Khabib attacks Macron: From rows with rappers to rage over ‘filth’ at the theater, UFC champ has never been shy to voice beliefs
Football star Antonio Rudiger became the latest notable name to be dragged into the furor this week, when he was forced to distance himself from a ‘like’ he had placed on an Instagram post by Khabib in which the UFC lightweight champion attacked Macron over his comments on Islam.
"I reject any kind of violence and would therefore like to distance myself clearly from this content,” said a contrite Rudiger.
"I apologize for this like, which I have withdrawn in the meantime. Of course I do not support content such as this."Also on rt.com 'I reject ANY kind of violence': Chelsea ace Rudiger SORRY for liking UFC champ Khabib's threat to Macron over remarks about Islam
The post in question from Khabib savaged Macron for defending satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it published images of the Prophet Muhammad – something strictly forbidden under traditional Islamic beliefs.
The message from Khabib – which remains on his Instagram page, and in which he referred to Macron by a term which can be translated as ‘scum’ – was accompanied by an image of the French leader with a boot mark imprinted across his face.
Rudiger was not the only footballer to receive censure for ‘liking’ the message or a similar one later posted by Khabib in which he took aim at the “enemies” of Islam who “under the pretext of freedom of speech are trying to offend the feelings of hundreds of millions of believers around the world by drawing cartoons of the best of people.”
French World Cup winner and Paris Saint-Germain star Presnel Kimpembe faced calls from MPs in his homeland to be booted out of the national team after he also ‘liked’ the post by Khabib.
“I play sports, not politics. I don’t speak Russian either. I strongly condemn terrorism, all forms of violence without reservation, and all nauseating attempts at manipulation,” Kimpembe said in his defense.Also on rt.com ‘He supports jihadism’: French politician calls for Kimpembe to be left out of national team for ‘liking’ Khabib’s post
Khabib, meanwhile, has shown no sign of backing away from his attack – indeed, the fact that he launched his tirade at Macron should come as little surprise.
This is a man who proudly displays his religion in everything he does: from his customary glance upwards to honor Allah at his weigh-ins and fights, to his frequent religious messages posted to his more than 25 million Instagram followers.
‘Inshallah’ – God willing – is an exclamation frequently heard at Khabib’s press conference appearances; perceived insults to his religion were what partly fueled Khabib's rage towards Conor McGregor and his team during their incendiary encounter in Las Vegas back in 2018.
Khabib’s devout beliefs stem from his upbringing in Dagestan in Russia’s North Caucasus – a Muslim majority region – and have helped bolster his appeal as one of the most popular sports stars among fellow believers.
The 32-year-old is a fighter not only feted by those in his homeland such as President Vladimir Putin, but also key Middle Eastern figures including Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the crown prince of Dubai.
Both of Khabib’s last two fights have come in Abu Dhabi – the scene of his retirement revelation last month at UFC 254 after defeating interim lightweight title holder Justin Gaethje.
That victory and subsequent emotional announcement that he was calling time on his octagon career – honoring a vow he made to his mother following the tragic death of his father and trainer Abdulmanap earlier this year – served to propel Khabib’s fame even further into the stratosphere.
Among the likes of Liverpool and Egypt footballing superstar Mohammed Salah, Khabib is one of the Muslim world’s most prominent sports personalities.
But anyone expecting Khabib to go off quietly into the sunset after his supposed retirement is seriously mistaken – as he proved with his polemic against Macron.
The attack on the French leader is far from the first time Khabib has become embroiled in rows over his beliefs.
Back in 2018, the UFC star was involved in a venomous exchange with some of Russia’s most prominent rappers over his criticism of a concert in Dagestan attended by a large number of women.
“Modern Dagestan. Is this what was bequeathed to us by righteous predecessors?” Khabib fumed in an Instagram post, sharing footage of the concert.Also on rt.com ‘Scum will pay for their words!’: Khabib in social media skirmish with Russian rap stars
After Russian music star Timati took issue with the cancelation of a subsequent concert in the region by a fellow rapper, Egor Krid, Khabib fired back by vowing that “scum will pay for their words.”
"If someone doesn’t like my calls, you don’t have to address (them), I am not forcing anyone, but telling me that I don’t have a right to (have) my opinion is ridiculous. Some demons won’t tell you what to do and what not to, I have other people for that, the ones I am listening to and consider (their advice),” the fighter fired back.
The following year, the UFC star branded a theater performance of ‘Okhota Na Muzhchin’ (Hunting for Men) in his homeland as ‘filth’, as the play depicts a lingerie-clad woman and scenes of seduction.
“I’ve just seen this video, (but) I haven’t shared this filth here,” Khabib fumed on Instagram.
“Who in general has responsibility for this, and who organized this kind of event for us in Dagestan?
“Dagestan is our land, and no one should organize this kind of event there. By Allah, until the men of our Dagestan wake up and begin to restore order, our situation will only get worse…
"Dagestan is a land of honor and dignity, decent men and innocent women, and not what they have introduced lately to us.”Also on rt.com ‘Filth’: Khabib condemns play featuring lingerie-clad actress after staging in Dagestan
When asked this year about his spat with the Russian rap community, Khabib argued he was merely offering his opinion.
“People have different worldviews and upbringings. If I don’t like something, I express my opinion but I don’t impose it. There are people who don't support rap," he explained.
“I don’t sit in an office, I don’t prohibit the holding of any events. I just expressed my opinion, it hasn’t changed. If you want to listen to (rap), listen.
“We have a democracy, everyone can speak. I haven’t offended anyone. I'm not a music lover, I don't listen to it.”
Khabib has likewise faced accusations of misogyny for comments he made two years ago when asked about his stance on female MMA fighters, replying: "I have very good advice (to women), be fighters at home.”
Yet that row comes in contradiction with recent comments by new Uzbek UFC addition Liliya Shakirova, who cited the support of Khabib and his team in easing her path to the promotion.
The difference with the current controversy is that, by targeting Macron, Khabib is expanding his attacks to those outside the country in what he perceives to be the defense of his religion.
It is a position which has landed purported supporters such as football stars Rudiger and Kimpembe in trouble, but which has also earned Khabib mockery and censure from inside his homeland.
Russian MMA fighter Dmitry 'Anubis' Kuznetsov released a rap track earlier this year titled ‘hypocrisy king’, touching on the themes of misogyny, corruption and nationalism as he ridiculed Khabib for his supposed double standards. Kuznetsov later said he was assaulted because of the video.Also on rt.com Russian MMA fighter 'ATTACKED' after releasing diss track 'Hypocrisy King' aimed at Khabib Nurmagomedov
After Khabib’s scathing attack on Macron, Russian TV personality and former presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak accused the UFC star of potentially inciting violence towards the French leader.
Prominent Russian sports commentator Vasily Utkin said that while he respected Khabib as a fighter and hopes his retirement is not final, he will no longer support him.Also on rt.com 'I won't support him anymore': Top Russian sports commentator reacts after Khabib issues anti-Macron polemic
Khabib’s beliefs and association with figures such as Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – a widely vilified character in the West – have spawned claims that the undefeated Dagestani fighter leaves a ‘complex’ legacy behind him, whether he retires now or returns to the UFC octagon for a swansong.
But just as in the cage, when Khabib feels that he or his religion have been challenged, he will not back down.
That is something that will not change, retired or otherwise.
By Liam Tyler