If Paul Felder believes that it would take a “freak grappler” to beat Kamaru Usman, it seems like few title challengers on the rise would fit that description better than Chechen phenom Khamzat Chimaev.
The 27-year-old out of Allstars Training Center in Stockholm, Sweden, has blitzed his way through the UFC’s middleweight at welterweight divisions with 12:44 worth of fight time over the course of four bouts. And after his latest win, a first round submission over Li Jingliang, he now seemingly finds himself headed toward title contention—with a bout against former challenger Gilbert Burns, at UFC 273 on April 9th.
But, while Chimaev’s results thus far have been nothing less than astonishing, Felder isn’t quite convinced he’s ready to be a title contender just yet. If for no other reason than questions surrounding the 6’2” fighter’s ability to consistently make the 170 lb limit.
“Even if we all agree right now that [Khamzat Chimaev is] the best guy in the division, hands down,” the UFC commentator and former lightweight fighter explained on a recent episode of MMA Fighting’s The Fighter vs. the Writer podcast, “you’ve got to prove first of all to me—and I’m sure to the UFC staff—that you can make welterweight easier than you did the last time,” Felder said. “That was a sh-t show.”
Despite his obvious talents, the ‘Irish Dragon’ also made it clear that he feels Chimaev needs to “beat some of these guys that have been working.”
As for current contenders that may be able to trouble Usman? It doesn’t come as a terribly big surprise that the two men Felder is most excited to see competing for the belt are two longtime training partners of his, from Renzo Gracie Philly and Roufusport—Sean Brady and Belal Muhammad.
“Those two guys to me are,” Felder explained, “after what Belal showed in his last performance with [Stephen] ‘Wonderboy’ [Thompson] and what Sean has shown throughout his career, I think it’s one of those two guys in the future [fighting for the title].
“I don’t think it’s yet. I think Leon is the next guy and should be the next guy. But as far as somebody that’s really going to challenge [Usman] in the future, I think it’s one of them.”
While Edwards would appear to be the intended next opponent for Usman, a title bout between the two men has yet to be officially announced. Edwards’ manager, Tim Simpson, told MMA Fighting back in February that he was confident his client would be fighting for gold this summer. But that the UFC is currently waiting while Usman recovers from a hand injury.