All aboard! With the Khamzat Chimaev hype train at full steam, who's next for the UFC's latest star?

Chechen-born Swede Khamzat Chimaev underscored his glowing reputation with a first-round knockout of the experienced Gerald Meerschaert in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Can anyone stop ‘The Wolf’ in his pursuit of UFC gold?

Chimaev carved out a unique slice of UFC history in the bout, becoming the quickest fighter to register three wins in the organization (66 days) in his 17-second destruction of Meerschaert, and in the process adding further ballast to the reputation he forged with two wins in the span of just 10 days on ‘Fight Island’ this past summer.

Incredibly, Chimaev – known as ‘Borz’, which translates from his native Chechen as ‘The Wolf’ – now has more UFC fights (3) than total strikes absorbed in those contests (2) and with at least one more bout planned before the end of 2020, the undefeated 26-year-old looks primed to announce his candidacy as a bona fide title challenger at 170lbs, or potentially even a step higher on the scales.  

The UFC had positioned experienced submission ace Demian Maia as the next man up for Chimaev, though UFC boss Dana White second-guessed the proposed matchup when speaking to the media in Las Vegas, saying that former world title challenger Maia “may not be ready” for the relative UFC novice.

That’s what everybody is saying,” White said when asked if Chimaev should be fast-tracked to title contention.

Now, this guy is special man, it’s true. All the fights that I’ve had, you’ll have guys be like yeah I wanna turn around fast and let me see how I feel tomorrow, let me talk to my team. This guy is like I wanna fight here again on Fight Island. So I turned him around.

“I called everybody and said I’m going to do it, we’re going to turn this kid around. We turn him around, he fights again and does it again. Now it’s like I wanna come to Vegas and I wanna fight in Vegas. I’ve never experienced this with anyone…not even remotely close.

“He might fight before Maia, then fight Maia too. Maia is not going to be ready in time for this kid.”

If not Maia, then who? Chimaev has thus far displayed a ravenous appetite for competition and would, if allowed by the UFC and the various commissions, compete every weekend judging by some of his statements since he stepped into the limelight in Abu Dhabi with vicious displays against John Phillips and Rhys McKee. 

Battle-hardened Meerschaert was intended as a significant uptick in competition but Chimaev passed the test with flying colors, showcasing his one-punch knockout power after previously dominating on the ground in his two prior fights – a not insignificant accomplishment against a fighter tied for the most submission wins in UFC middleweight history. 

As has happened in the past when UFC fighters have displayed star-making skills in the octagon in their early appearances (think Conor McGregor), talk will now turn to how Chimaev will fare against the welterweight divisional elite. Saturday’s fight took place at middleweight, but it is thought that Chimaev will focus his efforts on the 170lbs fold – a division currently dominated by wrestlers, something which presents a swathe of tantalizing potential scraps. 

At this point in the welterweight timeline, Kamaru Usman is the man with the target on his back. Usman is scheduled to face Gilbert Burns in December, and with Colby Covington victorious against Tyron Woodley on Saturday it seems likely that the UFC will attempt to book the much-hyped grudge match between him and Jorge Masvidal.

If the UFC are indeed keen to truly test Chimaev’s mettle against a top contender, one man appears to make some sense: Leon Edwards.

The British fighter has become something of the odd man out in the UFC welterweight title picture despite winning an impressive eight fights in succession. Since his most recent fight, last summer against former UFC champion Rafael Dos Anjos, Edwards has seen potential clashes with Woodley and Usman fall by the wayside due to the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – much to the Birmingham man’s chagrin.

From Edwards’ perspective, becoming the man to hand Chimaev his first career defeat would the surest signal yet that his own championship credentials remain intact. Ditto if Chimaev were to end Edwards’ prolonged winning streak. 

But if not Edwards, then who? 

Michael Chiesa has been bubbling under the radar recently, notching up three straight wins against Carlos Condit, Diego Sanchez and Dos Anjos to once again announce himself as a threat, this time in the welterweight fold. ‘Maverick’ possesses an extremely aggressive ground game and, much like Chimaev, is a tall, angular striker on the feet. Ranked eighth in the world, Chiesa would be a sizeable test of Chimaev’s intentions of breaking into the top 10. 

Undefeated in his five UFC bouts to date, the 12th-ranked Geoff Neal would be another candidate. The 30-year-old remains without a fight scheduled after being forced to withdraw from an August fight with Neil Magny, and is a fighter with a reputation among his peers as being a dark horse in the division. 

Or, if a test of the concussive KO skills Chimaev displayed on Saturday night is required, then perhaps Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson could be considered. The vastly-experienced kickboxer remains one of the pound-for-pound best strikers in the UFC and would immediately represent the biggest stand-up threat that Chimaev has faced to date in his still young career.

Whoever Chimaev ends up facing next, be it Demian Maia, Leon Edwards, Chiesa, Neal, Thompson or another sacrificial lamb marched into the cage, it seems possible that this Big Bad Wolf is set to knock on Kamaru Usman’s door sooner or later. 

And judging by the evidence in the cage, Chimaev is preparing to knock Usman’s house down. 

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