Khamzat Chimaev has a lot of lost time to make up for, but he still plans to work at his own pace. Especially if he has trouble finding people to fight.
The unbeaten 27-year-old competes for the first time in over a year this Saturday when he meets Li Jingliang at UFC 267 this Saturday in Abu Dhabi. When Chimaev made his octagon debut in the United Arab Emirates in June of last year, he quickly became a headlining name with two dominant performances in the span of 10 days followed by a 17-second knockout of veteran middleweight Gerald Meerschaert in Las Vegas two months later.
Unsurprisingly, Chimaev is confident ahead of his matchup with Li, with his only concern being that once he wins, it will put the welterweight division back on high alert.
“I hope so, but I don’t think these guys want to fight with me after this fight,” Chimaev said at UFC 267 media day when asked if he expects a step up in competition after Saturday. “They’re gonna start to be scared again, complain ‘he didn’t fight some of these good guys, blah blah blah,’ things like that. We will see what happens after this fight.”
When the topic of two pivotal upcoming welterweight bouts was brought up—Leon Edwards vs. Jorge Masvidal in what could be a No. 1 contender’s bout, and a title fight rematch between champion Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington—Chimaev picked Edwards and Usman to be victorious.
Chimaev and Edwards were previously scheduled to fight on three separate occasions with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on each booking and while Chimaev would still like to fight him, he believes Edwards will earn a title shot with a win. Should that be the case, Chimaev wants to climb the rankings one name at a time.
“Of course, I will be happy if they give me somebody like [Edwards],” Chimaev said. “But I think if he wins this fight he’s supposed to fight for the title. How many win streak now? 10, 9? I respect that. I win this fight, win also one, two, three fights more before the title. I don’t want to jump up [past] the guys and have people talk like, ‘This is disrespect,’ I don’t like this talk.
“I want to show who I am. I’m gonna beat all the guys in the top 10, 10 fighters, and I’m gonna become champion.”
Li currently sits at No. 11 in the UFC’s official media-generated rankings, but the number next to Li’s name doesn’t impress Chimaev and he definitely doesn’t necessarily see “The Leech” as his toughest challenge yet.
“I don’t think so,” Chimaev said. “Last time I fight Gerald Meerschaert, they say, ‘He owns the most submissions in the game,’ always people going to talk that somebody is better than me. I know who I am. I’m gonna go take his head.”