The former UFC welterweight champion saw the appeal in a matchup with the undefeated Chimaev, but the possibility of the fight happening anytime soon is remote given that Chimaev’s next appearance will be in a 185-pound bout against Paulo Costa at UFC 294 in October. Usman and Chimaev recently traded public jabs about why their fight hasn’t happened yet, with Chimaev questioning why Usman won’t move up to middleweight to face him.
In his lone appearance of 2023, Usman failed to regain the welterweight title from Leon Edwards and he hopes to bounce back this year. However, he’s already putting Chimaev in the rear-view.
“I’m shooting for this year, fall,” Usman told TMZ. “We’ll see. I’ve already said, ‘Hey, I’m ready to fight,’ but the thing too is it has to make sense. Who on the planet didn’t agree that that Khamzat fight made sense? But your guy who has been in the UFC, what, two years now, and he fought literally five guys, five fights, they have you ranked at No. 3. You fought one ranked guy. They have you ranked at No. 3 in my division. I’m No. 1 and I say OK let’s fight. I’ll go down and fight you. It didn’t matter where, but then you say, ‘No, I don’t want to make that weight. Come up to middleweight to fight me.’
“Wait, so you want to tell me, the former champion, at this weight, that’s No. 1 ranked in the world at that weight, that I need to move up to middleweight to fight. Who are you? Who are you? That’s what I’m saying. It’s the disrespect of the sport. I even wanted to make it sweet and I said, ‘UFC, you know what? I’ll give you that catchweight. I’ll give you a catchweight. You name the catchweight and I’ll give it to you.’ And [Chimaev says,] ‘Oh no, I can’t make that. Come up to middleweight.’
“So you want me, who’s put the time in and done everything in this sport, to come up to middleweight to fight you, who’s done nothing in this sport, because you’re hype? Come on, man, that made no sense. And it didn’t make sense for the UFC as well, so the UFC said [to Chimaev], ‘You know what? We’ll find you someone.’ I think he’s got his hands full. If the right Paulo Costa shows up in a fight, he’s got his hands full.”
Currently, the upper tier of the middleweight division is filled with experienced names and up-and-coming contenders, so Usman knows his next fight will be against someone lower in the rankings. He was asked if he’d like to face Shavkat Rakhmonov with Rakhmonov losing scheduled opponent Kelvin Gastelum to injury, but said he’d rather not take that fight given that Rakhmonov has trained with him at Kill Cliff FC in Florida.
He is open to a more popular suggestion, two-time UFC title challenger Stephen Thompson. “Wonderboy” was supposed to fight Michel Pereira at UFC 291 this past weekend, but declined when Pereira missed the welterweight limit by three pounds.
“The only guys that would even make sense right now, Wonderboy, because he’s an opponent, he’s been around so long and he’s just that name to where it’s always a great fight. … His style is very, very difficult to fight,” Usman said. “He’s just one of those names in my era that I never really got to fight. So I think Wonderboy I would definitely consider that.
“I know everyone’s crucifying him for not taking that fight, but why? I don’t understand that. Why? I see people like, ‘He’s a b****,’ ‘He’s scared, he didn’t want to take the fight.’ Why? We signed on the contract and [Pereira] said that he was going to make this weight. He decided not to make that weight and [Thompson] told him, ‘OK, I need you to go back and I need you to make the weight.’ And if he’s not going to try, why is that my fault? No, absolutely not my fault. So people need to stop that. Wonderboy did his job. He came in there, he made weight, he trained for the fight, and what else more can you ask from him?”
The other name piquing Usman’s interest is top-ranked fighter Belal Muhammad. “Remember The Name” is on a 10-fight unbeaten streak and is coming off of an impressive five-round decision win over Gilbert Burns at UFC 288.
Usman knows that matchup will only happen if both men are willing to risk their spot.
“Belal Muhammad, he’s kind of sitting in that position where he’s like, ‘I don’t want to risk my title hopes. They’ve already told me that I would be next,’ whenever that is, even if it’s a year or whatever,” Usman said. “He doesn’t want to risk that chance for the title, so I think those are the only two guys that really make sense. If you look at the roster, who else? Those are the guys that make sense.”