Khamzat Chimaev emerged from the toughest test of his UFC tenure with his unbeaten record intact and the biggest scalp of his career on Saturday. Number two-ranked welterweight Gilbert Burns was beaten by unanimous decision in a gripping, white-knuckle Fight of the Night. The bout was unlike anything we have seen from the Russia-born Swede so far in his MMA career. After four of the most dominating performances in recent UFC history, Chimaev was tested. Terrifyingly for his 170lb rivals, he passed with flying colours.
To understand just how much we learned about ‘Borz’ at UFC 273, it is helpful to peruse his numbers pre-Burns. Chimaev had four UFC fights under his belt, and had won all of them inside the distance. The former Swedish national champion wrestler had claimed a Performance of the Night bonus for all four of them. Inside that run there was a 17-second knockout of Gerald Meerschaert, and a new record set for the shortest time between UFC wins (10 days).
The most frightening statistic of all going into the Burns fight was Chimaev's almost-untouchable nature. In four fights, only two significant strikes had been landed on the 27-year-old. It is an utterly mind-boggling statement of dominance. The one-sided and clinical nature of Chimaev’s maiden UFC victories meant drastic action had to be taken. Chimaev was 11th in the rankings by this time, and in Burns he was matched with the number two guy in the welterweight division. It was a mouth-watering contest and an extreme jump in class to go in with someone who had fought for the UFC Welterweight Championship just last year.
The bout did not just live up to the hype, it far surpassed it. This was no mean feat considering Chimaev-Burns was more hotly-anticipated than even the two world title fights on the UFC 273 card. In the early going, the bout resembled the ten Chimaev dominations that had gone before it in his unblemished MMA career. Burns was busted open, bleeding and generally mauled in a brutal opening five minutes.
But then something strange happened, something Chimaev had never had to contend with in his two years inside the Octagon. Burns found a way back into the fight, and began punishing Chimaev with blows of his own. Lots of them. ‘Durinho’ out-landed his hitherto untouchable foe, and these were not grazing blows either. Rather than wilt, like so many richly hyped fighters who have had everything their own way, Chimaev paid the onslaught back with interest. What unfolded was perhaps the finest UFC contest of 2022 so far. The crowd in Jacksonville, Florida certainly thought so. The VyStars Veteran Memorial arena was rocking as the two welter warriors took lumps out of each other. Both were bruised, bleeding and ultimately unbowed.
With the first round going to Chimaev before Burns claimed the second, there was all to play for in the third and final session. Being closer to defeat than ever before, Chimaev found another gear to take the fight to Burns in the final round. This most dramatic of fights had a suitably thrilling conclusion, as the pair combined to land 89 significant strikes on each other, the highest number in the fight. Chimaev deservedly took home the unanimous decision, with all three judges giving him the 29-28 advantage. It was the first fight in which Chimaev had ever been the distance, and in doing so he answered perhaps the last lingering question about his abilities.
Talk will now turn to next steps. Considering the lofty UFC ranking Chimaev will gain from knocking off the second-ranked Burns, a pair of options present themselves. One is an enticing fight with the controversial number one, Colby Covington. The mouthy Californian is coming off a big win over Jorge Masvidal, and a bout with Chimaev would deliver in and out of the cage. The other option is a possible shot at the winner of the upcoming title fight between Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards. Such a fight would represent one of the fastest ascension’s in UFC history. But after the way Chimaev has taken the sport by storm in just two years, you certainly wouldn’t be keen to bet against him taking home the gold.