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Khamzat Chimaev Proves The Wolf Is Worthy Of Championship Hype

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Khamzat Chimaev Proves The Wolf Is Worthy Of Championship Hype
Photo Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

The Chechen word Borz translates to the wolf in English. The vicious, gray creature is also Chechnya's national animal. So, given the predatory pacing around his opponents, it makes sense for Khamzat Chimaev, one of UFC's most electric fighters, to refer to himself as ‘Borz.' The rise of the Russian-born Swede is nothing short of primal and has placed him right at the center of a fight for the promotion's welterweight kingdom.

The unbeaten phenomenon passed the biggest test of his young MMA career on Saturday at UFC 273 after formidable veteran Gilbert Burns pushed him further than any previous opponent in his meteoric rise. Chimaev improved to 11-0 as a professional following a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. The three-round bout marked the first time the 27-year-old went the distance since entering the pro ranks in 2018.

“I showed my heart, and I learned a lot of things from this fight. I'm happy for that,” Chimaev said after his hard-earned victory.

While all three judges scored the fight in Chimaev's favor, it was clear ‘Borz' wasn't invincible. And that's a good thing. A little dirt on the armor is necessary to battle test any future champion, something Chamaev has clearly trained his sights on becoming.

Speaking of being battle-tested, very few fighters have had the amount of hype placed on them and actually delivered the goods the way Chimaev has. He debuted in the UFC in 2020, won two fights in 10 days, and secured his third victory within two months when he knocked out middleweight Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds. Only slowed by a tough bout with COVID in 2021, he improves to 5-0 in UFC, all by stoppage. Prior to the match with Burns, he had only been hit twice by significant strikes.

Early in the three-round bout with Burns, Chimaev appeared to be headed toward another textbook rout. He dropped his opponent with a crisp jab and landed a barrage of punches and elbows from the top position. The effort opened a cut on the Brazilian's head. The durable Burns managed to make it to the horn.

“I didn't know he was so tough,” a bruised and bloodied Chimaev said in his post-fight interview with UFC color commentator Joe Rogan. “The guy came out with Brazilian heart. I know Brazilians. … They're f–cking tough.”

For his efforts, Burns has only lost twice in his tenure with the promotion.  His first came in an unsuccessful UFC title challenge against undefeated welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 258 in February 2021.

“I go against the odds; I don't care. I will fight anyone; it doesn't matter,” Burns said. “My goal is to become the champion, and I have to fight the toughest guys. Every time I am in here, I am going to give everything that I have. They are going to have to f—ing kill me. I won't stop.”

Afterward, Chimaev was asked if how hard Burns fought had changed his opinion about the difficulty of winning at the elite level in the UFC.

“People think I don't respect the guys. This is the game; you try to play with his mind and let him make some mistakes. I love that shit. I try to learn something from everyone,” Chimaev told reporters.

He gleaned more respect for the striking of Burns and needed to rally in the third after being knocked down twice in that round. The native Chechnyan fighter was seemingly born to get up from the mat.  At the age of two, Chimaev fell down a set of steps, brutally smashing his toddler face on the concrete. The tumble resulted in lost teeth, a broken nose, and a deviated septum. “I still can't breathe from my right nostril,” he once explained to reporters when chronicling the scar still visible from his upper lip.

As a child, he saw the world as a war-torn landscape and completely normalized the destroyed, crumbled canvas around him. “I grew up in my religion, some small village, like yeah. It was a tough time when I was young. I remember that stuff as was after the war. I come to this world when it's world war, and yeah, it was a hard time without food.”

Despite not even being ranked in the division's top 10 heading into Saturday's match, he was a minus 500 favorite against a +400 Burns, the No. 2 welterweight contender.

Khamzat Chimaev is a problem for anyone in the division, and he's not going anywhere anytime soon. His birth name is Khamzat Hizarovitj Chimaev. He made his professional MMA debut under the name Khamzat Girikhanov against Norwegian fighter Gard Olve Sagen. At some point, ‘Borz' could very well add the name champion to that list.