Gilbert Burns tested Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 273. Chimaev will have a scar under his left eye to remind him of that test. He’ll also have a win on his record and his first “Fight of the Night” bonus check to remind him of that test. A test he passed.
When Chimaev scored a knockdown in the first round of his bout opposite Gilbert Burns, things looked bleak for Burns. However, the former UFC welterweight title challenger took the minute between the first and second round to get himself sorted and he entered the second stanza with aplomb.
Burns did not wilt. He outstruck Chimaev over the last 10 minutes of the fight. Burns hurt Chimaev, cut him and let him know the past would not influence the outcome of their battle on Saturday night.
True, Chimaev left Jacksonville with a victory. But there was no quick stoppage with zero significant strikes absorbed and an easy $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus at the end of the night. No, Chimaev left the cage knowing he had been in a fight and he was wearing the effects of the 141 total strikes Burns landed over the course of 15 minutes.
Leading up to the fight, Burns, who was the No. 2 ranked fighter in the UFC welterweight division ahead of UFC 273, fielded questions about why he would take a fight against the No. 11 ranked Chimaev, who was 10-0 in his career and 4-0 in the UFC. I don’t remember hearing Chimaev, who had only been hit with one significant strike — in total — in those four fights, being asked why he would risk facing the No. 2 ranked fighter in the division before the event. It seemed, and the pre-fight odds backed this up, that the expectation was for Chimaev to run through Burns as he had done with John Phillips, Rhys McKee, Gerald Meerschaert and Li Jingliang.
That didn’t happen. And the truth is the fans, the UFC, the welterweight division and Khamzat Chimaev all benefited from how his bout with Burns played out on Saturday night.
Burns revealed that Chimaev is not some inhuman beast — a Terminator type figure who was going to smash his way to the welterweight title while taking no damage. Burns showed Chimaev there are levels to MMA and that when you tangle with the No. 2 fighter in your division, a fighter who has over six years of additional pro experience and 13 more UFC fights than Chimaev, those levels can be painfully pronounced.
The positive takeaways from the fight that left Chimaev, bloody, tired and in pain, is that he has now experienced elite UFC competition and he will be better for that. Chimaev and his team now have a point to grow from. Where before Chimaev and his team were playing a guessing game as to his skills, experience and what he needed to work on, that team now has a blueprint and a path forward thanks to Gilbert Burns.
Something that many people in MMA — especially the fools who rushed to proclaim Chimaev had been “exposed” by Burns — forget is that Chimaev is 27 years old and that he has less than four years of pro experience to his name. Chimaev is not a finished product. He is still in the early stages of his MMA career. Yes, there is a chance he has maxed out his upside, but from what we’ve seen from him, that seems like a minuscule chance.
The reality is that Chimaev and his team, if they are smart, will use the Burns fight as a benchmark to progress from. I expect they will dissect this fight to the point where every moment will be burned into their synapses, and they will then use that knowledge to improve Chimaev as a fighter.
There are those who, in the aftermath of the Burns fight, took the time to dismiss Chimaev as an over-hyped product of the UFC PR machine. If you’re one of those people, I think you should reconsider your position. The Burns fight shouldn’t discourage you from investing in Chimaev, it should only serve to make you more curious to see what does with the information he and his team garner from UFC 273.
If you’re like me, UFC 273 didn’t serve as a source of discouragement. In fact, the Burns vs. Chimaev fight only made me more intrigued about Chimaev and his future.