MMA

Chimaev eager after COVID clouded MMA future

  • MMA columnist for ESPN.com
  • Analyst for “MMA Live”
  • Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun

Khamzat Chimaev says he is finally on the mend from a very difficult bout with COVID-19 that threatened to end his promising career earlier this year.

Chimaev (9-0) was scheduled to face Leon Edwards in a high-profile UFC bout in January and again in March, but he was forced to withdraw both times because of complications caused by COVID-19. The 26-year-old flew to Las Vegas in February to receive medical treatment, only to abruptly hint at retirement in a social media post on March 1.

In his first interview since that post, Chimaev told ESPN he has resumed training and would like to return to competition in August.

“If you are sick, you cannot think about [a] fight,” Chimaev said. “I was thinking, ‘One month, sick. Then still, two months. When am I going to be finished with this s—?’ I’m healthy now, hungry again. I want to get back and smash somebody and make money.”

Chimaev, who was born in Chechnya and lives in Sweden, also revealed he recently underwent surgery in his native Chechnya to address lingering issues. His representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“When I come back to my country, they helped me and did an operation that took some stuff, I don’t know how to explain in English,” Chimaev said. “Now, I feel much better. I can’t wait. I am more than 93 kilos [205 pounds], feeling stronger. I just started to train with my team, and I will find [an opponent] to kill.”

Chimaev also confirmed UFC president Dana White’s statement that Chimaev’s condition was worsened by his refusal to stay out of the gym. He admitted that while he was in Las Vegas receiving treatment, he participated in three rounds of grappling sparring during a practice, and that was the night he posted about a possible retirement.

“When I go to sparring, I told [manager Ali Abdelaziz], ‘I’m only going to do pads,’ but this was lying,” Chimaev said. “I jumped in grappling sparring, did three rounds. Feel bad in my chest, I said, ‘Coach, I go out.’ I go home and start to [cough] blood. I was never scared about my life. I’m scared about what my mom is going to do after I die. My mom, my brothers — I was thinking, ‘What are they gonna do after I die?’ I start with this MMA s— because of my family. I want to make some good life with them.”

Shortly after Chimaev’s post, Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a target of U.S. sanctions as a suspected human rights offender, posted his own statement, in which he declared Chimaev would continue to fight for the people of Chechnya. Chimaev confirmed the two spoke but made it clear that he wishes to continue for his own reasons.

“I think it’s [the] right decision,” Chimaev said. “I only did [three fights in the UFC]. I didn’t show who I am. People still talk, ‘Ah, he beat bulls— guys.’ That makes me [feel] inside somewhere — now I have to show these … people who I am and smash everybody, take my belt. I am MMA Mike Tyson. MMA Muhammad Ali. I’m going to show everybody.”

Chimaev is 3-0 in the UFC. He burst onto the scene in mid-2020, picking up two UFC wins in a span of 10 days in July. He followed that with a 17-second knockout of Gerald Meerschaert in September, before his COVID-19 diagnosis.

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