But that isn’t even close to reality.
Instead, the 14-fight UFC veteran will set foot in the octagon on Saturday as a decided underdog — currently the odds are around 6-to-1 against him — while facing off against a highly-touted prospect in Chimaev, who received a massive push from the UFC last year after he rattled off three impressive wins in a row to introduce himself to the world.
While those odds may bother some fighters, don’t count Li among them. He couldn’t care less if the majority of people around the world think he’s going to lose to Chimaev because none of them are actually climbing in the cage to face him this weekend.
“I don’t really care about the odds,” Li told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 267. “Because the money doesn’t go in my account. I think I don’t care about how others think I will win or not. Because I believe in myself. The only thing that controls everything is yourself. You have to believe in yourself first then you can win. I have faith in myself. That’s all that matters.”
After bursting on the scene with two wins over just 10 days in two different weight classes in 2020, Chimaev found himself being one of the most talked about fighters on the entire UFC roster. He then added to the hype with a staggering 17-second knockout against veteran middleweight Gerald Meerschaert this past September.
With only a single fight at welterweight against an opponent in Rhys McKee who typically competes at lightweight, Chimaev was then granted a matchup with Leon Edwards only to be diagnosed with a severe case of COVID-19 which knocked him out of the fight.
Chimaev’s battle with the deadly virus grew so dire that Chimaev actually contemplated retirement before finally managing to return to full health so he could book his UFC return just over 13 months after his last appearance in the promotion.
The attention surrounding Chimaev has already returned now that he’s competing again, which is exactly why Li requested this matchup when offered several different options by the UFC.
“Everyone thinks he’s the best,” Li said of Chimaev. “That’s fine. Let’s see who’s better. Let’s see if ‘The Wolf’ is better or ‘The Leech’ is better.
“This fight, I think my attitude is I’ll either get eaten by the wolf or I will kill the wolf.”
That do-or-die approach might seem dangerous or even foolish against someone like Chimaev, who not only possesses serious one-punch knockout power but also comes from a tremendous wrestling background thanks to his roots in the Caucasus region.
None of that seems to scare Li, who invites Chimaev to give him everything he can handle on Saturday because he’s more than ready to dish out the same and more.
“No doubt Chimaev is a very well-rounded fighter,” Li said. “If the fight stays striking, it won’t go to a decision. It will be a finish. This is mixed martial arts. If he takes me to the ground, I don’t fear it. I will show something different.
“We have to train all the aspects of the game. Just during the fight, everyone wants to show what they can do best but anything can happen in the octagon.”
When asked to judge Chimaev’s previous performances in the UFC, Li simply replied “it’s OK,” which helps explain the confidence he’s been showing in every interaction with his opponent during fight week.
While he already holds wins over far more established welterweights, including a jaw-dropping knockout of Santiago Ponzinibbio in his last outing, Li knows what an impressive performance against a fighter like Chimaev will do for his career, especially as he seeks to get his own push from the UFC.
“A win over Chimaev will be a bigger win compared to the knockout over [Santiago] Ponzinibbio,” Li said without hesitation. “Chimaev has more of a name, and if I can beat him, I have more attention from the global fans.”