Khamzat Chimaev looks like the UFC’s next big thing.
The welterweight has taken the MMA world by storm since debuting on Fight Island in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, notably winning two fights in the span of just 10 days in July of 2020.
In the process, he broke the record for the quickest turnaround between wins in UFC history.
In his third fight in the Octagon a few months later, he knocked out Gerald Meerschaert in just 17 seconds, earning a “Performance of the Night” bonus for the third time in three fights. He shattered another record with his 66-day stretch, recording the fastest three-fight win streak in UFC history.
He was dominant in the cage, showcased personality after his wins, and looked like an unstoppable force.
Unfortunately, Chimaev’s rapid momentum was thwarted in December of 2020 as he dealt with the effects of a battle with COVID-19.
His symptoms lingered, his scheduled fight with top-ranked welterweight Leon Edwards was cancelled, and there was even a brief discussion about retirement in March of 2021.
Chimaev made his highly-anticipated return to the Octagon more than a year after his 17-second fight against Meerschaert, and many wondered if the ship had sailed on the 27-year-old’s hype.
He apparently struggled with his weight cut leading up to UFC 267, and he was dealing with a jump in competition as he squared off against No. 11-ranked welterweight Li Jingliang.
If there was ever a time for the train to fly off the tracks, it was on October 30, 2021.
Chimaev proved any doubters wrong in dominant fashion, submitting Jingliang in just three minutes and 16 seconds to improve to 4-0 in the UFC.
The promotion also revealed that Chimaev had been hit by just one significant strike through his first four fights combined, meaning he has more wins to his name in the UFC than significant strikes absorbed.
From there, Chimaev became a marketing dream for the UFC.
“This guy is like nothing anyone has ever seen,” UFC president Dana White told TMZ after UFC 267. “When you think about it, he’s got more UFC wins than he’s been hit inside the octagon. It’s insane. The other night they filmed his walkout on Instagram Live, and it broke the record. It’s the biggest Instagram Live we’ve ever done.”
In a star-studded division currently led by UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, Chimaev adds an interesting wrinkle.
Usman is running out of big-name challengers towards the top of the weight class, considering he has defeated the likes of Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, Gilbert Burns, and Leon Edwards throughout his career.
His old teammate Vicente Luque is an option at No. 4 in the UFC’s welterweight rankings (as of November 2, 2021), and Stephen Thompson rounds things out in the top five. But, the former has admitted that a fight against Usman might not go well, and the latter’s last title opportunity is considered to be…well…whatever the opposite of a fan-favorite is.
If there was ever a chance for Chimaev to make a push towards the top of the division, now is the time.
But, what is the ideal path for him to get a shot at UFC gold? Let’s take a look.
1a. Nate Diaz
It seems as if the stars may align perfectly in the early part of 2022, and it could create a dream scenario for fight fans.
After beating Li Jingliang at UFC 267, Chimaev called out big-name welterweights like Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz.
It may seem like wishful thinking on Chimaev’s end, but going after the big dogs makes sense when considering how he was scheduled to fight Leon Edwards, now ranked No. 3 in the division, in the early part of 2021.
“Hey, Diaz, let’s go, brother,” Chimaev said after his UFC 267 win. “Let’s go. You gonna get some smoke, bro. Let’s see who is the real gangster.”
A bout with Masvidal doesn’t seem likely in the immediate future, considering Masvidal is scheduled to take on Edwards at UFC 269 in December. But, UFC president Dana White isn’t opposed to having Diaz as Chimaev’s next opponent in the Octagon.
“We’re going to take to Nate about it,” White said. “100 percent.”
Diaz isn’t ranked, but it hasn’t stopped White and company from booking him against top-ranked welterweights in the past. Diaz fought Masvidal in Madison Square Garden in 2019, and last fought Edwards in a classic bout, as well.
It may seem like a step down from fighting a ranked opponent like Jingliang, but the star power that Diaz possesses makes it the equivalent of fighting a top-10 or top-five fighter.
Chimaev would likely cruise through Diaz, considering Chimaev’s top-tier wrestling and quick starts in the first round and Diaz’s tendency to hold out until later rounds. If he could do that, he would propel himself towards becoming a household name, and would instantly seem deserving of a top-five welterweight contender.
1b. Neil Magny
If Diaz would rather square up with a higher-ranked, bigger-named fighter than risk an embarrassing loss against Chimaev, there’s an easy opponent to book the UFC’s rising star against.
No. 8-ranked welterweight Neil Magny is apparently down to fight Chimaev as soon as December 18, saying that he’s even more interested in the bout than he was in 2020.
“I was going about my day after the fight happened and I was getting messages with the same old routine saying, ‘No one wants to fight this guy.’ ‘I doubt on Monday when the new rankings come out that anyone in the top 10 will fight this guy.’ ‘He’s just a monster and everyone is going to do their best to avoid him,’” Magny told MMA Junkie.
“Last year, there was this mystique or aura around him like, ‘This guy is unbeatable. He’s the new kid on the block.’ Everyone was afraid to put their name out there,” Magny continued. “I was like, ‘I don’t care. I’ll fight this guy.’ I’ve fought some of the best guys in the UFC over the last nine years. I have nothing to be afraid of at this point.”
It would actually make a ton of sense from a competitive standpoint, and would be the perfect stepping stone in Chimaev’s potential rise up through the welterweight rankings.
Chimaev just took out the No. 11-ranked welterweight with ease, and proved he’s deserving of a shot against a top-10 fighter. Magny feels he can silence all of the excited fans wondering about what’s next for Chimaev, and is willing to try to put an end to the hype less than two months after Chimaev’s win at UFC 267.
Why not let them duel it out in December to either solidify Chimaev’s status or give Magny some hype?
2. Vicente Luque, Stephen Thompson, or Michael Chiesa
Booking a UFC fighter’s next bout is hard enough, but trying to think about the promotion’s landscape for their next fight seems downright impossible.
Luckily, the UFC’s welterweight division has a bit more clarity than others, even with a logjam of title shot candidates towards the top.
Kamaru Usman is scheduled to defend his welterweight title against Colby Covington at UFC 268 in New York on November 6, and the winner of that fight will likely square off against the winner of UFC 269’s Leon Edwards-Jorge Masvidal fight.
That likely takes the UFC’s welterweight title picture all the way out until the spring of 2022, which means the next title shot after that would probably come in July of 2022.
That leaves a whopping eight months’ worth of fights to book, which is an eternity in UFC time.
No. 4-ranked welterweight Vicente Luque has been hoping for a fight with Nate Diaz to cap off 2021, which could be thwarted by Chimaev if the UFC tries to take advantage of Chimaev’s momentum.
No. 5-ranked Stephen Thompson confirmed to MMA News booked to fight on December 18, 2021, likely against No. 6 Michael Chiesa, No. 8 Neil Magny or No. 9 Belal Muhammad. It’s the last fight on his current UFC contract, and he may not want to re-sign without a promise of a title shot.
Add in Thompson’s lack of interest in a fight against Chimaev amid the latter’s rapid rise to UFC stardom, and this one may seem like a pipe dream.
Time will tell how the rankings will look by the time this fight in the UFC calendar would be booked, considering Luque, Thompson, Chiesa and company could move up or down depending on how certain fights play out.
But, with Chimaev’s quick turnarounds and his apparent ability to dodge damage during his fights, it doesn’t seem crazy to book him against any one of these top-tier fighters in the early part of 2022, depending on if/when Chimaev would fight Diaz or Magny.
3. Welterweight title fight or a top-three opponent
Will Kamaru Usman still be the UFC’s welterweight champion after Khamzat Chimaev’s next two fights? Will Colby Covington be sitting on the throne? Could Jorge Masvidal or Leon Edwards make a run towards the belt in 2022 after their bout at UFC 269?
There are so many questions that make this all tough to piece together, but there are a few natural next steps for Chimaev after a fight against a top-five opponent.
The UFC could either pit him against a top-three fighter like Covington, Edwards, or Gilbert Burns to see if he can hang with the best of the best before throwing him to the wolves with Usman, or Dana White could have him jump the line for a title shot to take advantage of all of the excitement.
Considering how dominant Chimaev has been, and how impressive his resume would look if he can add wins against fighters like Nate Diaz, Neil Magny, Vicente Luque, Stephen Thompson, or Michael Chiesa, it would be tough to argue with either option.
Potential superstars like this only come around every few years, and the UFC needs to strike while the iron is hot when these opportunities present themselves.
It make seem like a rushed approach, but if Chimaev were to keep up his current trends at a normal pace, he could become a UFC champion in no time anyway.