Pint-sized pugilists go viral but contest splits opinion in Russia: Is it giving the masses what they want or a ‘vulgar circus’?
Footage of a Dagestani celebrity with a rare genetic disease facing off with a future foe in a Russian fight has gone viral around the world while amusing the MMA community. But is it legit entertainment or laughing at misfortune?
With 120,000 followers on his Instagram account, Hasbulla Magomedov – nicknamed ‘Khazbik’ – is a local star in Dagestan
Reports vary on Magomedov's age, although he is said to be 18 years old, and his celebrity status is such that he has often been seen with the region's pride and joy – retired former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
But beyond the North Caucasus – and even far from his Russian homeland – Magomedov’s fame has now spread to other corners of the world, largely thanks to an unlikely upcoming bout which has become a viral smash.
The pint-sized Dagestani will be taking on 17-year-old Tajik rival Abdurozik, a similarly popular TikTok celebrity in his homeland known for his rapping skills and who also suffers from a growth disorder.
The pair’s face-off this week has been picked up far and wide, and shows the duo trash talking, taunting and attempting to claw at one another, while Khazbik takes a slapstick-esque kick at thin air.
The man between the two tiny scrappers is 19-year-old Chechen blogger Asxab Tamaev, who boasts 4.2 million followers on Instagram and also has a YouTube channel with 1.4 million subscribers, where the face-off has racked up a staggering 5.5 million views.
The contest itself is set to be broadcast live on the channel on May 18.
The footage has been particularly popular among the MMA community. Ex-UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan poked fun at potential rival Henry Cejudo by sharing a clip of the staredown and commenting that the winner of the meeting will face the American.
Other octagon figures such as English star Darren Till are getting in on the action, with the Liverpool fighter stating that he would "pay good money to see this" in a post that received 160,000 likes and counting.
Receiving nearly 6,000 likes, Kai Kara France commented that "the flyweight division is getting stacked" with a laughing emoji, and there are quips of a similar nature from Till's 1.2 million followers such as "OAP baby division" and "Five round title fight for the midgetweight belt".
Outside Russia, the likes of irreverent US outlet Barstool Sports have picked up on the contest.
But are these all just cruel laughs at misfortune, or giving the masses what they want?
Opinion in Russia seems to be split.
Agreeing with the former notion, popular Twitter account Traktor Bang scathed: "I don't know what's worse: the very fact of the promotion of the 'fight' of two almost adult people with disabilities under the guise of cute, scolding kids. Or the fact that this vulgar cringefest has collected five million views with a huge amount of likes."
Хуй знает что тут хуже: сам факт раскрутки «боя» двух почти взрослых людей с особенностями развития под видом милых бранящихся детишек или то, что эта пошлая кринжатина собирает по 5 миллионов просмотров при огромном преобладании лайков pic.twitter.com/xpcrRacd8R— Я дико извиняюсь (@traktor_bang) May 18, 2021
A fellow detractor pointed out this is "ancient fun in the courts of the richest rulers."
"It's really the era of the New Dark Ages," he concluded.
On the contrary, someone replied to this that "of course there is a feeling that this is all wrong", "but they seem to make good money on this, [and] I'm not sure that with their peculiarities they can find another way of earning."
"In fact it's the same situation as with the circus in the Middle Ages."
While a better word than 'peculiarities' should have been chosen, this could be a valid point.
If both parties are willing participants eager to put on a show and make money, who are we to judge or blame them?
Rather than throw a pity party, Hasbulla is attempting to make a career out of what he has, and the criticism would be far more volatile were he to rely on aid and handouts to get by.
People who think it's inhumane simply don't have to watch or contribute.
Others who wish to be entertained, can.
In the meantime, it is poor from those who take the opportunity to take potshots at "backwards" Russians and Dagestanis, as every culture has its oddities.
As long as nobody is getting seriously hurt, it seems like relatively harmless fun.
By Tom Sanderson