Khamzat Chimaev’s win over Gilbert Burns wasn’t exactly picturesque and his coach let him know it.
Coach Andreas Michael was in Chimaev’s corner at UFC 273 on April 9, where Chimaev won a unanimous decision after a bloody three-round brawl with Burns. It was the first time Burns had ever gone to the scorecards in his career and while there were plenty of positives to take from the performance — Chimaev remained undefeated and he and Burns won the evening’s Fight of the Night award — Michael admits that he became frustrated with the Allstars Training Center star between rounds.
“I got very upset and I just told him, ‘Listen. We’ve been working for this for, like, 10 weeks. Stop jeopardizing this because you want to show everyone you’re the man. Understand? You are the man, but keep it simple. Keep your jab going. Keep it to what we’ve been working on,’” Michael said on The MMA Hour. “And at the end of the day we say, nobody’s going to love — well, I’m not saying nobody — but people love a winner. So just win the f****** fight.
“I don’t remember Jon Jones’ fights in his last part of his career. They haven’t been spectacular, but nobody remembers that. You look at Sherdog and you see win win win win win win win. At the end of the day, that’s what people remember, sad to say. They love a winner and they forget about a loser. I’m not saying I’m pushing him to do boring fights, what I’m saying is to do more intelligent fights and he has the ability.”
Chimaev was a force of nature in his first four UFC appearances, dominating John Phillips in his UFC debut before finishing him in the second round and following that performance with three consecutive first-round finishes. Unsurprisingly, Michael knew that Chimaev would attempt to finish Burns quickly as well.
Michael wanted Chimaev to be more methodical in his approach for Burns, but it didn’t take long for that game plan to go out the window.
“The plan was to just box him,” Michael said. “Keep the jab going because that’s the way to handle that situation. He did absolutely everything we didn’t work on and he just wanted to show the people, ‘Listen, I’m here, I’m gonna walk through this guy.’ But there’s a reason these guys are there. The No. 2, No. 1, champions, they’re there because they’re f****** tough. They’re some tough dudes, respect to them. So if you understand that and that comes with experience, if you understand that then you have the patience to handle that situation and that will make you maybe finish him in one or two rounds, but you need that patience and that patience comes with experience. Remember, Khamzat has nearly never gone past the first round.
“It’s like [Mike] Tyson the first time he went 12 rounds, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, he got exposed.’ … What did they say about Khabib [Nurmagomedov], for example, when he fought against Tibau? These are great, great fighters, but it’s how you handle adversity that shows that you’re a great fighter. And not every performance can be spectacular.”
Though Michael was frustrated at times on fight night, he also understands that Chimaev is under the microscope now and that criticism is inevitable as he continues his rapid rise to the top of the rankings.
“He’s a work in progress,” Michael said. “A lot of people talking a lot of s***, talking out of their asses, you know? You can’t make everyone happy. If he knocked the guy out in two seconds, they would have said, ‘But his conditioning.’ ‘He doesn’t have heart.’ ‘He has to be tested.’ ‘He has to be this.’ So you can’t make everyone happy.
“Of course, I didn’t like the way that he wanted to knock the guy out and show everyone, ‘Look, I’m just gonna walk through this guy as well,’ because we had a game plan. And the game plan was that he should just keep it simple. And Khamzat is very talented in striking, but of course he needs a lot of experience. Experience is what he was lacking that evening and that’s what he got. A lot of experience, the hard way.”
In Michael’s eyes, Chimaev has already come much farther than many would have expected especially given his not-so-humble beginnings. Michael recalls a green Chimaev entering his gym in 2016 and immediately proclaiming that he wanted to be at the same level of Allstars Training Center star and Swedish MMA pioneer Alexander Gustafsson.
“He came and he just started brawling with people,” Michael said. “He just walked in the gym and goes, ‘Hey, I want to be as good as Alex. I want to be as good as all these guys. I’m gonna crush everyone.’”
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, another one of these nutcases that just comes in and is tough for, like, five seconds and that’s about it. As soon as he gets a taste of his own medicine he’s gonna piss off.’ But that was not the case. I was like, ‘Oh, we have something here.’ Zero technique, just brawling and shooting like crazy to take guys down because he didn’t have any striking. He didn’t have any grappling. He just came in like a raw wrestler and I saw a lot of potential, the team saw a lot of potential in him. We started working and working and working. In four years, he’s ranked No. 2 in the world now because his first MMA professional fight was 2018. It took us four years to get into the No. 2 spot.”