It is rare that a fighter gains so much momentum and hype in such little time. Indeed Khamzat Chimaev has had almost a McGregor-esque rise to the top of the MMA mainstream. Fans love him and he is one of the most talked about stars in the sport of recent years.
He has achieved a massive level of popularity in only six fights with the organisation and in just three years has transformed himself into one of the biggest names in MMA. He has been a somewhat polarising figure, particularly with his recent weight cut where he failed to make the welterweight limit by almost 8 lbs. This has led to some speculation on where Chimaev’s future lies and with his last fight coming back in September it is likely that we will begin to hear news regarding an upcoming fight for him soon.
Chimaev vs. Edwards
Going by the rankings a title shot for Chimaev actually doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Currently sitting at number 3 “Borz” earned his shot with a victory over highly ranked and former title contender Gilbert Burns. While it appears that Colby Covington will receive the next title shot, stranger things have happened in the UFC and if Dana White and co believe that the bigger and better match up is between Chimaev and Leon Edwards then they will go with the option that brings the most revenue.
A fight between the two would be an intriguing encounter. Edwards would be expected to have the advantage on the feet, yet Chimaev proved himself more than capable of taking and giving hard strikes against Gilbert Burns. When it comes to grappling, it would be almost impossible to say that Edwards is superior than Chimaev. While his takedown defence was extremely impressive in his defence against Kamaru Usman the wrestling of Chimaev appears to be a different level of intensity and Edwards would be forced to be on his A game just to stay on his feet. Still, this fight is rather unlikely to happen, at least for Chimaev’s next fight.
Chimaev vs. Muhammad or Colby
If Chimaev’s next fight is indeed at welterweight then a match up between him and whoever does not get the title shot out of Belal Muhammad and Colby Covington is the most likely option. While Dana has stated that Colby is next in line for the strap and went as far to even include him as an alternate for UFC 286’s main event rather than fighting Muhammad for the number one contender spot, rising fan opinion may force him to change his mind.
Many fans and fighters alike have criticised the decision to gift Covington a shot. He has fought for the belt twice, losing both times against Kamaru Usman. With only three fights in three years, Covington has not fought a single welterweight inside the current top 10 other than Usman who he lost to. The case for him to get the next shot rests purely on his impressive win streak leading up to his first title challenge from 2015 to the end of 2019. Aside from his accomplishments in the cage, his abrasive personality and knack of consistently finding himself in the limelight surely adds to the appeal for Dana White to include him in Main events and high-profile fights. Love him or hate him Covington certainly garners attention, no matter who he fights.
Directly contrasting Colby Covington is Belal Muhammad. Not particularly known for his trash talk, Muhammad has let his actions inside the cage do the talking for him. The impressive rise of Muhammad has seen him fight 9 times since his loss to Geoff Neal in 2019. Winning 8 of these fights with one being a no-contest between himself and Leon Edwards has seen Muhammad’s stock in the division soar dramatically.
Unlike Colby, Belal has faced off against 3 fighters currently inside the top 10 and was victorious in each fight picking up wins over Sean Brady, Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque. His TKO win over Brady was his most recent outing back in October 2022. His frequency of fighting and his impressive resume beating several fighters inside the top 10 has led many to claim that he is truly the number one contender and deserves it far more than someone like Covington. Belal had 4 fights in 2021 alone. In comparison Covington has only had 3 fights since 2020. With his two victories coming against Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal.
Ultimately the next contender for the belt will likely be one of the two and if able to make the 170 lb limit “Borz’s” next opponent will surely be whoever does not get a nod for the belt, with a shot at the title coming imminently.
Chimaev vs. Middleweights
After substantially missing weight before his then scheduled bout against Nate Diaz, Dana White and Chimaev himself stated that his next fight was likely going to be at 185lb. This was a move that was inevitable in Chimaev’s career as he had stated many times his aspirations to win both the welterweight and middleweight titles. Yet if he is not able to complete the cut to welterweight anymore than he may be forced to abandon the division and move to 185 lb prematurely. While it would be an incredibly favourable match up for him the likelihood of Chimaev moving to Middleweight and immediately getting a title shot is low. He will likely need a fight to prove himself before being able to challenge for the belt. Two names have been thrown around as possible candidates to welcome Chimaev to the division. Robert Whittaker and Paulo Costa.
The rivalry between Chimaev and Costa is well documented with the two having an active dislike of one another and regularly throwing barbs at each other on social media. Costa has recently resolved a contract dispute and has signed a new 4 fight deal with the UFC. According to Sherdog part of this deal for Costa included a possible fight with Sean Strickland in May, as well as a possible bout with Chimaev in October. Costa is ranked inside the top 5 in the middleweight division as of right now and he is a big enough name to add some credibility to Chimaev’s resume if he wishes to challenge for Middleweight gold after. The build up would likely be entertaining and would doubtlessly attract massive amounts of attention on social media. This seems like a fight that would benefit all parties and with the possible springboard it would provide Chimaev should he win it would not be surprising for the UFC to make this match up.
Robert Whittaker is another name that has been mentioned in regard to fighting Chimaev. Commonly seen as one of the kings of the Middleweight division Whittaker has only been defeated by Israel Adesanya at his time at 185 lbs. Everyone else he has looked to be a total different level above and has utterly outclassed. Whittaker is in the extremely awkward position of having beaten almost everyone in the division except for Adesanya who he has lost to twice. These two losses make it hard to push him past the likes of Adesanya for a title shot. With Adesanya currently set to fight champion Alex Pereira at UFC 287 Whittaker is left with a division full of people he has already beaten. The prospect of facing Chimaev, a new credible challenge, would surely spark his interest.