Belal Muhammad knows how the UFC works.
In a perfect world, a lopsided win over a two-time title contender like Stephen Thompson would immediately thrust Muhammad into the title conversation, but the veteran welterweight understands that — right or wrong — hype often trumps accomplishments.
That’s why after he soundly defeated Thomson at UFC Vegas 45, Muhammad turned his attention towards a potential fight against undefeated prospect Khamzat Chimaev, who is only 4-0 in the UFC with a single win against a ranked opponent at 170 pounds, yet is arguably one of the most talked about fighters on the entire roster.
“To me, rankings don’t mean anything. It’s about hype,” Muhammad told MMA Fighting. “It’s about who the UFC wants to push and who’s that guy? Who’s that [Conor] McGregor now? Who’s that next big star? As we saw last year with [Jorge] Masvidal, where it’s like, you don’t have to be No. 2 to get the title shot. You don’t have to be No. 1 to get the title shot.
“It’s about who’s getting that push right now in that right moment. Right now in that right moment, [with] Khamzat, you get the most hype from beating a guy like him than anybody [else] honestly.”
It’s hard to deny Muhammad’s logic, especially with UFC president Dana White gushing over Chimaev any chance he gets while praising the Chechen born fighter as one of the most avoided athletes in the promotion.
Chimaev has already gone as far as calling for a title shot against reigning welterweight king Kamaru Usman, but that was a bridge too far even for White, who said that “Borz” would have to fight somebody else before actually competing for a championship.
Muhammad recognizes that stance as a golden opportunity to cut Chimaev’s road short now and cement Muhammad’s own claim to the title while possibly earning more attention than he would gain from beating a higher-ranked opponent.
On paper, Muhammad would be risking the position that he rightly earned in the division with wins over “Wonderboy” and Demian Maia in his past two fights, but he understands the value in stealing the spotlight away from a name like Chimaev.
“He has that push from the UFC, where they think that he could be a champion and they think that he’s the next guy,” Muhammad explained. “You go out there and beat a guy like that, you steal all of his hype, all of his shine. Then you just beat the boogeyman.”
While Chimaev doesn’t have the credentials of some of his division-mates yet, he’s stormed through the four fighters who have been willing to face him in his UFC career.
Most recently, the 27-year-old welterweight mauled veteran contender Li Jingliang inside the first round, which finally propelled him into the UFC’s top-15 rankings.
Whether or not Chimaev is really as good as advertised remains to be seen. But the UFC seems to believe it, so Muhammad is anxious to find out for himself.
“Do I know why he’s got all this hype? He’s got four wins [in the UFC],” Muhammad said. “Do I think he’s this Terminator because of those four wins? No. Do I think that he’s this pay-per-view star because of those four wins? No. But the UFC does.
“If they think that, then I’m the one that’s going to have to put a stop to it.”