How two years in a windowless room in a gymnasium formed Khamzat Chimaev’s dominance within the UFC

IT’S A SATURDAY morning in one of many remaining weeks of winter, and I’m standing…

IT’S A SATURDAY morning in one of many remaining weeks of winter, and I’m standing in Allstars Coaching Heart for exactly one motive. I’ve traveled all this fashion as a result of I must see it for myself.

I’ve heard the tales. It appears like everybody has, at this level. Tales of a welterweight who spars heavyweights. A dominant wrestler who has developed a knack for knocking folks out along with his arms. A workhorse who by no means will get drained. Simply an absolute machine within the gymnasium.

“It’s virtually grow to be a bit little bit of a delusion,” says Allstars CEO Majdi Shammas. “The very first thing any reporter asks individuals who have skilled right here is, ‘Is he actually that good?’ Fighters will come right here from all over the world, and so they’ll instantly get a name from their mates. ‘Is Khamzat actually that good?’ That is what’s been occurring.”

During the last two years, Khamzat Chimaev has been surrounded by hype practically unprecedented within the UFC. He has completed all 4 of his opponents, three of them inside the primary spherical. He set a contemporary UFC document in 2020 by successful two fights in simply ten days. To date, he’s out-landed his UFC opponents in whole strikes by 254-2.

However past what he’s achieved contained in the Octagon, it’s these tales popping out of this Swedish basement.

You wish to actually see Chimaev? You wish to really perceive why his group believes he may very well be a UFC champion in three weight courses? You need to come to Stockholm.

This Saturday morning, the gymnasium is alive with exercise. A soundtrack of culturally various music pumps by means of its sound system. Infinite conversations — in English, Swedish and Arabic — happen throughout its mats. In a single nook, a gaggle of young children are joyfully studying jiu-jitsu. In one other nook, skilled fighters are torturing themselves on treadmills and stationary bikes.

Even in the midst of all this chaos, Chimaev is inconceivable to overlook. The 27-year-old prospect, who’s on the verge of superstardom, is weeks away from a combat towards Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Florida (Sat. 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV). If Chimaev wins, particularly if he wins spectacularly, he might earn a shot on the UFC’s welterweight title.

His exercise in the present day consists of 5 five-minute rounds on the treadmill. After every spherical, Allstars head coach Andreas Michael will increase the machine’s incline, which was already set greater than anybody else’s within the group when coaching started. Twenty seconds on, 20 seconds off, 20 seconds on — again and again, till the 5 rounds are up.

“This exercise is a killer,” Michael tells me quietly. “I’m telling you. Absolute killer.”

As Chimaev ticks every spherical, seemingly with out effort, the myths have gotten a actuality proper in entrance of me. He’s coming off a full week of coaching, greater than ten classes. Some athletes would take a time without work after such a grueling week, or a minimum of take it straightforward — however right here is Chimaev, operating a treadmill aimed midway to the sky. When the session ends, he grabs two small weights and shadow bins for roughly 10 minutes.

Who is that this man? Combined martial arts is stuffed with obsessive, hungry human beings. And Chimaev nonetheless stands out. What taught him to be like this?

“Mmmm, me,” Chimaev solutions. “From [the] day I acknowledged myself, I used to be feeling this. All the time. Feeling I had one thing to place out, to make [a] higher life. If it’s a must to go 100 kilometer, you’re [not] gonna get there should you keep, fascinated by the way you’re gonna get there. Go, slowly. And perhaps you go midway and die — however should you go, you [can] get there.”

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CHIMAEV WAS BORN in 1994 in a small village within the Russian republic of Chechnya, simply months earlier than the First Chechen Warfare. The battle between Chechen rebels and Russia continued for the primary two years of Chimaev’s life. His village was situated about 50 miles away from Grozny, the foremost Chechen metropolis by which many of the hostilities happened. He doesn’t have vivid recollections of extreme violence, however his life and homeland have been nonetheless unquestionably formed by conflict.

“However after [the war], you see the buildings down. I keep in mind a number of vehicles and navy coming to my home, checking my home,” Chimaev recollects. “At the moment, it was regular to us. You see these items every single day and it’s regular, should you’re a child. I [eventually came to] perceive it was conflict solely in my nation.”

Chimaev grew up with two brothers and two sisters. His father was not round throughout his childhood, as he spent years at a time working exterior of Chechnya. The household didn’t have a lot.

“[My mother thought] at all times about us,” Chimaev says. “When you find yourself younger, you don’t perceive why she would give meals to us after which [be] ready for us. We end the meals and the issues we left, she eat [only] this. Now, after I grow to be older, I perceive what she did.”

Like just about all younger boys in Chechnya, Chimaev was concerned in wrestling. He began the game at age 6. His older brother, Artur, recollects Khamzat being so small at a younger age, that he needed to compete towards larger children or under no circumstances. After one event, Chimaev was awarded a certificates regardless that he’d misplaced. Technically, he was nonetheless first place, as a result of he was the one one who’d made his weight class.

“He was teasing me, principally saying, ‘Look, I’m No. 1,’” says Artur, who’s 5 years older. “I attempted to endure it so long as doable, after which I exploded. ‘What first place? You misplaced the match.’ And he was so upset and offended that he tore up his certificates and ran again residence.”

As Chimaev grew older, the outcomes of any competitors or confrontation mattered an awesome deal to him. He couldn’t bear a loss. Chimaev developed a fierce refusal to simply accept defeat.

“One time, some guys jumped him,” Artur says. “One held him whereas the opposite punched him. When Khazmat got here residence, he had a black eye, and I requested him, ‘Why did you let your self get hit? Why did you fail?’ And he instantly started to cry. He ran and took a knife, saying, ‘I’ll kill them now! It was unfair! They attacked me two on one!’ I instructed him, ‘Give me the knife and let’s go determine it out.’ He was 10 or 11 years previous.

“If there’s a combat, a difficulty, he’ll take care of it till the top. He’ll go all the way in which. He has been such an individual since childhood.”

In 2012, Artur moved to Sweden to hunt medical remedy for torn ligaments in his shoulder he sustained in wrestling. One yr later, Chimaev, his mom, his different brother and one sister additionally moved to Sweden. The 4 of them settled in a small condominium in a village within the southern a part of the nation. Chimaev was 19.

“Each morning I might run earlier than work and [I’d see] buildings, good homes,” Chimaev remembers. “I used to be watching them, and [then] I’m going again to [my] small condominium and was like, ‘If someone can dwell like that, why we don’t do it?’ I’ll make it for mom and me. I used to be like, ‘I’m gonna discover some option to make my life higher.’”

Chimaev discovered work by means of his older brother, loading bins onto vans inside a refrigeration warehouse at a poultry manufacturing facility. He continued to wrestle and was very profitable in nationwide competitions. Nonetheless, he was not eligible to characterize Sweden within the Olympics, and his lack of citizenship was a frequent hurdle when it got here to worldwide competitions.

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Through the first spherical, Khamzat Chimaev picks up Li Jingliang off the mat, carries him towards the fence and chats it up with Dana White.

In December 2015, Chimaev watched one of many largest fights in UFC historical past — Conor McGregor knocking out Jose Aldo in simply 13 seconds to win the featherweight title. That second led Chimaev to MMA.

“I used to be considering, ‘If that man did that s—, why I’m not?’” Chimaev says. “I’m mentally stronger than him. My physique is greater than him. I used to be feeling, I [could] break him. If he makes that cash, why not me?”

Artur has at all times felt a way of duty for Khamzat, and all through his total life, Chimaev has revered that. Artur is his mentor, his voice of motive. However he didn’t pay attention in 2017 when Artur mentioned he disagreed along with his youthful brother’s determination to give up his job and drive to Stockholm and prepare in MMA.

“Personally, I’m not a fan of [MMA],” Artur says. “I instructed him, ‘You’ve a job, you have got a wage. You possibly can dwell on it. Why do you want all this?’ He mentioned, ‘I’ve been coaching all my life. I wish to obtain one thing on this sport. I don’t need all of it to be in useless, for nothing.’ He mentioned that, after which he left for Stockholm.”


WHEN HE ARRIVED at Allstars Coaching Heart in 2017, Chimaev was an completed wrestler however an entire novice in MMA. He was a quick-tempered child, who obtained right into a brawl with two of the gymnasium’s regulars on his first day. Nonetheless, Shammas and Michael acknowledged his potential instantly. Beneath the best path, the coaches felt, perhaps he may very well be one thing.

Chimaev had no cash to remain within the metropolis, and there was no means he might prepare successfully whereas going forwards and backwards from Stockholm to his village 4 hours away. Shammas proposed an answer: Chimaev might dwell within the gymnasium, in a small storage room below a set of picket bleachers.

“I mentioned to him, ‘You look devoted,’” Shammas says. “‘You’re gonna keep right here. You keep right here, you don’t return.’ And he was like, ‘Certain, I can keep right here.’ And he stayed in that room for like, two years.”

Chimaev threw himself into all elements of MMA. He didn’t get a job in Stockholm. As an alternative, he would prepare three, 4 occasions per day. Michael was generally compelled to make him relaxation, over fear he would injure himself. At evening, Chimaev would lie in that storage closet with no home windows and watch motion pictures on his cellphone. When he couldn’t sleep, he’d hit a heavy bag, creating sounds that may echo off the basement’s lonely concrete partitions.

“If you’re alone for 4 or 5 months [in this room], it makes your thoughts say loopy issues,” Chimaev says. “In case you are alone each evening and don’t see someone, no one helps you, no one is aware of you. It’s like — you are feeling such as you’re going to get [what you’re working for], however no one believes in you. And I didn’t want that, as a result of I used to be believing in myself. However it was exhausting. Actually exhausting.”

Chimaev’s expertise and work ethic rapidly produced outcomes by means of the tough occasions. He sought out the best challenges within the gymnasium, together with UFC veterans Alexander Gustafsson and Ilir Latifi. He took it personally if he didn’t instantly succeed.

“He was simply brawling,” Michael says. “He was a very good, like, road fighter. However the factor that was most evident was that he had a lot will. And on the finish of the day, what we observed is that he was fearless. He would go to the largest guys within the gymnasium, and he wished solely to show that he might beat them. That was the trait that made him stand out. He doesn’t settle for that anyone is best.”

That is the place the parable of Khamzat Chimaev began to take root. The tales weren’t well-circulated instantly, however anybody who heard them needed to take notice.

There’s a Chechen welterweight in Stockholm, actually dwelling within the gymnasium. He’s sparring with Alexander Gustafsson, and he’s holding his personal.

As Chimaev began dominating precise sanctioned fights exterior of the gymnasium, his group grasped how particular he may very well be. Shammas began hounding UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby for a contract, however he couldn’t promote Chimaev on his MMA expertise. “Sean,” Shammas would say, “it is best to see this child within the gymnasium. These different welterweights can’t final a spherical with him.”

In July 2020, the UFC signed Chimaev for a short-notice combat towards John Phillips on Struggle Island. Chimaev received the combat by submission. After which, ten days later, he knocked out Rhys McKee in a middleweight bout. It was the quickest turnaround between victories in UFC historical past, and the numbers Chimaev produced in these wins have been terrific. A 124-2 edge over Phillips in whole strikes. A 68-0 shutout of McKee.

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Khamzat Chimaev wants 17 seconds and one punch to knock out Gerald Meerschaert at UFC Struggle Evening.

UFC president Dana White fell in love with the performances, and the followers have been in awe. Chimaev exploded in a single day.

“I’ve been on this recreation my entire life,” mentioned White after Chimaev’s 17 second, one-punch knockout towards Gerald Meerschaert in Sept. 2020. “I’ve by no means seen something like him.”

Everybody wished to know extra about this welterweight often known as “The Wolf,” who was nonetheless dwelling in a storage closet regardless of his UFC contract.

Gustafsson, a three-time UFC mild heavyweight title challenger, is continually being requested about his coaching companion. “On a regular basis,” says Gustafsson. “However the man is sweet. He’s legit good. And that is only the start.”


THIS SATURDAY IS already a fork within the street for Chimaev, whose UFC profession has solely simply begun.

On a card with two title fights, it’s Chimaev everyone seems to be speaking about. He’s drawing the eye of the largest names within the sport. Kamaru Usman, the welterweight champion and pound-for-pound king, has been prodded to weigh in on him. Middleweight king Israel Adesanya has flat out mentioned he’s pulling for Chimaev (10-0) to lose.

Burns (20-4) has twice as {many professional} fights as Chimaev. He’s a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and a former UFC welterweight title challenger. He’s been within the UFC longer than Chimaev has been coaching MMA, and he’s an enormous betting underdog within the combat.

“I wish to be one of the best in my recreation,” Chimaev says. “Guys take into consideration one belt, I take into consideration three belts. I’m one step ahead from them. Possibly 10 steps.”

The parable of Khamzat Chimaev is actual. It was written within the war-ravaged republic of Chechnya and the basement MMA gymnasium in Sweden.

Now, will the legacy surpass the parable?

“Every little thing is occurring with me now,” Chimaev says. “Via one yr, two years, I grow to be a well-known fighter on this planet. And who talks about Conor now? No person. Who talks about Khabib [Nurmagomedov]? No person. He’s completed. Conor is completed.

“Who’s the well-known fighter? Who’s the most individuals [talking] about? It’s me.”

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