UFC: Khamzat Chimaev Risks Unbeaten Record Against Li Jingliang After Covid Horrors And His RETIREMENT
About 20 seconds after his fight against Gerald Meerschaert began, Khamzat Chimaev was already celebrating.
It took Chimaev just 17 seconds to knock out the American veteran, completing a record streak of three consecutive UFC wins in 66 extraordinary days, taking the Performance of the Night award each and every time.
His victories against John Phillips and Rhys McKee came in just 10, another record in the modern history of the sport. Next was the highly qualified Briton Leon Edwards.
But then ‘Borz’ tested positive for coronavirus. 11 months later, after three postponements, coughing up blood, an early retirement and a weigh-in controversy, the Russian-born Swede is ready to fight again.
He faces Li Jingliang at UFC 267 on Saturday with his unbeaten record at stake. Will fans see that the same fighter who burst onto the scene took the sport by storm? Below, Sportsmail evaluates his chances of beating Chinese 18-6 in Abu Dhabi.
UFC’s Khamzat Chimaev puts his undefeated record on the line in Abu Dhabi this weekend
Chimaev will face Li Jingliang (left) at UFC 267 on Saturday in his first fight in more than a year.
How did you get here?
Although Chimaev did not start training in MMA relatively late, when he was 23 years old, he began wrestling at age five in Chechnya, Russia.
After emigrating to Sweden with his mother at 19, he took a job in a small poultry factory in Kalmar and occasionally in security.
Majdi Shammas, owner of a martial arts facility in the capital Stockholm, remembers the first time he met Chimaev.
He said ESPN: ‘I went downstairs and saw that two guys had got on one. I said, ‘Whoa, whoa! What is hapening here?’ I separated them, and the one who was alone did not know him.
When I looked into his eyes, I could see that he just wanted to rip everyone else’s heads off. He knew I was the owner of the gym and I said, ‘Well, who are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m a fighter and I want to be a professional MMA fighter.’ And that was Khamzat.
The Russian-born star struck Gerald Meerschaert after just 17 seconds in September 2020
After seeing his initial promise, Shammas claims that he kept Chimaev in the gym for so long that he did not return home for two years.
He continued his wrestling career, which currently stands at 22-0, winning three gold medals between 2015 and 2018 at the National Championships, during which time he also won his only three amateur fights.
His first professional fight lasted five seconds, before winning at Fight Club Rush 3 and four under the Brave Combat Federation banner. The upward trajectory was clear.
Bursting onto the scene
His first foray into the UFC was a bit haphazard, replacing Dusko Todorovic to face Welsh fighter Phillips on short notice, winning by submission in just over a minute and winning Performance of the Night. Not only winning, but thrashing.
Surprisingly, 10 days later he knocked out Northern Irishman McKee, thus setting the record for the fastest consecutive UFC wins in modern history of the sport.
His next and most recent fight, against Meerschaert, was a masterclass in clinical cruelty. The American has had 47 fights and none of them ended that quickly. He had broken the previous record of 105 days of a three-fight winning streak.
From the bell, Chimaev was on the front foot, landing a fierce kick to put pressure on his opponent, before landing a brutal right hook. One and go. None of his nine fights have gone the distance. Six have finished in the first round.
He had previously beaten John Phillips and Rhys McKee (below) in 10 days before surpassing Meerschaert for a three-fight winning streak in an astonishing 66 days, a UFC record.
In his first two UFC fights, Chimaev outscored his opponents by a ridiculous 192 shots to two.
The 27-year-old was marked as one of the most promising promising players in the entire sport, his seemingly unparalleled and stratospheric rise.
BT Sport, MMA Fighting and CombatPress Breakthrough Fighter of the Year, Nordic MMA Male Fighter of the Year, MMA Junkie Knockout of the Month and Newcomer of the Year and UFC Honors Debut of the Year.
A delightful clash with Edwards, set to become one of Dana White’s ‘favorite fights’ of the year, was next.
Problems with the coronavirus
But tragedy struck. With a fight scheduled against Edwards for December 2020, both fighters tested positive and it was postponed.
The alarm bells were ringing when Chimaev subsequently had to withdraw from the rescheduled January 20 date and following the March 13 confrontation. The virus not only wiped him out for a couple of weeks, it devastated him.
But after suffering severely due to contracting coronavirus, Chimaev retired from the sport, prompting UFC chief Dana White (right) to say that Chimaev was excited and would fight again.
His representative Ali Abdelaziz told ESPN: ‘Khamzat had coronavirus and when he returned to the gym, his lungs did not recover 100 percent. You need time for your lungs to recover, and now it’s about taking that necessary time. ‘
Shammas said: ‘When he got COVID … he came back too early, he was so stressed about fighting Leon again. I remember his friends calling me at one in the morning one night to tell me that he was having trouble breathing.
‘I called an ambulance and they took him to the hospital. He thought he was going to die. It was really bad. I was worried. To be honest, I was very worried. ‘
Chimaev himself said RT sport: ‘At first I was fine, then they told me I could start doing cardio and I felt bad again. I went to the bathroom and started coughing up blood. That just messed up my mind a little bit.
Honestly, it scared me … Cancer? Like, ‘I’ve been sick for so long, why doesn’t it go away?’ Different thoughts ran through my mind, plus I was alone there in Vegas struggling to get over it all. ‘
He was so shocked that he announced that he had retired from the sport entirely, before being persuaded to return by high-profile figures, including White.
Regaining full health and being fit again to enter the ring are very different perspectives.
The 27-year-old gained weight on the second attempt, with controversy over whether he grabbed the towel
This summer, the long-awaited return of Chimaev finally returned.
Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang presents a difficult but not impossible challenge, with a reasonable 18-6 record, including three Performance of the Night awards in his last four fights, sandwiched by a unanimous decision loss to Neil Magny.
The 11th-ranked 33-year-old also fights at welterweight, two steps down from Chimaev’s usual middleweight class, allowing the Swede to return to action against a slightly less punishing hitter than he might. be used to.
On the other hand, Chimaev doesn’t tend to get hit …
Also fighting at UFC 267 at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi is Khabib Nurmagomedov’s protégé Islam Makhachev taking on Dan Hooker, ahead of the main event – a light heavyweight championship fight pitting Jan Blachowicz against Glover Teixeira.
Concerns about gaining weight
However, Chimaev’s problems with the weight highlight widespread concerns about whether he will be ready to fight.
The last fighter to leave the UFC hotel, he stepped on the scale minutes before the weigh-in window closed, naked. but he was half a pound over the limit, at 171.5 – and that was touching the towel (fighters occasionally grab the towel protecting their modesty to reduce the weight of their arms on the scale).
Chimaev was given an hour to lose half a pound. 45 minutes later, he stepped again, but was clearly trying to lean on the towel to reduce his weight. Returned 166.
UFC weigh-in coordinator Heidi Dean had obvious questions. How do you lose five pounds in 45 minutes? He had to re-weigh it. This time, he was forced to raise his hands above his head and killed 171 people. By the skin of his teeth, Chimaev succeeded.
So what Chimaev will we see?
There’s a school of thought that says Chimaev hasn’t fought anyone yet. His three previous UFC opponents have records of 10-13 and are hardly the best in the world.
But at the same time, he had to start somewhere. Chimaev continues his journey against Li, and while defeat would be a true setback, victory will be one step away from the Covid-19 horrors he suffered and back on his way to the top of the sport.
Chimaev posted an Instagram picture showing Bulldog Fight Night 9, where he faces Jack Hermansson, a fellow Swedish UFC middleweight ranked sixth-ranked middleweight, in a wrestling match on November 19.
That’s just three weeks after the Li fight, and he obviously thinks he’s fine to do both.
Shammas recognizes that he is the ‘Chosen One’. Saturday will go a long way toward determining that.