Mamed Khalidov: “All of Our Plans were Destroyed by the War”
On May 30, the Polish lifestyle television channel “Polsat Play” held an interview with the famous Chechen MMA fighter Mamed Khalidov.
Here is Sylwester Latkowski’s interview with Mamed Khalidov:
Mamed Khalidov, he comes from Grozny, Chechnya, but he would like to fight under the Polish flag in the ring. He dreams of bringing his parents to Poland. He survived the war in his homeland and now he remembers less and less terrible images from the Russian-Chechen war.
Sylwester Latkowski: How did you come to Poland?
Mamed Khalidov: I came here to study in 1997 when I was 17 year old. Because at the moment, there was a war in Chechnya and there weren’t any ways to complete your education. I arrived in Poland with my friend; in total there were 30 of us. A few others went to Egypt and Italy. Poland was my own choice and I don’t regret it. We had come here to study and we were supposed to return to Chechnya to rebuild our country when we graduated. It was our assumption, it was our main goal.
Sylwester Latkowski: You mentioned the war. Do you still remember anything about it?
Mamed Khalidov: Everyone in Chechnya saw the war. I have seen the war and death, it isn’t anything nice. It isn’t something that anyone would wish to see. In 1994, I saw the first action, the entry of the Russian army into Grozny. Fortunately, I have erased those memories and I have saved myself from the terrible dreams. Of course, I still remember some snippets, but those are very rare. I am happy with it, although it’s known that images from the war, death and terrible destruction are things which you cannot forget for the rest of your life.
Slywester Latkowski: But you didn’t participate in the war?
Mamed Khalidov: No.
Slywester Latkowski: Did your parents want to protect you and send you abroad?
Mamed Khalidov: In our traditions, it is a bit different. The head of family, the most important person was my grandfather and it was his decision when we were in his village, Bamut which is fifty kilometers from Grozny. He had his own mill there. At this time, he decided to go there. We stayed there a couple of months. But the Russians started bombing the area and a massacre followed. It was a slaughterhouse. One day the television spoke about the bombardment of the village. Unfortunately, my grandfather couldn’t stand against the pressure. His old heart couldn’t resist and he died.
Slywester Latkowski: You’ve come to Wrocław (one of the largest cities in western Poland).
Mamed Khalidov: Yes, we had a one year Polish language course there. Before we came here, we didn’t know any Polish. The only word in Polish we knew as we were crossing the border was: “nie razumiem” (I don’t understand). We knew that if anyone said something to us, we should say “nie razumiem”. So we learned the language from scratch.
Slywester Latkowski: How did you feel about being in a strange land?
Mamed Khalidov: It was very nasty, I was feeling empty inside. Foreign country, foreign language, foreign culture. I missed my homeland a lot. I avoided people. I ran away to sleep. Then I slept all day, probably due to the nerves. Six months later, I left Poland to go to Chechnya for the first winter vacation and then returned to Poland. I stayed with my cousins in Moscow, called my parents and told them that I didn’t want to return to Poland, it is a very far country. Then, they told me that when I started something, I had to finish it with honor and return to Chechnya with my head held high showing my diploma. So I came back to Poland. I stopped to mislead the others. I moved from Wrocław to Olsztyn (a city in the northern of Poland). I started my bachelor degree courses in management and administration. I would be useful, if I returned to my country. But because of the war, all plans and objectives were destroyed.
Slywester Latkowski: And you started to fight in the cage…
Mamed Khalidov: At the end of 2003, a typical MMA club, Arrachion Olsztyn was founded in Olsztyn. I have always admired these people, this is the closest sport to really fighting. I started training. After a short while, I graduated and defended my master’s thesis. I asked my father what to do on my return. He told me that at the moment there was nothing for me to do and so I tried the sport. It helped me all the time even during my studies, and so far supports me in what I do now. I listened, and became an athlete, not a civil servant or a politician.
Slywester Latkowski: Had you studied martial arts earlier in life?
Mamed Khalidov: Since my childhood, but as an amateur. However, I have never competed in any sports. I trained in taekwondo and wrestling once a week. After addressing my first MMA fights, I lost three times. I had moments of doubt. I thought about my future. But my coaches calmed me down saying that it was just lack of experience. So I trained on.
Slywester Latkowski: At that time, this sport wasn’t so popular. As the film “the Cage” shows, it was all happening somewhere on the sidelines, the fights took place in secret. Thieves roamed often around the people.
Mamed Khalidov: Then indeed, the sport was associated with brutality, and fights without rules in the cages. However, they managed to pull it from the underworld and show people that it is a real sport and they are true warriors. It began in the restaurant Champion, and then moved to a small hall. At that moment, the audience was at around 100-200 people. But now it has its own league; KSW.
Slywester Latkowski: Did you get beat up in the cages?
Mamed Khalidov: Yes, but it was better than fighting in the discos. Because it was the beginning of civilized MMA discos. Nobody thought that this sport could be so developed in Poland. Everyone was dreaming of going to the United States or Japan. Today, Polish games are similar to those in Japan.
Slywester Latkowski: In mean time, your life is mostly in Poland, you are married to a Polish woman and you have a son from her. But you are a Chechen, how do you feel yourself? Are you starting to feel Polish?
Mamed Khalidov: The most important period of my life took place in Poland. I studied, created a family and began as my career in sports here. These are the things which were given to me by Poland. I used this opportunity as much as possible. I love this country. I love Poland, it is a good place for me, a good choice but I am still a Chechen. This is a mutual love.
Slywester Latkowski: Do you visit Chechnya?
Mamed Khalidov: Very often. After every fight, I have long breaks. I go to visit my parents, my family. My dream is to bring my parents here. I want to be here together with them. When I wake up in the morning, I want to go to see my father and my mother. I want to see them every day.
Slywester Latkowski: Poland is a Catholic country and you are a Muslim. Also, some people associate Chechens with the mafia.
Mamed Khalidov: We are admired here. It is surprising to me, because in Russia I was used to discrimination. The word “Chechen” means bandit, mafia, etc. But when I came to Poland, there is nothing like this. Wherever we went in Poland said that we were Chechens, people showed us their sympathies. It showed me that there might be a different approach to us, to the Chechens. We were always ready for something bad, ready to fight if necessary. If someone tried to humiliate us or said something bad, we always fought, so we were really savage; because our life in Russia was like that. But it was only when I came to Poland that I realized that you can live a normal life among humans, you don’t need to fight to save your life. And am I a Muslim? Yes, but I have never had a problem with being a Muslim in Poland. I have never seen any kind of discrimination against it. Lots of times, I heard from people that Poles are intolerant. But I have never seen such kinds of things. I live in Poland as a Muslim and I practice my religion. It’s tolerant!
Slywester Latkowski: What is MMA? Could you explain simply even for a man who doesn’t have any clue?
Mamed Khalidov: It is a combat sport. Karate, kick-boxing, boxing, wrestling – a mixture of all of it. Once it was a brutal sport, I fought bare-knuckle and everything was permitted. But today it is different. There is a referee, gloves, pads, and rules. Do not forget that the first mixed martial arts were in ancient Rome. Gladiators were organized for them. Today it has turned into the mixed martial arts. Everything is natural, everything is real. This kind of sport is just getting popular in Poland, but the world has long been crazy about MMA.
Slywester Latkowski: You are the undisputed champion of MMA in Poland. What are your future plans?
Mamed Khalidov: I have won 25 times. I have lost 4 times and I have 2 draws. I am very happy that people love this sport. I love these people. The most beautiful thing is to see how people perceive it. When you enter the ring, you feel their cheering, the whole force we communicate, and you feel through it as they fight together with you. This is amazing. As I head out to the ring, I feel their strength, it is 300 times stronger. But I admit, I would also try to fight overseas. It could be nice to represent Poland and enter the cage with the Polish flag and win the fight.
*The interview translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco