Khamzat Chimaev can knock out Colby Covington next to tee up a welterweight title shot against champion Kamaru Usman, according to teammate Darren Till.
The Chechen-born Swede, 27, came through his greatest test to date earlier this month with a unanimous decision victory against Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Florida – a rollercoaster bout that emerged immediately as a Fight of the Year contender.
The win lifted Chimaev from the No 11-ranked contender at welterweight to No 3, with only Leon Edwards (No 2) and Covington between him and pound-for-pound No 1 Usman.
UFC president Dana White said before UFC 273 that he would target Chimaev, now 11-0 in professional MMA, to take on Covington should he get past Burns. Covington, the former interim champion, fought last month, when he rebounded from November’s title defeat to Usman to see off Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision in Las Vegas. The American’s pro record stands at 17-3.
Speaking to Australian outlet Submission Radio, Till, who has in recent months become a close friend and training partner of Chimaev, said: “I would like to see him fight Colby in a five-round main event, and I think that’s the best thing for both guys. Khamzat can knock him out. I don’t think Colby’s felt power like Khamzat. I’ve changed my opinion a bit because Colby’s a good fighter, but I just don’t see who he’s fighting who’s at the top level right now.
“Obviously Usman, but there’s no one. Khamzat’s obviously come up real quick. I just think Khamzat’s got so much power and edge over him. Listen, Colby’s a terrific fighter. He’s phenomenal. But I see the win there with Khamzat, and I’d love to see that to get him ready for the title for Usman.”
With the Burns win, Chimaev moved to 5-0 in the UFC since exploding onto the scene during the inaugural Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in July 2020.
However, having blitzed through his first four appearances in the promotion, including last October’s superb submission success against Li Jingliang in the UAE capital, Chimaev was made to work hard against Burns. After receiving only two significant strikes in four UFC bouts, Chimaev took 118 more against Burns. The Brazilian even dropped his rival in the second round at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Yet, Till said the way the contest played out could actually work in Chimaev’s favour in the long-term.
“I knew what Khamzat had and what he has inside, but what the best thing I think for this fight is, that he’s tasted a bit of getting punched and having to dig deep for the win,” the Englishman said. “Because that changes you as a fighter, as a man. So, I said to him backstage, ‘That’s what you needed’.
“This is probably the best outcome you could have had, because now you’re going to train even harder, and you’re going to listen to your coaches’ strategy more, and it’s not just about going out there and knocking guys out and toughing guys out.
"Because you’re going to go up to an unmovable force one day, which we came up against. Gilbert, on the night, he was strong and durable and stuff like that, so it was probably the best outcome in my opinion.”
As for those criticising Chimaev’s performance, Till said: “People are saying, ‘Oh, well Khamzat, he took this punch and that punch, and he was messing about, warming up before the fight with Darren’. It’s like, guys, the guy was No 11, he’s had four fights in the UFC and he just came in and beat the No 2 guy. Are you for real?'
“How can you hate on the guy for that? The guy’s a superstar. The guy’s the only legitimate superstar right now in the UFC, up and coming. The rest of the guys - there’s a lot of up-and-comers in the UFC right now, and it’s good to see them up and coming - but they’re slowly working their way up. Khamzat’s just come in the UFC and just took everyone on. Who else has done that?”