Dana White stood up, dollar signs in his eyes, and applauded as the UFC’s newest superstar went to war, and won, on Sunday in Jacksonville.
Khamzat Chimaev had never been tested in the UFC’s cage before coming against the welterweight division’s No. 2 ranked contender Gilbert Burns.
But inside the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena, he faced his own MMA mortality, before ultimately taking the unanimous decision (29-28 x 3).
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A Jacksonville crowd that rose to its feet in the first round, and never sat back down, watched as Chimaev dropped Burns in a five-minute period that set the table for the chaos that would follow.
In the second round, it was Burns’ turn to score the knockdown; a big right hand dropping Chimaev and levelling the fight at one round apiece.
In the end, Chimaev, who made it to a third round for the first time in his career, did enough to take the win, and set himself up with a showdown against Colby Covington, if White gets his way.
“It’s one of the best fights I’ve ever seen,” White said of the bout.
It was a completely new experience for Chimaev, who had dominated his previous four bouts in the UFC, having only been hit twice, including just one significant strike.
On Sunday, Chimaev had to endure 119 and it had White calling out anyone who doubted him.
“He’s a human being and he just beat the No. 2 welterweight in the UFC with a couple of fights in the UFC. If you don’t think he’s the real deal, you’re out of your mind,” White said.
“He’s had a tonne of pressure on him… and I’m sure there was a huge adrenaline dump after that first round. This is s*** you can’t train for. You either make it through or you don’t. He made it through with flying colours.”
Burns had said earlier in the week that he was not buying into the hype surrounding Chimaev but even he cannot deny the 27-year-old’s standing in the UFC world now.
“Nothing special,” Burns said during the week.
“I think his wrestling is very good, his control and ground-and-pound is good, and the fact that he’s very long helps too so then he gets grips, good control, he knows where to put the weight, very technical, hits hard.
“But the opponents [he fought] didn’t help as well. Those guys don’t know how to get up, the other ones didn’t know how to wrestle. I don’t know even know, I’ve got to look it [up] — his first two UFC opponents, do you know their name? Anyone? No one knows.
“I don’t see a monster. I see a human being, confident, a little bit cocky, undefeated, thinks he’s the best or untouchable, but we shall see.”
And that he did. It continued a dominant start to Chimaev’s UFC career, with the 27-year-old entering Sunday’s fight having outstruck his opponents 254-2 in total strikes and 112-1 in significant strikes.
Now all attention turns to what Chimaev will do next, with a possible title shot on the cards.
Chimaev said earlier in the week that he is eyeing a fight with reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who is reportedly in line to face top contender Leon Edwards.
But Edwards has not fought since last June and given the hype surrounding Chimaev, it is hard to rule out him jumping ahead in contention for a fight with Usman.
UFC boss Dana White though said earlier in the week that should Chimaev get past Burns, he was looking at a fight with former interim champion Colby Covington.
“I think that if Khamzat Chimaev wins this weekend, we see him and Colby Covington next,” White said on The Pat McAfee Show.
Speaking to ESPN earlier in the week, Chimaev spoke about his desire to take over the UFC as its most famous fighter.
“Everything is happening with me now,” Chimaev said.
“Through one year, two years, I become a famous fighter in the world. And who talks about Conor now? Nobody. Who talks about Khabib [Nurmagomedov]? Nobody. He’s finished. Conor is finished.
“Who’s the famous fighter? Who’s the most people [talking] about? It’s me.”
And he is right — Chimaev is all anyone was talking about in the lead-up to Sunday’s main event and his performance against Burns will only make the noise grow louder.