Khamzat Chimaev had a lot to prove in his fight against Gilbert Burns at UFC 273.
Despite an unblemished record and a jaw-dropping statistic where he absorbed almost no strikes whatsoever through his first four appearances in the octagon, Chimaev had still not faced any elite competition that would help him graduate from prospect to contender.
Chimaev passed his test with a “Fight of the Night” performance in a three-round slugfest against Burns that seemingly put to rest any concerns about his legitimacy as a threat in the welterweight division.
“I was really impressed to be honest,” UFC welterweight Matt Brown said about Chimaev on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “Gilbert Burns ain’t no joke. Just about anybody’s going to lose a round to Gilbert Burns. That dude is legit as they get so I was pretty impressed with Khamzat. I thought he did a great job. I thought he showed great composure, even when they were throwing down hard. I was impressed with Burns, too.
“All around, I just thought it was a great fight and a perfect step up for Khamzat. You’ve got to think, too, this is his fifth UFC fight and he’s already fighting Gilbert Burns? That’s no joke. That’s legit right there. You cannot take anything away from Khamzat for that fight.”
Heading into the fight, Chimaev was an overwhelming favorite to win but Burns didn’t make anything easy on him, especially in the second round where the one-time title contender blasted him with some hard shots that wobbled the Chechen welterweight.
Chimaev weathered the storm before coming back to win the third round before ultimately claiming the unanimous decision victory.
“It was really good for him to go through that,” Brown said. “Cause he’s going to go through that at some point. He’s still human like everybody. They can talk all this monster s*** all they want, that dude’s a human like everybody. You’re in there in the UFC, you’re going to go with some savages. He’s going to have another fight like that but now he’s experienced it. I think it was really good for him.
“I think it was really good for him. As long as he goes back and takes the lessons from it to improve, it’s going to do wonders for him.”
Prior to UFC 273, Chimaev had already been mentioned as a possible future opponent for reigning UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who has largely cleared out the majority of fighters at the top of the rankings.
Right now, Usman is recovering from hand surgery with a fight against Leon Edwards on the horizon later this year but Chimaev has definitely positioned himself as perhaps the biggest threat to dethrone “The Nigerian Nightmare.”
As impressed as he was with Chimaev’s performance, Brown isn’t ready to crown him champion just yet, especially if the path to get there still goes through Usman.
“You know what, to be honest, I didn’t see anything in that fight that showed me he’s going to beat [Kamaru] Usman,” Brown said. “That was the only negative that I would have took out of that fight. Of course, MMA math never works but the way he beat Gilbert didn’t make me think he’s going to beat Usman.
“Colby [Covington] is probably going to be his next fight, who knows, but from everything we’re kind of seeing right now. I think that’s another perfect step up test for him. If you call it a step up — I don’t know who would win between Gilbert and Colby but a five round fight with someone like Colby is going to show a lot.”
Brown takes nothing away from Chimaev’s win over Burns much less his potential to earn a title shot in the near future but he’s also quick to point out Usman’s dominance over the entire division during an incredible 15-fight unbeaten streak in the UFC.
“The hype is real but Usman deserves as much hype as Chimaev,” Brown said. “He’s the best in the world right now. Maybe this might light a fire under Khamzat’s ass and he might train even harder. He might show more stuff we ain’t seen. That’s why I think Colby’s the perfect test for him and I hope they make that fight. I think that’s the perfect matchup.
“If he goes out there and beats Colby, beats him good, Usman-Chimaev is going to be a huge fight then. Colby’s the perfect guy not only testing Khamzat again, a huge five-round fight, but also if he beats him, the hype just gets even bigger and a Usman-Khamzat fight is gigantic at that point.”