Khamzat Chimaev - the rising UFC megastar from Russia

Khamzat Chimaev of Chechnya poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 26, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Khamzat Chimaev of Chechnya poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 26, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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In little more than a week, the Russian fighter managed to earn the respect of the UFC and become one of the most recognizable names among MMA fans the world over. Many are now saying he could be “the new Khabib.”

Russian mixed martial artist Khamzat Chimaev managed to set a new record in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), having won two fights in separate weight categories (178 and 185 lbs - 77 and 84 kg respectively) just 10 days apart. In that time, the relative unknown became the most talked about name, and is now in talks for a championship bout.

Not one fighter in UFC history could say the same for themselves.

Unique style 

Khamzat Chimaev (red gloves) of Czechia punches Rhys McKee (blue gloves) of Northern Ireland in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island

The MMA world quickly began to compare the Sweden-based Chimaev with the Russian Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. For good reason: the two appear similar to the Western eye: both hail from the Caucasus region (one is a Chechen, the other - Dagestani); both are wrestlers, having spent their childhoods doing throws and locks on gym mats in the mountainous region that lives and breathes wrestling; both have a knack for taking their opponents off their feet like a ram, and then go about ground-and-pounding them, or press them up against the cage without giving them so much as  second to catch their breath or get up from under the immense weight they put on them.

Similar to Khabib, Chimaev prefers the tried and tested tactic of fainting by throwing a punch to the head, before knocking the opponent off their feet and taking the fight to the ground - a position that allows him full control. 

Khamzat earned the fans’ love with the unparalleled aggressiveness of his style and - similar to Khabib - his incredible cardio: he is light on his feet, tirelessly circling his prey like a predator, attacking, seemingly, from out of nowhere - from the front, the back or from the side - with devastating head and body shots. 

The Russian’s opponents simply lose themselves, as Khamzat combines a barrage of punches with the kind of pressure one might expect from an anvil, as they’re quickly pinned to the ground by the 80 kg beast (or, more precisely - 90 kg which is Khamzat’s walkaround weight prior to the stringent weight cut).  

Russian wrestlers from the Caucasus Mountains are known at home and the world over for their unique approach to wrestling, and Chimaev’s style - like Khabib’s - is considered one of the most dominant in the game today. Not one gym has managed to produce an adequate defense as of yet (Khamzat holds a professional record of 8/0, while Khabib’s stands at a whopping 28/0). 

Until now, the only strategy has been to try and catch the Russians with a precisely-timed knee counter during a knee-dive (we saw an example of that technique during the now legendary bout between Jorge Masvidal and Ben Askren - which was over in four seconds!) or simply outlast them in standup, which the likes of Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier attempted to do with Khabib. So far, the only successful implementation of either technique was seen from Masvidal - when Askren miscalculated by diving, and received a flying knee so devastating it knocked him out cold. 

Russian with a Swedish passport 

Chimaev has been living and training in Sweden for the past 10 years, sparring with the likes of the much heavier Alexander Gustafsson. His entire family moved there when his brother required a delicate surgery. They ended up staying. 

Until recently, Cihmaev held a variety of jobs - from bodyguard to bouncer. Money was really scarce, he confessed in an interview.

Khamzat Chimaev of Chechnya punches John Phillips of Wales in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

He finally experienced his first real breakthrough several years ago, when he was signed by Khabib Nurmagomedov’s manager Ali Abdelaziz. 

Chimaev is a man of few words when it comes to describing his favorite new job: “Smash somebody, get money. It’s easy for me.” He plans to continue to strive for new heights and already has a champion’s belt in his sights within the next two years - at least that’s how long it takes the UFC to promote a talented prospect to the kind of level where they’re a sure thing in everyone’s eyes, with enough wins to make it into their weight division’s Top 5. 

According to one of the most prominent MMA journalists today, Ariel Helwani, Chimaev is the number one rising star in the sport today - someone who has virtually no natural competition, with 192 significant strikes over his last opponent. 

“He is a blessing and a curse for the UFC, because he’s so good, they’re going to have a hard time finding opponents for him,” he said in a conversation with heavyweight Daniel Cormier during his recent podcast on ESPN. 

Chimaev’s next fight has been scheduled for October 24. The opponent and venue are yet to be determined, and will probably become known sometime in September. 

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