Khamzat Chimaev has fierce challenges ahead of him as he begins to face the elite of the welterweight division, but he hasn’t abandoned plans to capture gold at 185 pounds either.
The UFC star even sees an easier path to the title at the higher weight class, simply because of the man currently holding the belt: UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
“Izzy, I think it will be more easy for me to smash that guy [than Kamaru Usman],” Chimaev said Wednesday on a dual appearance with Darren Till on The MMA Hour. “He has zero wrestling. The guy he fought last time, he’s not a wrestler — he took his back. If I take his back, brother, I’ll squeeze his head off. I’ll take his head off. Easy money for me.”
A decorated striker with one of the sport’s best kickboxing pedigrees, Adesanya is a perfect 11-0 at 185 pounds in the UFC — the second longest winning streak in UFC middleweight history — and has defended his belt four times. His latest title defense came in a nail-biter of a decision in his long-awaited rematch against Robert Whittaker at UFC 271.
Chimaev has won both of his octagon appearances at 185 pounds in devastating fashion, including a 17-second knockout of Gerald Meerschaert in September 2020. However, for now, plenty of unfinished business still awaits the Chechen-born fighter at 170 pounds, as Chimaev is scheduled to meet one-time title challenger Gilbert Burns in a high-stakes welterweight matchup on April 9 at UFC 273.
Burns recently told MMA Fighting’s Portuguese-language podcast Trocação Franca that he hired two Russian wrestlers to help him prepare for Chimaev, both of whom asked to keep their names a secret. Safe to say, the news was comical to hear for Chimaev.
“He’s said, ‘Maybe we’re going to wrestle, maybe we’re going to grapple, maybe we’re going to come in with strikes.’ He doesn’t know what I’m going to do,” Chimaev said of Burns. “He’s stressed. Now he has big drama in his head [that] he thinks about. When you listen to him, you understand — the guy is done. He said, ‘I have two secret Russian wrestlers.’
“How you f****** learn wrestling in two months, two or three months? Never. In his dreams, he can’t take me down. He knows that. The guys that have been in my gym — like some guys that [also] train there with him, they’ve been in my gym — I don’t know what they told him, but I beat them all and he knows about that. He’s scared.”
The Burns matchup, by far, represents the biggest step up in competition the undefeated Chimaev has faced in his career. Burns is currently MMA Fighting’s No. 4 ranked welterweight in the world and is slotted at No. 2 on the UFC’s own rankings.
For the No. 10 ranked Chimaev, that means a win over Burns should only lead to one thing.
“I think I have to fight for the title,” Chimaev said. “Who is the next guy out there? Ten fights, 10 finishes. After [the Burns fight], 11 fights, 11 finishes. And what are they going to say? The guy is No. 2 in the rankings. Now they talk about, ‘Oh, you didn’t fight somebody in the rankings.’ Now, if I beat this guy — No. 2 — what are you going to say?”
Chimaev on Wednesday reiterated his ambitious plans of capturing the UFC welterweight title, then moving up and repeating the feat at 185 pounds, then even taking a hard look at the 205-pound belt as the cherry atop his championship sundae. He acknowledged that he still has plenty of work to do to get to that point, but he’s also confident in his chances.
“I feel [like] I could kill everybody, brother,” Chimaev said. “I am the greatest of all-time, brother. I am the best.”