UFC 273: The Hype Justified or Title Hopes Rejuvenated in Burns vs Chimaev

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Khamzat Chimaev, UFC Fight Island 3
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 26: Khamzat Chimaev of Czechia celebrates after his TKO victory over Rhys McKee of Northern Ireland in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 26, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Before he can ascend into the title picture, Khamzat Chimaev must best one of the welterweight division’s most proven contenders who is looking to return to the championship himself in Gilbert Burns at UFC 273.

From a promotional standpoint, it is easy to understand how Gilbert Burns’s title run went under the criminally under the radar.  As the MMA world clamored to see then surging pay-per-view lightening rod Jorge Masvidal and perennial contender Leon Edwards take their turns at the belt, “Durinho” was nearly an afterthought in 2020.  After a turn of events saw him step into the title bout previously assured to Masvidal, and subsequently losing it to him after being forced to withdraw, Burns was seen as the replacement; he was a solid contender, but not the marquee attraction.  The fact that he nearly stopped reigning welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman only to be finished in the second round himself was glossed over, as if the champion was the one who fell off the path briefly before eventually returning to the status quo.

A ten year professional, Burns struggled to build serious momentum in the UFC’s lightweight division after joining the promotion in 2014 before moving up to welterweight where he enjoyed his greatest success.  He strung together a six fight win-streak over names like former champion Tyron Woodley, Gunnar Nelson, and two-time title challenger Demian Maia.  After losing to Usman in 2021, Burns bounced back with a decisive victory over perennial contender Stephen Thompson.  Despite his success, however, his role as underdog has come into play once again.  With little demand for a rematch between Burns and Usman at this time, the Brazilian contender has been slotted as the proverbial stepping stone for the UFC’s newest super prospect.

If the only thing you knew about Khamzat Chimaev was what you’ve seen in the UFC, as is the case for many, then you would be inclined to believe the narrative that he is the next all-time great set to dominate the fight game.  “Borz” has been a perfect storm of hype and performance, absorbing only a single significant strike to the 112 delivered by himself across his four UFC bouts.  He’s bounced back-and-forth between weight classes on a week’s notice and been as dominant in both.  He’s recorded an unbelievable knockout in 16 seconds with the very first punch landed on a durable contender.  Finally, last October he returned after more than a year away to look more dangerous than before as he choked out a top ten contender, then electrified the crowd with his post-fight interview.

With so little inside the cage to discuss, Chimaev has given plenty of interview fodder in the form of his public friendship with fellow UFC staple Darren Till.  But while the 27 year-old is older than his Scouser companion was when he fought for the title, Chimaev may be more well positioned than Till and most other contenders ascending to the championship level in recent years.  Taking little damage and approaching his athletic prime, the Swedish contender appears to have just the right amount of seasoning to take the reins from Conor McGregor as the newest dynamo in the sport who can headline tentpole events and pursue titles in multiple weight classes.

The biggest key to victory for Burns will be to dictate the pace of the first round on the feet and effective takedown defense early.  The size and speed of Chimaev has provided plenty of problems and the first step will be to get him into the later rounds where it will be seen if he remains as fast and explosive.  Footwork and shot selection will be critical as Burns look to stay in position to implement his offense on the feet and be prepared for Chimaev to change levels.  “Borz” should look to be efficient with his energy, pressing forward and getting Burns to the fence where he will be in the best position to be taken down.  From there, Chimaev will be able to use his vaunted grappling and conserve his energy as he forces Burns to work off his back.

Should he win, and more importantly win impressively, then there is a possibility that the UFC will look to book Chimaev for the welterweight title.  While the most scintillating match-up would be against pound-for-pound stalwart Kamaru Usman, Leon Edwards would also carry his own narrative after having twice been scheduled to face “Borz.”  UFC President Dana White has also suggested a fight on broadcast network ABC against Colby Covington could be next.  A Burns victory would likely poise him for a title eliminator against Covington late in 2021 with the next title shot likely going to the winner of the bout between Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad next week.

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