport. I’d say it’s unethical, it’s wrong. An event like that does not attract attention to dwarf athletics,” she said.
Hasbulla was not the first blogger with a growth hormone deficiency. Abdu Rozik created his Instagram account about six months earlier. Their standoff has contributed to the visibility of other people with similar conditions. Erali, an Uzbek blogger, has challenged both Hasbulla and Abdu Rozik, saying he can take them on. In his recorded address, he said he wanted to “raise Uzbekistan’s standing” and give both his opponents “an Uzbek chapalak” [slap on the face].
He did get to meet Hasbulla and Abdu Rozik and had a mock fight with the latter wearing full-sized boxing gloves. His fight with Hasbulla, however, was genuine and was quickly broken up. Since the amount of Instagram followers he has is only a fraction of those of Hasbulla and Abdu Rozik, Erali has failed to catch up to his older colleagues so far. Moreover, the Uzbek blogger has complained about his compatriots siding with his Dagestani opponent.
“I need your support, and you’re telling me Hasbik will beat me up and win. Such words make my blood boil. I promise you I will defeat him!” he said.
Businessman, Muslim, and Dangerous Man
Hasbulla’s popularity climbed along with the NFT market. The OpenSea platform has generated the Crypto Hasbulla collection – a set of the blogger’s images in which he is pictured as various celebrities and fictional characters. Each portrait is hand drawn, and there is a limited number of them – 10,000 pieces. Hasbulla has been promoting his tokens, selling the equivalent of $2 million as of April 2022. His customers have formed a community, and members get a chance to meet the blogger during his travels around the world. In September, he toured Australia, and his plan for 2023 is to visit the US, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, the UK, Europe and other countries. The creators of Crypto Hasbulla have said this is the first time a celebrity has built an offline community through blockchain and NFT technology.
Hasbulla is a devout Muslim. He studies the Koran and regularly conducts a Mecca pilgrimage. But his religious background doesn’t get in the way of his cultural connection with his fans in the West. He is active in his social media accounts and open to working with bloggers from different countries. Hasbulla’s childlike face has charmed many. He doesn’t look threatening to a Western audience, unlike Khabib, for example.
Nevertheless, Hasbulla has often been criticized for his discriminating views. In December 2021, he threatened the girl who posted a picture of his twin sister, and demanded an apology from her. When responding to TikTok bloggers in his stories, he defended domestic abuse, saying that “women are dangerous” and physical violence is justified. Magomedov’s account was blocked the next day. Then owners of the clinic where the blogger’s sister was filmed posted their apology. Despite his non-threatening appearance, Hasbulla looked quite scary when he told his haters that they should expect a visit from some “brothers” – his fighter friends. Hasbulla knows Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya – he was the one who settled the conflict between Tamayev and Hasbulla, siding with Magomedov.
Hasbulla has been able to scale his popularity. When asked about future plans in a recent interview, he said he wanted to start his own business and help the needy from the profits. Hasbulla also claimed he wanted to head Dagestan’s police someday and run his “motorcade all over the place.” According to Magomedov, after he gets the job, he will “raise hell in the city” and organize a parade for his haters. He would also lower the speed limit for residential areas and increase it on highways, let people drive without license plates, and remove all traffic cameras along with the “rats who take pictures of violations and send them to cops.”
What kind of future awaits Hasbulla?
Hasbulla’s plans may seem funny, but as Khabib Nurmagomedov has shown, a public figure can easily enter the political scene if they’re backed by social capital. Khabib has made many statements throughout his career on Dagestan’s social problems and put his status to good use by getting involved in the life of the region, especially its cultural aspects.
He voiced his support of the hate campaign targeting the Black Star record label performers, whose songs, according to the mixed martial artist, go against the teachings of Islam. Nurmagomedov said that “every scumbag will answer for their words,” because the men of Dagestan are responsible for the ethical purity of the region and won’t tolerate some “conceited fags with dubious ambitions.” The MMA champion also urged the Dagestani government to check the ‘Hunting For Men’ play for compliance with the law, as he strongly feels it is offensive to the people of Dagestan. Following his public remarks on the subject, the actors performing in the play received threats and were forced to apologize.
Just like Khabib, Hasbulla has used his social media stories to address the people of Dagestan on many occasions. On New Year’s Eve, he posted a photograph of a crowded square in Dagestan with the caption, “Come to the mosque at least like that. Crazy imam.” He also posted a photo of a flock of sheep on a pasture, alluding to a similarity between the animals and the festive crowd.
Hasbulla has recently started giving interviews to English-language outlets. But since his English skills are almost nonexistent, he usually asks his ‘brothers’ to interpret for him. And even with their help, the language barrier prevents him from giving anything other than one-word answers to even the most basic questions.
Hasbulla is very cautious in his political comments. But, unlike his older friend Khabib, he did offer his opinion on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. On the day that the special military operation kicked off, he posted a photo of himself on a tank in his Instagram stories, accompanied by a caption apparently addressed to Ukrainians – “Take care, I’m coming for you.”
Putin, what a lion you are,” he added.
When asked about his own peace-keeping potential, he usually says, “I wish for all this to end and for us to live in peace and friendship, but we have other people dealing with this, let them sort it all out.”