There may be ups and downs in the careers of mixed martial artists and often, the downs take place outside the cage. But for the MMA fighters of Afghanistan, are entering undoubtedly the darkest phase in their careers, and it has nothing to do with MMA.
Afghanistan has fallen into the hands of the Islamist organization Taliban, a designated terrorist group, for the second time after two decades. In the past month or so, Taliban forces quickly captured several provincial capitals before grasping Kabul, faster than any government administrators forecasted, putting lots of Afghan nationals, mainly those who helped The United States forces, especially prone.
The country has a massive MMA following and has its own professional mixed martial arts promotion, the Snow Leopard Fighting Championship (SLFC). Unfortunately, the sudden and stout return of the Taliban to the dominion of Afghanistan means a possibility of either the end of their careers or their lives.
The Taliban has been vehemently anti-sports and anti-athletics in the past
The Taliban, which terms itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has a history of banning or restricting sports and related activities in the past. During their five year rule until 2001, the militant group only allowed restricted sports activities and those too came with heavy regulations on clothing as well as halts for prayers.
Recently, the former captain of the Afghan women’s football team urged her fellow players to delete their social media and other public identities, and to also burn their jerseys to just be safe under the watchful eye of the Taliban, who have a history of killing, raping and stoning women in the past for not abiding by their code of ‘decency’. On the same note, the tattooed and bare-chested avatars of a typical MMA fighter that the west is familiar with, is considered a crime for the Taliban.
Wahid Nazhand and Zaki Rasooli, two Afghan MMA icons share their fright of the Taliban rule
Amidst the second coming of the darkest days of Afghanistan, Wahid “The Stone Eater” Nazhand and Zaki “The Outlaw” Scrapper Rasooli, two of the biggest MMA superstars in the country, are also fighting for hope in their motherland which is entering turmoil.
The Taliban has been involved in the murder of religious minorities, journalists and political activists among many, and athletes like Wahid and Zaki fear they could be the militant group’s next target.
Wahid, who is the SLFC welterweight champion, runs an MMA gym in Kabul, one of the 120 estimated gyms that are located in the Afghan capital, and charges only $5 for membership, or even free for those who can’t afford the same. Unfortunately, he has now closed his gym since the day the Taliban stepped into the capital.
However, the fear was already there even before the Taliban’s takeover, as the threat calls and hatred outweighed the love and support from the fans.
“Believe me, we train for a minute, and the next minute, we keep our eyes on the door, God forbid anyone should come in,” said Wahid in a recent interview. (H/T – Ali Latifi and Edris Lutfi of Insider)
Wahid and Zaki faced each other last year for the SLFC welterweight title, which became one of the biggest MMA fights in Afghanistan. But, the fights they will have to face from now on are on a different scale.
“Not only will it be dangerous for us, but also the general public, reporters, and athletes,” said Zaki, “even the gyms could close, since we work out in shorts, I don’t think the Taliban will be able to stand watching us like this. Girls would never be able to go to the gym.” (H/T – Ali Latifi and Edris Lutfi of Insider)
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