2020 has been a trying year for MMA. The coronavirus pandemic hit the sport hard earlier this year, forcing events to shut down for a month. Even after the UFC got up and running again, the pandemic continues to play havoc with the UFC’s scheduled, forcing fight cancellations and changes on an almost weekly basis. But though in many ways it’s been a tough year for Dana White and company, there has been at least one bright spot:the emergence of Khamzat Chimaev.
Chimaev made his UFC debut in July at Fight Island, submitting John Phillips with a D’Arce choke in just 72 seconds. He then made history just 10 days later, stopping Rhys McKee at another event on Fight Island and setting the record for shortest time between UFC victories in the modern era. The two dominant victories put Chimaev on the MMA map and created a huge buzz about him heading into his fight with Gerald Meerschaert this weekend, but not everyone is sold on Chimaev yet, including someone who knows a lot about big expectations in the UFC.
Ben Askren made his UFC debut in 2019 following a successful career competing in other MMA organizations around the world. Askren came into the UFC with a huge following but was not able to gain much traction in the organization, losing two of his three fights before retiring. Since then, Askren has still stayed in touch with the world of MMA and speaking with Submission Radio recently, “Funky” opined that he wasn’t quite sold on Chimaev yet.
“The hard part about it is, we saw him twice in the UFC,” Askren said. “But the first guy he fought, John Phillips, he’s 1-4 in the UFC. So, he was very unsuccessful. And the second guy he fought was a new addition to the UFC. So, he has not won a UFC fight. And so it’s like, ok, well, he definitely smashed these guys, there’s no doubt about that, but are these guys Gerald Meerschaert level competition? And the answer to that, is no, they’re definitely not. So, sometimes people can look great against guys who aren’t as good, and then when they step into a little competition, it’s a lot harder. So, I don’t really know what to expect out of Chimaev. I know Gerald is really good, he’s really tough. But yeah, I don’t know about Chimaev yet.”
Askren’s pints about Chimaev are not without merit. The much-heralded prospect only made his MMA debut in 2018. However, in his short career, he’s amassed a perfect 8-0 record with all of his victories coming by stoppage, and he’s already drawing comparisons to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, with his aggressive style of grappling and ground control. However, Chimaev will be competing a weight class above his normal one when he takes n Meerschaert and, Askren says, he’ll also be facing a grapple who can match him.
“Well, I think one of the things is, Gerald’s really hard to submit,” Askren said. “He’s really hard to control. He never wrestled, but fairly solid wrestling. So, one of the things I can see happening for sure, is Chimaev comes out like a ball of fire and isn’t able to do the damage, isn’t able to get the submissions, and then Gerald starts taking over as the fight moves on. I can see that happening one hundred percent.”
“That would be huge if he can win this fight. I couldn’t believe how fast Chimaev took off. That was wild.”
The win would certainly be the biggest of Chimaev’s career but it wouldn’t necessarily set him up for other opportunities. That’s because the UFC already has his next opponent planned: a bout with former two-division title challenger Demian Maia in October, back on Fight Island. It’s one of the rare occasions where the UFC has double-booked a fighter with Dana White noting that he wouldn’t normally do something like this for a fighter but that “with a guy like” Chimaev, he’s willing to go outside the norms. Of course, that somewhat presupposed that Chimaev will beat Meerschaert, and Askren says that kind of disrespect is just fuel to the fire.
“Yeah, it’s great, Askren said. “I told Gerald it’s great. It adds to the story, and you can steal somebody else’s hype. I mean, that’s for sure, right? So, there’s this hype behind Chimaev. Steal his hype. Make it yours.”
Chimaev faces Meerschaert this Saturday at UFC Vegas 11. Askren, meanwhile, recently underwent surgery on his hip which will keep him out of serious training for at least a year. After that, he has left the door open for a possible return to the UFC on a one-off basis.