In many respects, 2020 has been a difficult year for the UFC but one of the unequivocal brights spots has been the emergence of Khamzat Chimaev as the hottest prospect in the sport.
This past weekend, Chimaev made history, setting the record for the fastest fighter in the modern era to rack up three UFC wins when he knocked out Gerald Meerschaert in just 17 seconds at UFC Vegas 11. And after watching that performance from Chimaev, former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier has seen all he needs to see from the uber-prospect.
“Let me turn the music on,” Cormier said on his ESPN show this week. “Choo choo! Where’s my steering wheel? Because I’m driving the train, baby. You know I’m driving the train. What about when he made his debut and you had to tell me his name? That was like three fights ago! . . . Boy, do I know who he is now. I’m the conductor of this train and I’m not letting certain people on.”
Like Cormier, most MMA fans had no idea who Chimaev was even a few months ago. Chimaev made his UFC debut in July, submitting John Phillips in 72 seconds and then, just 10 days later, he returned to the octagon, stopping Rhys McKee with strikes in just over three minutes. Those two performances turned many fans onto the “Borz” bandwagon, however, the circumstances coming into UFC Vegas 11 may have catapulted him to another level.
Heading into his fight with Gerald Meerschaert, Dana White revealed that the UFC already had plans for Chimaev’s next booking just a few weeks later, which some fans, and Meerschaert himself, viewed as disrespectful. Seventeen seconds later and now no one is questioning the UFC’s decision to double book Chimaev.
“(The UFC) were like, “We’re gonna schedule him two because this dude’s special,” and boy he showed it last weekend,” Cormier said. “And you know what’s even more impressive? He’s a 170-pounder.”
That’s true. Though Chimaev has shown an interest in competing at both welterweight and middleweight moving forward, he is a natural welterweight and figures to predominantly fight there moving forward. He’s even still supposed to face former title challenger Demian Maia next, however, after his demolition of Meerschaert, there has been some backlash to the idea of that bout moving forward as planned. That doesn’t mean Chimaev lacks for options though. A number of fighters have thrown their hats in the ring to be next for Chimaev, but according to Cormier, all of them would only serve as a stepping stone for the immense future he foresees for the Russian-born fighter.
“By 2021, Khamzat Chimaev is fighting for the belt or is the champ,” Cormier said. “In 2021, Khamzat Chimaev is the double champ, 170 and 185 (pounds). I love (UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya) but he goes up and down, he fights everybody. After what I saw. . . this spaceship is going to the moon. . . He’s got a great philosophy, he’s got a great mind for fighting, he’s got all the physical ability to dominate two weight classes, dude is the real deal.”
Of course, Cormier knows a great deal about being a double champion. Cormier was only the second fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold titles in two divisions in the UFC (behind Conor McGregor) and he was the first champion to successfully defend belts in two different weight classes.
Still, though he has undoubtedly impressed everyone so far, Chimaev is still young in his career. However, Dana White has been effusive in his praise of the young talent and it seems clear that “Borz” will in fact be getting pushed even more so than before, and Cormier has the perfect next opponent for him, instead of Demian Maia.
“Do you want to see him get tested?” Cormier said. “Because he’s honestly not going to get tested until he gets to the elite of the elite. But I mean, who do you match him up with? He’s got to be almost ranked. . . I want him with one of the best guys. Put him in a top-10 fight. Neil Magny. Put him in there with Neil Magny. That’s the one.”
Magny is coming off a dominant win over Robbie Lawler in August and is currently the 11th-ranked welterweight in the UFC.