UFC 273 Paths to Victory: Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev

Khamzat Chimaev | Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

This weekend, UFC 273 takes place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., and features two title fights. In the main event, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski looks to continue his incredible run by defeating a legend of the game, “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung. In the co-main event, bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and interim champion Petr Yan will finally settle their grudge match from UFC 259 and determine who truly is the best bantamweight on the planet.

But despite the two title fights on deck this Saturday, arguably the most anticipated fight of the weekend is the featured welterweight fight between one-time title challenger Gilbert Burns and rising sensation Khamzat Chimaev. Given this is the fight that has the most people talking, let’s take a look at what each man needs to do to get the win, any X-factors that might be in play, and what we ultimately think will happen.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paths to Victory for Burns at UFC 273

Although Burns — the No. 4 welterweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — is the much more accomplished fighter, he’s coming into this contest as a substantial betting underdog — currently +400 on DraftKings — and there’s a reason for that: this is a brutal style matchup.

Burns is a decorated BJJ player and an above average striker, but he’s also an undersized welterweight and doesn’t have the best wrestling. Against a huge and physically dominating wrestler like Chimaev, that severely limits Burns’ options for success. Despite his grappling credentials, he’s unlikely to be able to out-wrestle Chimaev, meaning the grappling will take place on Chimaev’s terms – and those are unlikely to be favorable. So for Burns to win, he’s going to need to play to his other strengths, namely, his speed.

While being undersized has some serious drawbacks, it does bring to fighters the advantage of generally being faster than opponents. Chimaev, who also competes at middleweight and probably will find himself at 205 before his career is done, is not particularly slow. But he’s giving up a decided edge in quickness to Burns, and Burns is going to need to lean on that.

Burns has solid footwork and fast hands, and that was almost enough to wrest the title away from Kamaru Usman. Burns should look to do something similar here. Getting cornered or engaging in a tie-up is a death sentence, so Burns needs to keep his distance early, work long range attacks like jabs and calf kicks, and then look to explode when the opportunity presents itself and test the chin of Chimaev. “Borz” has barely been hit in his entire career, and Burns has the speed and power to put nearly any welterweight down if he lands cleanly.

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Paths to victory for Chimaev at UFC 273

As one might expect, given how big of a favorite he is, Chimaev isn’t going to need to do much different than he normally does to get the win this Saturday. He just needs to go in there and “smesh.”

Chimaev has proven to be an absolutely dominant physical force, and Saturday, he will be fighting arguably the smallest opponent he has ever faced. The simplest and likely best path forward is to bring his physicality to bear and overwhelm Burns the same as he has everyone else. Although Burns is a BJJ world champion and thus a very dangerous grappler, he’s substantially less threatening off his back and is unlikely to be able to generate much offense if Chimaev takes him down and starts bashing his head in.

Getting to the floor is the bigger concern for Chimaev. He allegedly is a good boxer (we don’t really know, we just know he hits hard), and he could potentially win a striking battle here with his length and power. But Burns is faster, and that speed could render a major upset.

Chimaev should look to pressure Burns back and cut off the cage, forcing tie-ups when Burns gets his back to the fence. Alternatively, given his sizable reach advantage, he can work behind a jab at range and look to time takedowns/clinches when Burns counters or attempts to close the distance. Either way, it’s all deadly for Chimaev.

X-Factor

In this and in every Chimaev fight — or until such time as we get an answer — the X-factor will always be, “just how good is he?” The truth is, we have no clue. Chimaev has rolled through everyone he’s faced with laughable ease, and while that tells us that he is extremely physically gifted, that sort of dominance leaves many questions unanswered. It’s like when Francis Ngannou stormed up the heavyweight division, knocking everyone in the first round. We knew he hit hard, and that was about it. Only over time, as more people have put up more resistance, have we really started to see the depths of Ngannou’s game, and Chimaev is in the same boat. Does he have a good chin? Can he fight off his back? Does his cardio hold up in a competitive bout? If he can’t succeed with Plan A, does he have a Plan B? Can he fight through adversity? The answers to all of those questions are probably “yes,” but until we actually see them, we have no idea.

Who will win?

Once every few years, a fighter comes along who is clearly something special. Fighters like B.J. Penn, Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, who enter into the game and are so remarkable that it looks like they’re competing in a different sport. Khamzat Chimaev is one of those guys. I don’t know when it will happen (Usman is a tough fight), or how long it will last (look at Velasquez), but I know beyond a doubt that Chimaev is going to hold a UFC title some day. It’s simply undeniable. And Burns is the next step on that path.

Khamzat Chimaev by TKO, Round 2.

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