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What does the UFC do with a problem like Khamzat Chimaev?

Can / should the UFC trust Khamzat Chimaev to safely make welterweight again?

A significant number of fans, fighters and MMA media rejoiced at the reshuffling of the top three fights on the UFC 279 pay-per-view card. I will acknowledge that the main event was made better and more competitive when Tony Ferguson was slotted into the spot Khamzat Chimaev forfeited when he missed weight by a not insignificant 7.5 pounds. That fact shouldn’t obscure that Chimaev, who has been touted as a UFC welterweight title challenger — and who could have possibly earned a shot at UFC champion Leon Edwards with a win over Diaz at UFC 279 — was 8.5 pounds away from championship weight when he stepped on the scale ahead of UFC 279.

Which leads to the question, what does the UFC do with a problem like Chimaev?

“Yeah, it’s a problem, that’s a problem that he missed weight,” UFC president Dana White said at the UFC 279 post-fight press conference. “We’ve got to look at it and figure it out, but what makes sense is for him to fight at (185). So we’ll see.”

It is a problem. If Chimaev was, as his coach Andreas Michael told The MMA Hour, “getting muscle spasms, shaking, vomitting. When he stood up, he was passing out,” there should be a genuine concern for Chimaev’s health and safety going forward.

The UFC, athletic commissions and Chimaev’s team also need to consider what Michael said about the fighter’s situation in the aftermath of his scary bout of COVID-19, which resulted in Chimaev announcing his retirement from MMA.

”Ever since he got [covid] and all these health issues, he’s had a little bit of a hard time making the weight. I must be honest with you. Ever since that issue, his body has been a little bit off,” said Michael.

For his part, in the aftermath of UFC 279 Chimaev said he would fight at the weight his coach wants him to compete at.

If Chimaev’s team thinks their fighter can make the cut to welterweight again, a weight he most recently made ahead of his win over Gilbert Burns in April, his camp needs to closely monitor his health and weight throughout camp and avoid, if at all possible, a big cut the day before weigh-ins.

Further, the athletic commission of the state where Chimaev fights next needs to be involved in monitoring his progress, to avoid any health and safety issues. Everyone knows weight cutting is an accepted practice in combat sports, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe, good, or even necessary. Fighter health and safety need to come first for fight camps, commissions and promotions. With Chimaev missing his contracted weight by such a large amount, his next weight cut, if it is to 170 pounds, needs to be monitored from start to finish.

UFC 279 marked the first time Chimaev missed weight. With that, I don’t think there’s a need to force a move to middleweight, but I think any trust the UFC has in him to hit the welterweight limit — safely — evaporated the moment the scale read 178.5 on weigh-in day.

If the UFC books Chimaev at welterweight for his next fight I would hope that contest would take place under the watchful eye of a strong athletic commission. I would also hope the UFC wouldn’t make it a title fight/main event to avoid a big shake-up like we saw at UFC 279. I would also say a backup fighter needs to be enlisted as a failsafe in case Chimaev once again fails to hit his mark.

Ideally, Chimaev’s team removes any of these issues by announcing he is going to move to middleweight and stay there.

Chimaev is a UFC favorite. With the situation at welterweight being what it is, he’s likely going to need to take another fight at 170 before he gets a title shot in that division. There’s no reason to believe the UFC wouldn’t give him that same opportunity at middleweight. If you doubt that, take a look at the far less accomplished (in MMA) fighter who is matched up against UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya at UFC 281 — Alex Pereira.

My fear is that, much like White’s claim that Paulo Costa was going to “have to fight at 205 (pounds)” after UFC Vegas 41, the UFC will forget about its concerns once attention shifts to another issue within the promotion.