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Artem Vakhitov sours on GLORY after promotion removes Russian fighters

"I am done with GLORY for good. I would not want to go back and work with them."
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Artem Vakhitov is paying a price for being Russian.

Last month, the decorated GLORY kickboxer was stripped of his light heavyweight title. Adding to the indignity, GLORY also released Vakhitov, as the international kickboxing promotion terminated the contracts of all Russian athletes.

"I found out from a post on Instagram," says Vakhitov, speaking through a translator. "That was disrespectful. Other organizations, like UFC and Bellator, and others in professional boxing, they did not do anything like this. It is not right."

The decision to release all Russian fighters was based on complications stemming from the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. In a statement, GLORY cited travel bans, safety concerns, and payment obstacles as the primary reasons for its decision. But Vakhitov firmly disagrees with the decision.

"Apparently, it is a visa issue, but we have not had any visa issues because we were all approved for five-year visas – and it hasn't even been a year," Vakhitov says. "The second reason we were told is because of problems wiring fight pay, but none of us had issues because we all have international bank accounts. And another reason was due to safety. But I think this is the only organization out of all the professional promotions to act this way and end the contracts of the Russian fighters."

GLORY's move to release Russian fighters was bold. As the war in Ukraine nears its fifth month, it remains blood-soaked and relentless. Perhaps, if more worldwide entities acted similarly to GLORY, there would be more pressure from Russian citizens to their government about an invasion of a sovereign nation. But there is also genuine concern about criticizing their government, led by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Vakhitov deferred when asked to speak on the country's military endeavors, which is a common answer among Russian athletes.

"I do not voice my opinion," Vakhitov says. "I am not a politician. I think that sports should stay outside of politics."

The 31-year-old Vakhitov, who is a two-time GLORY light heavyweight champion, is a lifelong Russian resident. He grew up in Prokopyevsk, a city more than 2,000 miles away from Moscow that is known for coking coal for the production of iron and steel. Despite a largely global condemnation of Russia for waging war on Ukraine – which, essentially, is the reason his title was vacated by GLORY – Vakhitov remains proud of his home country.

"It is my motherland," said Vakhitov. "I am proud to be from Russian.

"I have comrades, Russians and Ukrainians, we talk without problems. We have good relationships, we text, we spar together, train and get ready together. You should be able to walk out under your flag. You should be able to represent your country."

As for his future, Vakhitov is planning to continue his kickboxing career. While he could take the route of Alex Pereira – a former GLORY champion who split two fights with Vakhitov and now stars in UFC, knocking out Sean Strickland last week at UFC 276 – and transition to MMA, that is not the current plan.

"Alex Pereira was in MMA for a long time, he was taking fights while he was kickboxing," said Vakhitov. "He had good camps and a couple good MMA fights, so for him the transition into MMA was more about time than anything else. He finished the contract with GLORY and transitioned. For me, I would like to stay in kickboxing. That is what I like. It is my element. There are offers from ONE, some other organizations, and there are also offers in boxing and MMA. There are choices, but I see myself more in kickboxing.

"A lot of kickboxers transition into MMA and put on a good show because people like the action, like with Pereira. The punches in the striking make those knockouts happen. There are offers in MMA, but I would need close to a year to prepare my grappling. For kickboxing, I am ready. I train every day. If the right offer comes, I would be ready to take a fight within a month."

Vakhitov also confirmed he will not entertain any future offers from GLORY.

"I am done with GLORY for good," said Vakhitov. "I would not want to go back and work with them."

No matter where he lands, Vakhitov will proudly represent his home country as one of the world's most elite kickboxers.

"Why wouldn't I?" said Vakhitov. "I am Russian, that is nothing to be ashamed of."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.