Skip to main content

Khamzat Chimaev pushed to limit at UFC 273, but result only stands to show his ultimate potential | Opinion

Win over Gilbert Burns was Chechen's first UFC fight to go three rounds but proved to be more valuable to him than another quick finish.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Undefeated welterweight prospect Khamzat Chimaev faced the toughest test of his professional career thus far but ultimately outpointed an incredibly game Gilbert Burns at Saturday's UFC 273 event.

After being hit just once in his first four UFC appearances combined, Chimaev was forced to endure 119 significant strikes from "Durinho" in the clash according to UFCStats.com. He was clearly wobbled in the second frame, and he entered the third round of a contest for the first time in his career.

Still, when it was all over, he found a way to walk out of the cage with a win, 29-28 on all three judges' cards.

For some, Chimaev's performance served as proof that he's not the unbeatable monster that he appeared to be in his first four UFC wins, but it should also stand as testament to just how good the 27-year-old Chechen may turn out to be.

"Well, he's human," UFC president Dana White told MMA Underground. "I mean, any asshole that said that doesn't think the kid's human. He's a human being, and he just beat the No. 2 welterweight in the world in the UFC with a couple of fights in the UFC. If you don't think he's the real deal, you're out of your mind."

Chimaev's first four UFC wins were so dominant that he had begun to develop an almost mythical reputation as an untouchable savage who was destined to tear through the entire division. He certainly did nothing to quell those ideas, promising repeatedly to simply show up and smash anyone put in front of him.

But when he was pushed into the deep end of the UFC's welterweight talent pool, facing a former title challenger in Burns, Chimaev (11-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) found the going a bit more difficult. He admits his early aggression against Burns (20-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC) proved costly as the fight played out.

"I was too excited to knock him out," Chimaev admitted. "I always say to everybody all week, 'I'm going to knock him out. I'm going to knock him out.' I tried to knock him out, you know? That was wrong for me from the beginning. The guy was tough. I didn't accept that at all.

"From the first second to last second, I tried to finish him, you know? Next time, I'm going to work a little bit smarter, and yeah, I'm going to smash somebody."

Still, after battling through a difficult second round, Chimaev was able to dig deep to outpoint his foe in the third and take home a decision win. He remains unbeaten and now has a win over a former title contender. He clearly demonstrated that he's one of the absolute best welterweights in the world, and sometimes being pushed to your limit is even more valuable than simply dominating an overmatched foe.

Despite competing on a card with two different title fights, Chimaev was one of the biggest storylines of the week, and White knows that spotlight isn't always easy to handle.

"He's had a ton of pressure on him – a lot of anxiety, probably," White said. "Who knows how well he slept last night? You know, all the things that go into the buzz and energy, and then I'm sure there was a huge adrenaline dump after that first round, so this is sh-t you can't train for, and you either make it through it or you don't you know? He made it through with flying colors."

The three-round affair was thrilling from start to finish and earned both men the evening's "Fight of the Night" bonus. Chimaev said it also provided him with valuable lessons, as well – the kind that are often gained through defeat. But Chimaev was able to build his game while also staying undefeated.

"It was not like something surprised from him," Chimaev said. "Coach told me all the time, like slow down and work more technical. I just wanted to take his head off. You know, I go always like that, to do, and next time I'm going to work for that."

White thinks Colby Covington, another former title challenger, could prove a perfect next opponent for Chimaev, who would certainly earn his own shot at gold with a win over the perennial contender. "Borz" is now undoubtedly among the elite of the UFC's 170-pound division, which is exactly why his UFC 273 win proved much more valuable to him than another quick finish would have been.

Questions were answered, both for us on the outside and Chimaev, himself. Cardio, durability, will to win when tested – all of these things we now know Chimaev absolutely possesses. He doesn't have to be a frontrunner to guarantee a victory, even against the most talented fighters in the division.

Chimaev's three-round war was absolutely not a sign of weakness. If anything, it was confirmation that the hype surrounding this athlete is entirely justified, and we may well be looking at a future UFC champion.

White quoted a tweet from famed boxing trainer and broadcaster Teddy Atlas, who has recently taken a liking to MMA, as proof of what the result means for Chimaev's career.

"At the end of the second round, Teddy Atlas said, 'We know what Khamzat Chimaev has on the outside when it comes to talent. We're about to find out what he's got on the inside now,'" White said. "That was going into the third round. Nobody could have said it better."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.