Khamzat Chimaev has reportedly been forced to withdraw from next month’s eagerly anticipated bout against Leon Edwards in Abu Dhabi.
The Chechen-born fighter, for many the UFC's breakout star of 2020, was on Tuesday reported to be out of the January 20 clash, which was to headline the middle of three events at the upcoming Fight Island.
The news was first reported by Swedish outlet FrontKickOnline – Chimaev is based in Sweden – while a person close to the situation later told The National that the UFC are seeking a replacement to face Edwards.
As of yet, there has been no official confirmation of Chimaev’s withdrawal or what caused it.
It marks the second time a fight between the pair has been called off, after Edwards withdrew from their December 19 encounter having tested positive Covid-19. The Englishman, the No 3-ranked contender at welterweight, has not fought since July last year.
Edwards-Chimaev was last week announced as the main event at Fight Night 2 on the UFC's third Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi.
The run begins on January 16, with Max Holloway headlining against Calvin Kattar, and concludes with Conor McGregor’s comeback against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257. The latter is a rematch of their 2014 bout, in which McGregor, a former two-division champion, won by first-round TKO.
The loss of Edwards against Chimaev represents a major blow for the UFC and local organisers.
Unbeaten in nine pro fights, Chimaev was one of the highlights of the inaugural Fight Island in July, in which he competed twice in 10 days – the first his UFC debut – to set a record for fastest consecutive wins in the promotion.
Chimaev secured a second-round, submission victory against veteran John Phillips, with the bout taking place at middleweight, then returned at welterweight to ease to a first-round TKO of Northern Ireland’s Rhys McKee.
In September, Chimaev made his United States bow, and needed only 17 seconds to see off Gerald Meerschaert by knockout in Las Vegas. The manner of his victories – each one earned “Performance of the Night” bonuses – lifted Chimaev into the welterweight rankings. At present, he is the No 15 challenger.