Khamzat Chimaev has made waves as probably the most promising prospect to grace the Octagon in recent memory, even in an era chalked full of rising talent. Due in part to his timing, breaking into the UFC within the same calendar year as Khabib Nurmagomedov parted from it. Although the champion was the one to really make a statement about how dominant eastern European wrestling could be in the sport of MMA, quickly talks about whether Chimaev could be the second coming, and even goes further with it.
The Chechnyan, who later relocated to Sweden earned a submission victory over John Philips in July of 2020 to start his UFC run. A winning debut is great but it’s far from enough to set you apart from the pack if you want to be a UFC star. What really made Chimaev break headlines was the fact that in the full 6 minutes and 12 seconds, Philips was only able to land two total strikes to Chimaev’s 124.
It wasn’t a fluke either. Returning at UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Till, Chimaev took on Rhys McKee and outlanded him 68 to 0 before finishing him in the first round. Making a quick turn around and jumping in weight against 180 pounder Gerald Meerschaert, Chimaev gave fans a glimpse of the readiness to fight at any opportunity which would further his fame. Once again Chimaev failed to be hit, this time in only 17 seconds that the fight lasted before landing a smashing punch and knocking out his opponent. In just three fights the man named “Borz”, meaning wolf, the nickname Chimaev adopted, had already earned a top 15 fight amongst the UFC’s welterweights. The big question, however, was how much of his previous dominance would remain when the level of talent provided jumped so much. Apparently, completely was the answer as Li Jingliang, the number 11 ranked 170lber lasted just 5 seconds out in the open before Chimaev shot, picked up the Chinese fighter, and walked him to his corner to slam him. 58 strikes later would expose Jingliang’s neck and produce the submission, and Chimaev would earn his way into the division’s elite.
The ability to come into the UFC and string together this number of career-high performances is so much more than rare, it’s essentially unprecedented. Even Nurmagomedov, who made waves by barely giving up a round, at least ate some punches on the way. However, for those fans who only know Chimaev from his four UFC fights, must still wonder what the odds are that this is actually normal for the phenom. To answer that, we have to look back on the career of Chimaev as a whole, and how dominant he has really been.
Born in Chechnya, wrestling was always a sport at the forefront of Chimaev’s life. He began at the age of 5, and earned himself a bronze medal at the Russian National championships as a junior. Coming of age as an early adult, Chimaev relocated to Sweden with his family but maintained his wrestling career. Between 2016 and 2018, he won gold medals at the nation’s freestyle championships both at 86kg and 92kg, the latest of which saw him go 12-0, only giving up two points to the 105 he scored in the tournament. An eerie foreshadowing of the numbers he would put up in the UFC years later. Unable to find the competition he craved solely on the wrestling mats, Chimaev also tried his hand at both Judo and Sambo between his wrestling events. However, by 23 years old, MMA emerged as his true career path.
The Amateur Years
Beginning in the amateur leagues, Chimaev would stay there for three fights including against future IMMAF champion Khaled Laalam, but finish all three opponents before time ran out. While official statistics are hard to come by during these years in Chimaev’s career, Laalam likely landed barely 10 strikes, the majority being ineffective desperation shots off of his back in an attempt to do anything. Regardless, it would matter little as a flush cross and mauling wrestling would lead to a submission victory for Chimaev in round two.
In his professional debut at International Ring Fight Arena 14, Chimaev fought against Gard Olve Sagen. Footage and even stats of this fight are seemingly non-present however Chimaev secured a round two TKO victory. In his following professional fight, Ole Magnor landed a total of 0 significant strikes before waking up from a rear-naked choke courtesy of Chimaev. That was in 2018, for Fight Club Rush.
The BRAVE CF Years
After a perfect wrestling career, a perfect amateur MMA career, and so far a 2-0 professional record, Chimaev was signed to one of the faster-growing promotions in Europe and the middle east. BRAVE CF, took on Chimaev and scheduled about first with Benjamin Bennett, but changed opponents to Marko Kisic before the event. This was at the time the most adversity Chimaev would face yet. Not that he was hurt, but he ended up engaging in some competitive exchanges, rocking Kisic with a straight right, and eating a spinning side kick to the body a moment later. However, the exchanges would actually aid Chimaev more, landing his signature right hand and dropping Kisic. The mauling continued from there, from knee on belly to mount Chimaev advanced his way to a ground and pound victory.
Rushing right out of the gate next, Sidney Wheeler landed the hardest 1-2 combination to touch Chimaev. However in response, after eating just two shots, Chimaev shot and finished the bout in 35 seconds. He then fought Ikram Aliskerov on April 19th, 2019. For the first time since Kisic, Chimaev would entertain the striking battle a bit longer than usual, eating roughly 5 good shots plus some rabbit punches in the clinch before dropping Aliskerov twice, the second of which leaving him out cold.
The final fight Chimaev engaged in before entering the UFC in 2020, was against Mzwandile Hlongwa in 2019 at BRAVE CF 27. Chimaev didn’t wait for Hlongwa to land even once before he shot and took him down immediately. The fight would stay on the mat for the entirety of the first round, once again without Chimaev eating so much as a single punch. Round two would look essentially identical to round one save for a single low kick landed by Hlongwa, but in the end Chimaev would sink in a D’arce that would end the night. It was this win that would catapult Borz into the UFC in the coming year.
What does this mean?
Khamzat Chimaev has been so dominant so quickly inside the UFC that he still holds a sort of mystic over the division. Is he really as good as he seems? With such dominant wrestling, what happens when he is forced to strike? He finishes opponents so fast, what happens in deep waters? Some of this can be answered by looking back.
The dominance that Chimaev has displayed is nothing new since coming to the UFC, from his time as a freestyle wrestler, all the way through his tenure with BRAVE CF, Chimaev rarely gives up taking strikes in the double digits, usually even avoiding them altogether. This was the case for three amateur fights and 6 professional wins. In terms of his perception as a wrestler, yes that’s his base and he may very well be the best we’ve ever seen at it. His knockout of Meerschaert is an outlier in his UFC career, but that same power, from the same hand was present long before he graced the octagon. This was so much the case that in his final fight outside the UFC, the commentary team praised his mixing in his takedowns, assuming he would instead test out his power in a striking match.
The one key variable we have yet to see his Chimiev in the latest rounds, as of now, no opponent has been able to survive more than two. As he prepares to fight the number 2 welterweight contender in Gilbert Burns at UFC 273, this test is absolutely a possibility. However, the same questions revolving around how Chimiev will rise to the occasion were thrown around before he jumped into the UFC, before he jumped to middleweight and before took on his first ranked opponent. There is definitely a hype train running behind the Chechnyan but this one very well might be the realest deal we’ve seen in a long time.