It’s early 2021 and I’m once again partaking in my nightly doomscroll through my TikTok For You page when—boom. Out of nowhere, among the cat videos and cloud bread recipes appears Hasbulla. At first, like many others, I assumed he’s a child—due to his little physique and high-pitched voice. He’s feeding a monkey crisps and so, naturally, I click on his profile to find out more about him and his extravagant lifestyle.
What I unearthed, however, is not an innocent child with a questionably exotic pet—but a man who ushers more questions than answers, with a contentious persona to match. So join me, as I open the can of worms that is Hasbulla—Russia’s newest (and controversial) internet star.
Hasbulla Magomedov is undoubtedly the most in-vogue influencer coming out of Russia right now. Emerging on Instagram in late 2020, Hasbulla amassed a following of two million in just over a year. Unfortunately, his fame and lovable charm was soiled when the online celebrity sent vile death threats to a woman in December 2021, leading to his account being suspended from the platform. Though the platform now hosts @Hasbulla_, which has over two million followers, it’s unclear whether it is his official account.
Despite his angry and questionable past, Hasbulla’s small body but large demeanour has probably appeared on your screens too. From riding a quad bike through the streets of Dagestan to cooking with his pet monkey—this influencer is unique, I’ll give him that. But how exactly did he become so big? There are two communities that fuelled his stardom: Russian TikTok and, well, mixed martial arts. Let me explain.
Due to an undisclosed genetic disorder, Hasbulla has resembled a child for most of his life—a quality that has undeniably set him apart from the crowd. Hasbulla himself has admitted that doctors have been unable to determine what his disorder actually is. Academics, such as NHS surgeon Doctor Karan Raj in a report by Khaama, have suggested that he suffers from “growth hormone deficiency (GHD), a genetic disorder that occurs when the brain’s pituitary gland [responsible for producing most hormones] can’t produce [it].”
Born in Russia sometime in 2003, the now 19-year-old influencer lives in Makhachkala, the largest city in Dagestan, situated on the Caspian Sea. Pinpointing a concrete source that determines his exact condition is hard to achieve. What is more apparent, however, is that Hasbulla hasn’t been pigeonholed by his condition. In fact, according to his social media posts, it truly seems like he’s living his best life.
Hasbulla’s internet career began in 2020, at a time when most of the world was locked down and glued to screens. Posting a video that has since been deleted, of him eating a strawberry, saw his popularity skyrocket as it did rounds across Russian-speaking social media platforms.
Shortly after, Hasbulla began posting content relating to mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting. He would go on to upload a TikTok impersonating a famous Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)—the organisation in which MMA fights are arranged—fighter, also from the Dagestan region, Khabib Nurmagomedov, which cemented his image within the online community.
This content led to the emergence of Hasbulla’s nickname, “mini Khabib”—a sobriquet less known by the average TikToker in the West but popular in Russia and the MMA community. His fame has even led to him becoming friends with his idol, Nurmagomedov himself, announced with a series of photos together—one of which is akin to how boys on Tinder pose with the fish they’ve caught:
Was it this moment that triggered Hasbulla to want to become a legitimate MMA fighter himself? This is a question still up for debate, but in an ideal world, I’d like to think so. Within months, the online celebrity was posting endless content of his training—for lack of a better word—in MMA drills. His opponent? None other than Abdu Rozik, an influencer from Tajikistan with a similar social media presence and growth disorder.
When announced, the fight—organised by Chechen blogger, Askhab Tamayev—quickly became a viral sensation. It followed a number of videos (or PR campaigns) showing the two little people training for it and, in the most notable feature, confronting each other in a headbutting fashion, similar to how moose compete for a mate. According to the Russian news website Express Gazeta, it would be the “most hyped fight of the year.” Jake Paul must’ve been quaking in his overpriced custom Dunks.
But the fight was not to be… Despite their internet fame—and the amount of revenue both influencers must’ve raked off the back of the campaign—the pre-recorded fight was stopped from airing. And that’s understandable.
I can’t help feeling like the Hasbulla versus Rozik trend was unethical: a campaign backed by a few genuine fans but mostly by people who find humour in their disability. This is a view echoed by the head of the Russian Dwarf Athletic Association, Uliana Podpalnaya, who has criticised the fight as an “unethical and wrong” PR campaign. Labelling it as “nothing serious,” she argued that the fight trivialises dwarfism in sports.
“It’s not even like a show fight—they get paid a lot of money and it’s a show to make people laugh,” she said, speaking to Russian state media Gazeta.ru. “It seems to me that only on the one hand it can be correct and beautiful—if martial arts among small people are made a Paralympic sport. It could be judo, karate, and people will understand that this is a serious sport, serious performances, and not some kind of laughing show.”
“Events like this don’t draw attention to the sport of little people. If interest in this appears, it’s only business [as] a lot of money is being invested in it. And from the point of view of the sports career growth of these guys, there are no prospects,” she added.
Unable to comment specifically on the fight between Hasbulla and Rozik, social media expert Estelle Keeber from Immoral Monkey took a different view. Although Keeber admitted that she “can’t comment from the viewpoint of somebody who has dwarfism,” she does believe that there are at least some positives Hasbulla’s fame brings, surrounding the awareness raised around the disability. “It’s a brilliant way for us to move forward—especially when he’s adding humour to what he’s sharing.”
According to Keeber, he is using social media in a positive light. “There’s going to be people from all walks of life that are going to find something offensive,” she emphasised, adding how influencers like Hasbulla and Rozik are normalising the disability they face. “Personally, in my view though, there’s going to be a lot more people out there in the world now that understand what dwarfism is and understand the different aspects of what living with dwarfism means.”
So, will the recorded fight ever surface on the internet? The question still remains. As is the larger concern of whether this whole PR stunt is actually ethical. In short, it’s nuanced—part of me believes that Hasbulla’s fight satirises a community of athletes with the condition. However, as put by Keeber, his fame has also raised awareness of people who have dwarfism. Besides, who the heck are we to tell him, a 19-year-old adult, that he shouldn’t post what he wants anyway?
As for what’s next for Hasbulla, “An influencer is only as good as their last post,” Keeber explained. Despite his relevant success, the online sensation isn’t set on achieving internet fame in the long term and, as a Muslim, has his sights set on studying the Koran further—according to Popbuzz. Regardless, with Hasbulla seeping into mainstream culture, and with a personalised cryptocurrency under his belt, I don’t see him leaving the internet any time soon.