On April 18, a title fight between BRAVE Combat Federation welterweight champion Jarrah Al-Silawi (14-3) and consensus top contender Khamzat Chimaev (8-0) was set to headline the promotion’s foray into Stockholm, Sweden, Chimaev’s adoptive homeland.
The event, however, which would have marked Al-Silawi’s second defense of his title, was canceled due to concerns and restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the weeks following the scuttled event, Chimaev signed with the UFC as a short-notice replacement and made his promotional debut on the promotion’s Fight Island in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Chimaev dominated Wales’ John Phillips en route to a widely-acclaimed second-round submission victory.
Chimaev then routed top Cage Warriors prospect, Rhys McKee, just ten days out from his successful UFC debut. With the win, Chimaev set the record for the shortest time between UFC wins in the promotion’s history and amassed an eye-popping striking differential of 192-2 through two UFC bouts.
While such a red-hot start in the UFC might deter some fighters from actively seeking out a clash with Chimaev, that isn’t the case for Al-Silawi.
“I would love the opportunity [to face Chimaev in the UFC],” Al-Silawi told The Body Lock in translated remarks, “and I actually feel like this is the opportunity that the UFC will come back to me for.
“I feel like I am a bad matchup for Khamzat because Khamzat likes to take people down and control them, but I have a black belt in jiu jitsu under [Middle Eastern martial arts pioneer] Coach Samy Al Jamal, a 5th Dan black belt in BJJ. I am also very hard to take down, so I don’t think that Khamzat will be able to take me down as easily [as he has with his previous opponents], and in the striking, it’s all me.”
Of their canceled BRAVE title fight, Al-Silawi said, “It was very upsetting. I had a great camp preparing for that fight. I was looking forward to fighting Khamzat, and I was looking forward to being the first one to defeat him. I believe that we will meet eventually, at some point in our careers.”
Chimaev was not the lone BRAVE CF welterweight to sign with and debut for the UFC during the promotion’s Fight Island stint, however. Tunisian kickboxer Mounir Lazzez (10-1) successfully outpointed Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-2) in his Octagon debut in July, which came about following an impromptu matchmaking session from one of UFC President Dana White’s son’s friends.
Al-Silawi, the champion of the division and a fighter broadly considered to be the best in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region, revealed that he was not passed over by the UFC, but that a rib injury had prevented him from joining its ranks on Fight Island.
According to Al-Silawi, the UFC contacted him about stepping in against Ramzan Emeev (19-4), who recently defeated Niklas Stolze (12-4) after scheduled fights with Shavkat Rakhmonov (12-0) and Tim Means (29-12-1) fell through; and Nicolas Dalby (18-4-1), who was submitted by Jesse Ronson (22-10) after a fight with Danny Roberts (17-5) failed to materialize.
“I know I’m on [the UFC’s] radar, now I’m just waiting for the opportunity. It was disappointing that I couldn’t take [those fights]. It’s something I’ve been wanting for so long, and then it came, but it just wasn’t the opportune time. But, I’m hopeful that it will come around again soon, and when it does, I’m going to be ready to take it,” said Al-Silawi.
“[Chimaev and Lazzez] are both great champions; they’ve fought great fights, and I’m very happy for them to be in the UFC. But, with all due respect, I know that I am the number one in the region, and it’s just a matter of time [until I am in there, too]. ”
Al-Silawi believes that Chimaev’s and Lazzez’s performances, as well as Fight Island’s presence in Abu Dhabi, has been great for the Arab MMA scene.
“100%, this has been the opportunity that Arab fighters and the fighters from the region have been waiting for, to have the UFC come more often to the Middle East. It’s a great opportunity for everyone, and everyone should be ready to take it when it comes.”
Al-Silawi added that while his rib injury may have cost him several short-notice fights with the UFC, he is currently a free agent, and he’s ready for anything now that his recovery has gone well.
“I’m ready, 100%. I’m preparing as if I have a fight coming up, so I’m in fight shape. I’m just waiting for any opportunity to come my way.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.