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Several boxers, MMA fighters, promotion companies and other figures in the combat sports industry are suddenly doing everything they can to distance themselves from Daniel Kinahan after the U.S. government announced heavy sanctions against the Irish alleged mob boss.
Mounir Lazzez opted to go with a different route.
Following a decision win over Ange Loosa to open the main card of Saturday's UFC Fight Night, the welterweight used the end of his post-fight interview — grabbing the microphone from commentator Daniel Cormier in the process — to thank Kinahan.
— Jed I. Goodman © (@jedigoodman) April 17, 2022
Lazzez's full comments:
"I would love to thank my coaches and my brother Daniel Kinahan, without him I would never be the man who I am today and my career at this point. Thanks a lot."
That is certainly an interesting thing to say out loud on the floor of an event being nationally televised on ESPN, considering that the U.S. government imposed a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of that "brother" earlier this week.
Mounir Lazzez claims he didn't know about allegations against Daniel Kinahan
In a news conference following the fight, Lazzez claimed to have been unaware of the allegations and sanctions against Kinahan when pressed by a reporter.
The exchange, published by MMA Junkie, is a wild ride:
Q: "I think the most important question is in your postfight victory speech, you said if it wasn't for Daniel Kinahan, you wouldn't be here. Can you explain what you meant by that?"
A: "That man is a friend and adviser. He's the one who picked me up every time life had kicked me down. He is a real man of his word. He's the one who taught me what it means to be real family, a real friend. It's someone I cannot thank enough for where I am today and who I am today... That's why I said that, all the shout-out and credit to him."
Q: "Are you aware that Daniel Kinahan this week was sanctioned by the U.S. government because he 'sources large quantity of cocaine from South America?'"
A: "No, I don't know that."
Q: "He was sanctioned on Monday by the U.S. government. Tuesday, there's a $5 million bounty on his head for information that might lead to his arrest."
A: "I think I'm here to entertain people. I give the credit to whoever deserves credit. I'm not involved in this kind of stuff. I don't know about it and I will investigate how it is."
Q: "But by name-dropping Daniel Kinahan, you're kind of legitimizing this figure in combat sports."
A: "No. For me, it's a simple thing, a friend outside the gym. I meet him for advise and he helped me throughout my career."
Q: "A press conference in Dublin on Tuesday, police there said 'For a message, anyone in combat sports who continues to work with him, they're involved in a criminal network—'"
A: "I don't follow this kind of news. I focus on the sport, I focus on my family, I focus and entertain people and that's the most important."
UFC president Dana White, who was not at the event Saturday, declined to comment on the situation when reached by Yahoo Sports.
Who is Daniel Kinahan?
U.S. Treasury officials told reporters Monday they believe Kinahan runs the day-to-day operations of the Kinahan cartel, said to have emerged in Dublin in the 1990s and since expanded to become one of the largest organized crime outfits in the world, with interests primarily in drug trafficking and money laundering. Since 2016, the alleged cartel has allegedly been in a war with a rival gang in Dublin and Spain that has resulted in 18 deaths.
This is the same Kinahan who had become a major figure in the world of boxing and mixed martial arts, making millions of dollars in deals and steering several major fights to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, near the alleged cartel's base of operations.
Much of that business has to do with boxing management MTK Global, a company he founded and is accused of still having a connection. He filed a sworn statement in court last month claiming to no longer have a relationship with the company, but one manager has filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that he founded the company to launder money from his drug trafficking.
Lazzez is listed among MTK's MMA fighters on its website.
Other notable names on MTK's roster are boxers like WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford, undisputed super lightweight champion Josh Taylor and WBO women’s middleweight champion Savannah Marshall. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told Yahoo Sports his promotion company paid Kinahan more than $4 million in consulting fees for bouts involving Fury.