Kamaru Usman | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
The UFC welterweight champion was one of many people who watched the chaos that unfolded at UFC 273 when Chimaev took a unanimous decision over one-time title challenger Gilbert Burns in one of the wildest fights of 2022. Chimaev entered the bout as arguably the most hyped prospect to hit the 170-pound division in a long time, and though he didn’t run through Burns in the same way he ran through his first four UFC opponents, he still came away with a quality win over a top contender.
But the No. 1 welterweight in the world wasn’t exactly blown away.
“It was a very, very good fight,” Usman told TMZ. “I think both guys came prepared the best that they could, and the fight showed that. I think a lot of people were disrespecting Gilbert Burns, because you get a kid like this that comes in and has all this hype and everyone talking about him, it’s just great — it’s great for the sport, it’s great for guys like myself.
“[But the hype] was very disrespectful to a guy like Gilbert Burns, who has put in the years, who has put in the time, has fought all these guys to get up here at the top of this division, and now you’re just kind of dismissing him. And to be honest with you, I think just minor tweaks from Gilbert Burns, I think that fight was definitely very, very winnable — and I think he knows that now.”
Chimaev rode into the Burns matchup on the heels of a historic start to his UFC career, one that saw him sustain just one significant strike over his first four octagon bouts. The hype that surrounded him pre-fight built to such a fever pitch that Chimaev became the only welterweight in the sport who was a betting favorite in a hypothetical fight against Usman.
But that hype train slowed down, if only a hair, after Burns landed 119 significant strikes on Chimaev in a blood-and-guts affair.
Chimaev is no longer the betting favorite over Usman, and the reigning UFC welterweight champ said he sees holes that can be exploited in the undefeated Chechen’s game.
“Absolutely, and that’s what I’m supposed to do,” Usman said. “That’s my job. That’s just how I roll, that’s just what I do.
“I dissect each and every situation all the time, and I definitely did in that fight. But there were a lot of things there that I knew were present all along. Just because the people didn’t see it and the people didn’t know it, because he had only been touched one time, that doesn’t mean they weren’t present. They were definitely still there. And of course, I got a better indication of how would deal with what I would bring to the table.”
Burns is now the only man to have faced both Usman and Chimaev. Leaning on that knowledge, he noted after UFC 273 that he believes Usman will win if the two ever fight.
To that, Usman can’t disagree.
“I mean, he said it,” Usman said. “Let’s just be honest, styles make fights — and I’ve always said, what sets me apart is my brain, my intelligence. That’s what sets me apart from a lot of guys. Gilbert is a very, very tough fighter, and he showed that. He still has a lot left, he’s not done, and he’s still at the top of this division. And Khamzat coming in, he’s definitely showed — he’s done a great job. Props to the kid, he’s done a great job with what he’s been presented and the opposition. I take nothing away from him.
“I think if I had a word of advice for him, it’s just to not get caught up in [the hype], because it kind of seemed like that was starting to happen.”
All of the talk about Chimaev will have to wait, though.
For now, Usman’s focus is solely on his next step. The No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport is expected to rematch Leon Edwards for his next UFC title defense, likely some time in the summer. Though he’s still recovering from an injured hand, Usman said he’s scheduled to see a doctor at the beginning of May who could give him a clean bill of health. Once that’s the case, he’ll be off and running in preparation for the Edwards rematch.
And if Chimaev is the next man in line after that? Well, that’s just fine with Usman.
“He’s gone out there and he’s beat the No. 2 guy in the division,” Usman said. “He got the ‘W’, so it’s very difficult for me to say, ‘No, he doesn’t deserve anything.’ No, he went up there, he’s gone up against Gilbert Burns and he was able to go out there and do what he needed to do, so I take nothing away from him. If that’s the fight then that’s the fight. If that’s not the fight, then that’s not the fight. Right now, we’ve kind of got Leon Edwards sitting there. You’ve got the other loudmouth little kid, what’s his name, the Irish kid, the Irish guy — you’ve got the Irish guy [Conor McGregor] on the side running his mouth too.
“You forget [about him], but this is why you forget — you forget because this guy is not relevant. He hasn’t done anything in this sport as of late. So in order for him to be relevant, he has to try to attach his name to someone who is relevant,” Usman continued.
“But [Chimaev] has done a good job going out there and defeating the No. 2 guy in the division. So yeah, if that’s the next fight after Edwards, then that’s the next fight. But Edwards is our focus right now.”