UFC lightweight contender Rafael Fiziev has taken to Instagram to reveal he plans to leave Kyrgyzstan and stop fighting under its flag following alleged pressure from religious figures in the Central Asian country.
Boasting a 10-1 record, the 28-year-old has spent time on the island of Phuket in Thailand, where fighters regularly hone their kickboxing craft, in addition to the US.
To his 321,000 followers on Instagram, he regularly shares training content and videos related to his Islamic faith.
But his most recent post, on Thursday, was a two-and-a-half minute address where Fiziev announced his intentions to leave Kyrgyzstan.
“Today my family and I faced harassment by the muftiate [a religious body of Islamic jurists] and some well-known people in Kyrgyzstan,” said Fiziev (via translation).
“Because of this harassment [and] deceitful videos made for some unknown reason, we received a lot of angry messages.
“This is not about tens, but thousands of messages. I’m surprised that they even wrote to my wife. Why?” he asked, perplexed.
“What do I want to say? That I’ve never been a preacher,” Fiziev continued.
“I’m just showing what millions of people are doing on Instagram – showing their lives.
“I showed my life, what I do every day. Each person has his own opinion and each person has the right to do everything legal in a secular state. Which is what I did.
“But today I received a lot of harassment from the muftiate. Because of this, they put a lot of pressure on me and my family.”
“For me – that’s it. I’m leaving, nothing more connects me and my family with Kyrgyzstan, only a passport,” Fiziev vowed.
Quickly, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (SAMK) claimed that they had nothing to do with the decision.
“We are engaged in our direct responsibilities, in particular educating the people,” the organization was quoted as saying in a statement, while stressing it would refrain from commenting on remarks made by Fiziev and former Kyrgyzstan mufti Maksatbek Toktomushev.
On YouTube, the latter read out a question which asked how Sharia would view Fiziev calling the Iraqi city of Karbala the most sacred after Mecca and Medina, to which Toktomushev replied that despite being an idol in the country, Fiziev should not confuse sport with faith while Central Asian people subscribe to Sunni Islam.
“You cannot make such calls, I speak about it openly,” said Toktomushev.
“This can lead to interfaith conflict. Therefore, I hope that our athlete will correctly perceive my words and stop his calls.
“[There is nothing wrong with the fact that he has convictions. If he goes to the Kaaba [at Islam’s most important mosque in Mecca], there will be completely different feelings.”
Separately, Fiziev’s first coach Emil Toktogonov has also waded into the row, and called his ex-charge’s decision a “boyish act”.
“It is felt that today there is no experienced mentor next to him who could lead him not only in sports, but also in such situations,” Toktogonov added.
“There is no one who would say: ‘Do not get excited, think carefully.’
“Rafael, even if someone wrote offensive comments to you, these are not all the people of Kyrgyzstan, these are some isolated people. There was no need to give up on the country.
“A huge number of Kyrgyzstanis supported and cheered for you. Now they are all upset. Think about it,” Toktogonov insisted.
Last week, Fiziev also made a splash when he questioned Conor McGregor’s high ranking in the UFC despite being 1-3 in his last four outings.
“Conor lost so many fights and [he’s] still in the top 10,” he remarked in a Vestnik MMA interview.
“When did he last win a fight at lightweight?”
Attempting to battle his own way to the top, Fiziev was previously seen in the octagon in August when he won a Fight of the Night bonus while scrapping to a unanimous decision win over Bobby Green at UFC 265.
As announced via Instagram, his next bout will take place on December 4 against fellow 10-1 brawler Brad Riddell on a Fight Night card headlined by Rob Font and Jose Aldo.
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