UFC 273: Khamzat Chimaev lives up to the hype in an exciting new way

The screeching sound you might have heard on Saturday night if you were anywhere near Jacksonville, Florida, was Khamzat Chimaev’s train slowing down. Gilbert Burns was the one who stopped. Burns had been bloodied and beaten in a brutal opening assault, but he had survived. And as his UFC 273 fight against the rising star that is Chimaev moved into the second round, Burns began to take control.

This was unlike anything we had seen in Chimaev’s first four UFC outings. This time he was in a competitive fight. And Chimaev showed that he was up to the challenge. After three back-and-forth rounds, during which each man landed big shots and had big moments, Chimaev got the nod from all three judges (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) to prove something vital and sustainable. .

Chimaev showed that he belongs in the octagon with the elite of the UFC welterweight division. The hype train keeps moving.

This victory was very different from the previous nights of total domination by Chimaev. In each of his previous appearances, Chimaev had looked superhuman by racking up video game-like numbers. A 124-2 lead in total strikes in his UFC debut. A 68-0 shutout in his return 10 days later. A 17-second one-punch knockout in his third appearance. Then another amazing shutout (58-0) while speaking to UFC President Dana White cageside during the fight! Superhuman, in fact.

But those performances came against John Phillips, Rhys McKee, Gerald Meerschaert and Li Jingliang. Each of them was a perfectly fitting foe for a fighter new to the UFC, but the only one of them you’ll find ranking is Li, who’s way down in the double digits.

Standing on the other side of Chimaev’s cage on Saturday was a fighter on a whole different level. Burns is a multiple-time world jiu-jitsu champion just a year after a UFC title challenge. Among welterweights, Burns trails only champion Kamaru Usman and two-time contender Colby Covington in the UFC and ESPN rankings.

For Chimaev, this was no small step forward in the competition. This was a big jump. And he navigated it with confidence and resilience.

At first, Chimaev seemed headed for another impressive loss. He floored Burns with a crisp jab, and from the top position on the canvas he dropped punches and elbows, one of which opened a cut on the Brazilian’s head. But Burns got to the horn, and in Round 2 he appeared reinvigorated, his offense flowing. During an exchange near the fence, he dropped Chimaev with a right hand. At this point, both men were bloodied and gasping for breath. But both men somehow had enough left to produce a brutal third round to complete a classic fight that had the crowd roaring.

If Chimaev’s performance was impressive, the anticipation was surreal. Throughout the weeks leading up to UFC 273, fans and fighters on social media expressed more excitement about seeing Chimaev than any of the champions at the top of the card. And despite Burns’ lofty credentials and Chimaev’s relative inexperience at a high level, many did not hesitate to predict a Chimaev victory. Some hoped it would make it look easy.

When UFC president Dana White spoke on SiriusXM radio to promote the pay-per-view, he talked a bit about Alexander Volkanovski’s main event featherweight title defense against Chan Sung Jung. He didn’t say a word about the co-main event for the bantamweight title between champion Aljamain Sterling and former champion Petr Yan. Instead, White spent much of his time talking about Chimaev, “someone people are very excited about.” White’s own enthusiasm didn’t stop at promoting this weekend’s fight, either. He even looked into the future of Chimaev. Following one, saying that if the Chechen-born Swede beat Burns, the UFC would try to book him against Covington on a rare TV show.

Hype has a way of getting ahead of itself on those rare occasions when athletes are driven by the “it” factor. Conor McGregor was hyped as a transcendent star long before he knocked out veteran featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 13 seconds in 2015, in his seventh UFC fight, to live up to his hype. No one in MMA has been this excited since then, until Chimaev showed up.

But it is not simply the excitement of the fans and the bragging of the promoters that has been behind Chimaev. Although he is only No. 11 in the UFC welterweight rankings, he entered the cage Saturday as a -550 betting favorite over No. 2 Burns. To put that into perspective, since the UFC rankings began in 2013, no fighter in the top five has faced higher odds against an opponent outside the top 10 than Burns (+400), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Bookmakers in Las Vegas don’t get caught up in hype or potential. Chimaev had clearly shown them that he belongs to the top tier.

Saturday was a great night for boxers to prove themselves in the exalted place they already hold in the sport. Immediately after Chimaev validated his whirlwind hype, Sterling also found himself in a validating position, a surreal one for a champion: He was defending a bantamweight belt that many MMA fans felt didn’t signify his supremacy. Thirteen months ago, Sterling became the first fighter in UFC history to win a title by disqualification, after Yan hit him with an illegal knee that prevented Sterling from continuing.

Between then and this weekend, there was a lot of negativity against Sterling, in part because he was losing the title fight right up until he won it, and in part because of a photo posted on social media showing him celebrating with the belt for hours. . after tossing him aside in the octagon. No one knows why MMA fans would lash out at Sterling for this. But the loudest fans can be the most damning fans.

Sterling held his own against even the most discerning observers in Saturday’s co-main event, cementing his position atop the division by winning his rematch with Yan. It was a split decision, meaning a close fight, but Sterling dominated two rounds and got two judges’ nods in one of the other rounds, which were close. She had to feel like the most special of the title defenses. All champions in all divisions are called upon to prove themselves every time, but for Sterling the demand was higher.

Chimaev and Sterling’s victories were followed by the utter demolition of Jung by featherweight champion Volkanovski in the main event. The champion was masterful in tearing apart and pummeling Jung, who continued to plod along until referee Herb Dean mercifully stepped in to end the brutality in Round 4. Volkanovski, in his third title defense, has never looked sharper and at I send.

But no one was going to outshine Chimaev that night, although Burns came very close. Will someone steal the show from the 27-year-old Chechnya-born Swede? If he ends up in the cage with Covington, as the UFC would like, Chimaev (11-0) would surely be the crowd favorite, but what would the oddsmen say? And if Chimaev were to overcome that massive hurdle, there would be nothing between him and Usman, assuming the champion succeeds in a defense against Leon Edwards.

Usman knows what he would be up against. He helped Burns, who was a sparring partner before they were opponents, prepare for Saturday’s fight. Usman was surely watching. He knows that Chimaev would be a handful. As unthinkable as he may seem for a fighter with just five UFC fights under his belt, Chimaev appears to be ready for whatever comes next.


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