For most fight fans outside of Europe and the middle east, Khamzat Chimaev probably entered your radar in 2020 when he burst into the UFC with three wins in three months over two weight classes all by stoppage. At the height of ‘Khabib Time’ it seemed as though the flow of Russian wrestlers were on their way to dominating the sport, and Chimaev very well looked like the ultimate representation of that. However one month after Chimaev’s third UFC win, Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement and in his wake, it seemed that Khamzat Chimaev was en route to become the UFC’s next smashing machine.
In a massive turn of events in December 2020, Khamzat Chimaev revealed he had been struck with Covid-19 in the midst of the global pandemic. While cases amongst fighters ranged everywhere from no symptoms to potentially career affecting, it seemed that Chimaev’s illness was one of the latter. Three weeks after his condition was revealed, the Chechnyan wrote on his Instagram, “Thank you all so much for supporting me in my journey in this sport. I think I’m done” as well as “It may upset you, but my heart and body tell me everything”.
He followed this with a picture showing a bloody sink, likely coughed up and a result of the infection. This left the MMA world wondering if Khamzat Chimaev’s star had fizzled out before it could even really get into the sky. However, today in October of 2021, Over a year since Chimaev last entered the UFC cage, we await his return this Saturday when he makes the walk at UFC 267. In light of this, it’s suitable now to take a deeper look into the career and style of Khamzat Chimaev.
Before entering the UFC, Chimaev mostly made his name first as a Swedish freestyle wrestler and then a professional MMA star in BRAVE CF. His record in wrestling is a perfect 23-0, winning the Swedish nationals thrice, and a majority of victories coming by a perfect score. In fact, the final year he competed in freestyle he won the 2018 Swedish national wrestling championships without giving up a single point in the whole tournament.
From there he began his career with a 3-0 amateur record and then two victories in the International Ring Fight Arena and Fight Club Rush. Then, he made the move up into BRAVE Combat Federation, picking off opponent after opponent with his unmatched grappling style and knockout power to bring him to 6-0 professionally. This sixth win would be his ticket into the UFC. As before, three months, three wins, and three finishes bring us to today, but it’s the intricacies in Chimaev’s style that deserve further inspection.
Obviously, Khamzat Chimaev’s fundamental base in combat is his superb wrestling, but every fight starts on the feet and Chimaev’s hands may be as deadly as anybody’s. From a striking perspective, he is relatively basic, he has good tight boxing and power that makes every shot count. He definitely wants to be the one pushing forward, because as his best shots typically come tightly up the center channel, if he can get his opponent either moving into him or trapped against the cage, his chances of landing are heightened.
If there is any awkward area for Chimaev it may be in the kicks. He can blast beautiful thudding leg kicks from afar, but the few times we have seen him try to chain in kicks between his boxing combinations, his low posture and dipped head make the body mechanics of a high kick seem off. This also does not allow him to move his legs with the dexterity that a seasoned kicker can.
The variety in takedown ability from Chimaev is something to behold, he can shoot low, but also often shoots with the intent of rising from below his opponent’s base and getting to the double underhook body lock. From here look for him to hunt outside trip takedowns or lift his opponent completely up and carry him to the cage. If he can do so, he has even promptly brought them to his corner in the past.
His body lock grip is insanely strong, but what makes the big difference is his ability to figure four the legs of his opponents once he gets them down. While many other Russian wrestlers tend to figure four both legs and crawl up the body into mount, about half the time Chimaev seems to be content in controlling just one leg so as to let his opponents move side to side but stay trapped underneath him. This allows him to seamlessly transition between the back, side control, and half guard without giving up control but also opening up a variety of targets and submissions. When he is caught in the guard, one of the odd things about Chimaev’s style is his ability to mount so much force with only his hips, before looking to knee cut. Further when he does pass, his ability to maintain a far back weight distribution with his hips coupled with head position make him particularly difficult to sweep.
While it seems, for the most part, he is content to ground and pound his way to victory, his submissions are quick and it is important to note that two of his three professionally have come via D’Arce choke, plus an extra on his amateur record.
Khamzat Chimaev is next slated to take on Li Jingliang this Saturday at UFC 267, a massive step up in competition compared to his most recent foes. This will also serve as a test as to whether the immense hype surrounding ‘Borz’ (nicknamed wolf in Chechen), has truly been justified.
Ultimately only time will tell but up to this point, Chimaev has given little to criticize in his career or style and looks at this point to be an unstoppable force, but whether or not he rises to the occasion of Jingliang will be evident in the days to come.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.