JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just four fights into his UFC career, Khamzat Chimaev is already one of the most popular athletes on the promotion's entire roster. Ahead of the biggest fight of his burgeoning career, the 27-year-old welterweight isn't shy on predicting greatness from himself moving forward.
With Chimaev (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) facing former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns (20-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) on the pay-per-view main card of Saturday's UFC 273, many believe he'll earn a title shot of his own with an impressive win.
Chimaev believes he's already the titleholder, pointing to the recent actions of reigning champion Kamaru Usman, as well as top contender Leon Edwards, as proof of his position.
"I'm already the champ," Chimaev told MMA Underground at Wednesday's media day. "The guys, they don't want to fight me. One guy goes out and has surgery or something. He wants to go do the boxing somewhere and he can fix his arm. Are we going to go do the boxing? I don't know.
"The other guy talked, he didn't fight somebody top-10. They always find some excuse, you know? I'm ready. I'm already the champ. People know that."
Usman, who recently underwent surgery to repair some lingering issues in his right hand, is currently sidelined but has been steadily calling for a boxing match with pound-for-pound great Canelo Alvarez. Meanwhile, Edwards currently sits at No. 3 in the UFC's official welterweight rankings but hasn't fought since this past June, when he largely cruised to a decision win over Nate Diaz, save for a tumultuous final round that saw him clipped and wobbled.
Usman and Edwards are expected to meet sometime this summer, but Chimaev doesn't believe that's the fight fans want to see, even if UFC president Dana White has said it's the matchup he intends to make.
"If they do that fight, does somebody care about that fight?" Chimaev asked. "I don't think so. Dana White wants to make that fight. Leon Edwards, nobody knows that guy, and Usman, he is the same. Nobody wants to see those guys. They would want to see me there and smash them both. If they give me both guys same night, I'm going to smash them both."
The UFC, of course, isn't going to book Chimaev against two different opponents on the same night, but his bold claim somehow seems genuine. While the UFC has its share of big talkers, Chimaev's matter-of-fact delivery gives him a rather believable tone. Chimaev isn't being boisterous, he's simply laying out what he's done so far and what he intends to do again on Saturday night.
"I'm going to go in the cage and like I do always: take his head and go home," Chimaev said.
Burns certainly sees things differently. One of the few potential opponents who willingly requested a fight with Chimaev, "Durinho" currently sits at No. 2 in the UFC's rankings and boasts some of the best grappling skills in the division, with his previous International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation world titles serving as proof.
Unsurprisingly, Chimaev is unimpressed.
"This is not jiu-jitsu," Chimaev said. "This is not wrestling. This is MMA. This is fighting. It's not like take the gi and hold somebody. I'm going to smash his face everywhere."
The UFC has yet to formally announce Usman vs. Edwards. Officially, the delay is for Usman to get medically cleared to compete following his surgery, but there may be a bit of business on the minds of the UFC brass, as well. UFC 272 features a pair of title fights atop the bill, but there's no question that Burns vs. Chimaev is receiving as much attention from both fans and media as anything else on the card.
Will that translate into an immediate title shot should Chimaev win? Time will tell, but he is happy to make his case.
"(Edwards) almost lost his last fight to Nate Diaz, that skinny guy," Chimaev said. "Five rounds, and last round, he gets tired. If he gets tired against Diaz, what am I going to do with this guy? He's going to get that tired after first minute, and I'm going to knock him off. You know, maybe this guy is not that level, not my level. so I don't know.
"People, they don't want to see that guy."
To hear the full interview with Chimaev, check out the video above.
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.