AMON AMARTH frontman Johan Hegg has clarified his criticism of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC),saying that Russian fighters should be banned from completing on upcoming cards in order to put enough pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin and his regime so that he will end his country's war in Ukraine.
Earlier this week, Hegg took to his Twitter to say that he was boycotting the American mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company as long as it was allowing Russian fighters "to compete and make money while children die in Ukraine."
After a number of people objected to Hegg's suggestion that Russian athletes must also be punished for their government's aggression, the 48-year-old Swede returned to his social media to further explain his views while also criticizing Putin for creating "the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in modern history."
Johan wrote: "I feel I have to clarify my point of view.
"I love watching @ufc , and I have nothing but respect for the skill and dedication of the athletes competing in the octagon.
"What is happening right now in Ukraine is a tragedy. It's the biggest war we've seen in Europe since WWII.
"Two weeks ago Putin made an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. A democratic, sovereign nation. In doing so he caused the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in modern history. 1.5 million people has fled the war so far.
"Putin's armies are committing war crimes such as shelling residential areas, hospitals and even firing on civilians trying to flee. So far over 30 children have been killed in this war. More than 70 wounded.
"Putin has repeatedly broken cease fire agreements, basically luring people out of their shelters only to hit them with artillery.
"Am I angry and frustrated? Yes.
"This war doesn't only threaten and affect Ukraine. Putin has threatened to invade Finland and Sweden. He threatens the whole of Europe. Ukraine will not be able to export wheat and other crops during the invasion, which will have consequences for Middle Eastern and African nations that depend heavily on the Black Sea region for food. World Food Programme (WFP) executive director David Beasley has warned that the 'world cannot afford to let another conflict drive the numbers of hungry people even higher.' Putin has threatened the world, including the US with Nuclear weapons.
"Is it fair to target Russian fighters/athletes with sanctions? I think it is. It's not that I want to hurt them personally, but there is no middle ground here. Athletes have influence. If they don't want to speak up against this war, then why should they escape sanctions when people actually protesting the war in Russia, at the risk of being imprisoned or worse, do not?
"You don't have to agree with me, I don't expect everyone to do so, but in my opinion the world has to put enough pressure on Putin and his regime that he will end this war."
Hegg apparently chose to make his views public after it was announced that UFC's long-awaited return to the United Kingdom this month would be headlined by up-and-coming British prospect Tom Aspinall and Russian heavyweight contender Alexander Volkov.
Although the Russian fighter has reportedly received the necessary documents to compete in the U.K., the status of his bout against Aspinall remains unknown.
Hegg is an avid fan of combat sports, having previously enlisted ex-UFC champion Josh Barnett and former fighter Shanie Rusth to star in AMON AMARTH's music video for the song "Mjölner, Hammer Of Thor".
In a 2019 interview with MMAWeekly.com, Hegg said that it was his wife, Maria, who introduced him to combat sports. "She's done some boxing in the past and is currently a yoga teacher and has developed a special kind of yoga for athletes," he explained. "Currently she's working with a couple of MMA fighters, Örebro Hockey, the local Swedish Hockey League team in our hometown, and a couple of other hockey players in Sweden. A few years back, my wife and I were in New York when I was promoting our previous album, 'Jomsviking', and there we met Josh and his girlfriend at the time, Colleen [Schneider], at a dinner. The day after, we met up with them at a gym, and they tried yoga with my wife, and in exchange they offered to train MMA with us the next time we were in L.A. So next time we were there we met up with them and trained, and I had a blast.
"I've played hockey and soccer, but honestly this is perhaps the most fun I've had training. I was never really into fighting or martial arts before. I mean, I had seen MMA fights and all, but I honestly wasn't that interested, but training with Josh changed all that, and I've been training ever since. Now I follow both UFC and Bellator, as well as watch other organizations like Cage Warriors, if there is an interesting fight."
Less than a week ago, Hegg denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has called for peace to be restored in Europe. He took to his Twitter to write: "My lyrics are often about glorious battles & brave warriors, but they're just stories, sometimes based on history. That doesn't mean I condone war as a matter of solving conflicts. War is never a solution to any dispute. It can only generate more animosity & hate between people.
"Right now Putin has invaded the Ukraine, a democratic, sovereign state, and though this is far from the only weaponised conflict in the world, it has affected me deeply. I thought we as Europeans were passed this, especially considering our troubled past.
"My hope is that Putin will end this attack on Ukraine, & that peace will be restored in Europe. My fear is that even if this happens, it will take a very long time for trust to return between Russia & the rest of the world. I stand with Ukraine & all Russians who oppose this war."
On February 24, Putin announced a "special military operation" in Ukraine. Putin made the announcement during a televised early morning speech, peddling accusations of Nazi elements within Ukraine to justify the attack on his western neighbor, a move that experts slammed as slanderous and false. (Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost three family members in the Holocaust.)
The Russian leader called for Ukraine's "demilitarization and denazification" and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to "consequences they have never seen."