Friday, May 20, 2022

Khamzat Chimaev Wasn’t Exposed By Gilbert Burns, But His Flaws Were

Perhaps no fighter in MMA history had received so much hype as Khamzat Chimaev prior to UFC 273. Shrouded in an aura of invincibility, the 27-year-old had been attributed almost otherworldly powers by the UFC, the media, and fans alike.

UFC President Dana White had lionized Khamzat as “the most special guy that I’ve ever come across.” Pundits gushed over his fight statistics, breathlessly noting that he had been struck just once in four UFC fights. And for scores of fans, Chimaev was a blank canvas onto which they projected their wildest MMA fantasies, with many believing he would steamroll his way to becoming a two, even three-division champ.

Then, at UFC 273, he met Gilbert Burns. Written off as simply a speedbump on Khamzat’s road to greatness, the Brazilian did things to Chimaev that most thought impossible. He resisted his takedowns. He smacked the Swede so hard his face almost rotated 180 degrees backwards. And he left “Borz” so battered and bruised that many believed he lost the fight.

The myth of Khamzat as an all-powerful being sent from above to smesh everyone was firmly destroyed that night. But contrary to the belief of some, and despite how sternly he was tested by Burns, Chimaev wasn’t exposed. Defeating the #2 ranked welterweight after just four UFC fights is a remarkable feat. And while he wasn’t exposed as a fighter, some of Khamzat’s flaws, however, certainly were.

The Adjustments Chimaev Must Make To Become Champ

Henry Cejudo, who prior to UFC 273 was a first-class ticket holder on the Khamzat hype train, believes his marginal victory over Burns exposed a fighter with numerous flaws.

“Chimaev, he’s impressive because he ended up winning, but I saw a lot of flaws today, and he’s kind of an emotional fighter,” Cejudo said on The Triple C & Schmo Show. “If you go back and watch the elite—a Demetrious Johnson—these guys, they know how to compete. It’s ok, you won the fight, but at the same time, hey dude, you’re starting to expose yourself. You don’t want to show that you’re able to take punishment, and I think that’s what he showed this fight.”

Chimaev Burns
PHOTO: GETTY

And Triple C has a point. While there’s no question Chimaev possesses an otherworldly ability to eat a punch, the fact that we now know is cause for concern. His lack of head movement, coupled with his tendency to walk into punches, saw him sustain 119 significant strikes against Burns, including that brick of a right hand that almost put him out in the second round.

Were he to fight Kamaru Usman the same way—a man with a four-inch reach and power advantage over Burns—Khamzat would surely be in for a world of far greater pain.

Did Khamzat’s Lust For The KO Ruin His Plans?

Given his rapid ascent through the UFC ranks and the hype surrounding him, it’s easy to forget that Chimaev is still only 27 years old. Just four fights into his UFC career, and fighting for the first time before a packed US crowd, Chimaev was no doubt swept up in his big UFC 273 moment.

His coach, Andreas Michael, believes the expectation to deliver another highlight-reel finish caused his pupil to throw their gameplan out the window.

“He threw the game plan out because he promised everyone that he was going to knock him out,” Michael told ESPN. “Backstage, he told me that, ‘Oh, my God! It’s embarrassing. I promised that I was gonna knock him out.’ That was his only concern. So, he could have done a clinic.”

Khamzat Chimaev team
PHOTO: INSTAGRAM

In fact, Michael, who was heard expelling a lung while screaming at Khamzat between rounds, says his fighter could have finished Burns within two rounds had he stuck to the game plan.

“For me, it’s like, this fight, I was absolutely not satisfied,” continued Michael. “Because I think that an easy evening turned out—all he needed to do was just use his jab and sometimes throw the right hand. And I think we would have been done in two rounds. You know, just keep your distance; don’t fall into the shot, so you don’t get caught with the hooks.”

Can Chimaev Conquer Colby Covington Next?

Despite Khamzat’s training partners ritually attesting to his phenomenal conditioning, there were moments in the Burns fight when he certainly looked tired. And that’s something his likely next opponent, cardio king Colby Covington, could take advantage of in a five-round fight.

Otherwise, Chimaev does match up favorably to Covington. His wrestling, and the impressive takedown defense he exhibited against Burns, will provide a stern test for “Chaos.” It was notable, however, that while Khamzat was able to take Burns down, he wasn’t able to keep him there for long. Colby’s lack of KO power, particularly compared to Burns, is also in Chimaev’s favor. And the Swede’s heavy hands could pose a problem for Covington.

While the fight is yet to be made official, bookmakers already have Khamzat a -200 favorite against +170 underdog Covington. Perhaps if “Borz” reflects on the mistakes of his last fight, and vows to stick to his coach’s game plan, he could prove the bookmakers right.

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