Born in Chechnya and fighting out of Sweeden, Chimaev burst into the UFC scene in 2020, with three devastating wins in two months, across two divisions, all while absorbing two strikes. This opened the door to a big opportunity for a fight with number two ranked welterweight Leon Edwards, but a severe case of COVID-19 kept him from fighting since his dramatic intro into the promotion.
Now, he’s set to return a year later against Li Jingliang at UFC 267 this weekend. Ahead of the fight, he spoke to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto about what initially brought him into the sport. Here, he explained that after being unable to continue his wrestling and sambo career, he was working to help support his large family. This is when he saw Conor McGregor’s rise to stardom and realized he could do just that.
“I was going home to a not so nice apartment. I have a big family, like mom, and my brothers and sisters, we lived in some apartment. Every morning before work I would go out running and I would see the big house, nice house, nice apartments, and I was feeling bad for my mother,” Chimaev said.
“I was always thinking ‘How am I going to get this money and get something for my mother so that she can be happy,’ you know? …
“I was watching (McGregor) fight, I was watching him fight Aldo… I was looking at that like ‘If these guys make so much money, like millions and this stuff, why can’t I? I am fighter, I am warrior, I have something inside, and I felt that when I was born. All the time I feel like something special inside of me, and (I wanted to) find some way to take this out and show the people.”
While this type of story of coming from poverty is not new in MMA, it is interesting to think that Khamzat Chimae’s decision to get into the sport was influenced by Conor McGregor. Now, he is one of the most hyped prospects the sport has ever seen, and it will be exciting to see how he looks in his return this weekend.
Check out the full interview with Khamzat Chimaev below: