Kamaru Usman (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Kamaru Usman Talks Up Khamzat Chimaev Ahead of UFC Middleweight Eliminator

As fight fans, we all have our own opinions of how a battle in the Octagon might play out.

But the best people to listen to, when it comes to understanding the qualities of the fighters, are those that have gone to war with them in the past.

All of which helps to explain why the glowing words of Kamaru Usman for Khamzat Chimaev, ahead of what is effectively the UFC’s middleweight title eliminator between the Chechen and Robert Whittaker in June, should be heeded.


Short End of the Stick

Chimaev goes into UFC Fight Night card – the organization’s maiden voyage to Saudi Arabia – as a strong favorite with the sportsbooks.

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With a perfect 13-0 record, with wins compiled almost equally between KO blows and submissions, it’s no wonder Chimaev has climbed the middleweight rankings – nor that he is considered headline fight material.

He isn’t universally loved, it has to be said, by UFC fans – some of whom have questioned his lack of intensity in the third rounds against Usman and Gilbert Burns. If those fights had gone on longer, would Chimaev still have had his hand raised in victory at the end?

Usman hasn’t been drawn on that, although he has hit out at fight fans diminishing Chimaev’s talents. When referencing their fight in October, and the subsequent backlash, he told the pound4pound podcast: “People are kinda downplaying his skills whether he’s good or not, everyone’s saying he’s not that good but I was a champion, you know, so I kinda think he’s getting the short end of the stick.”

Going the Distance

His eliminator with Whittaker is scheduled to go five rounds if no premature end is forthcoming.

It would be the first time that the Chechen has gone the distance, although his striking power and grappling skills would suggest the possibility of another short evening’s work.

But that does a disservice to Whittaker, a hardy warrior who went five rounds with former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in February 2022.

The 33-year-old has since bested the respected Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori, and while defeat to future champion Dricus du Plessis hurt, you sense that there’s still enough gas left in the Whittaker tank for him to have a second stint as the middleweight king.

But first, getting past Chimaev. There’s no doubt that he’s one of the finest grapplers in UFC today, and fights in a way that Whittaker – and his fellow veterans of the Octagon – have rarely experienced.

That shock factor could prove pivotal in shaping the fight, but if Whittaker can go beyond the first three rounds, he’ll be taking Chimaev into uncharted territory – and that could be fascinating to watch unfold.