All the Cage: Chimaev thrills in UFC debut; prospects coming up big on Fight Island

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·7-min read
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

‘Khabib 2.0’ thrills on Fight Island

No one can ever say that Khamzat Chimaev doesn’t take instruction well. In his UFC debut last week on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, the Russian-born fighter who now lives in Sweden instantly took John Phillips down.

Chimaev, fighting at middleweight instead of his natural welterweight, threw a head kick at the opening bell. He took Phillips down and instantly took him over to the side of the cage where his coaches sat.

For all intents and purposes, the fight was over the second that Phillips’ back touched the canvas. But Chimaev, who will get a return engagement on Fight Island on Saturday when he goes to welterweight to fight Rhys McKee, wanted to be certain he did the right thing.

So he took Phillips to his corner and bludgeoned him badly, so much so that one of the judges scored the round 10-7 for Chimaev. Chimaev eventually submitted Phillips in the second, though he insisted he wasn’t all that surprised that Phillips got out of the first.

“He’s a tough guy,” Chimaev said of Phillips. “He’s in the UFC and when you are in the UFC, you have to be tough. I don’t expect guys just to [submit] right away. I had to tire him out and then I could submit him.”

Chimaev’s performance was such that he was immediately dubbed “Khabib 2.0,” in comparison to the UFC’s lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. They’re both managed by Ali Abdelaziz, but that is as far as the connection goes.

Chimaev said he met Nurmagomedov just once and it was a brief interaction, though clearly Nurmagomedov has influenced his fighting style.

“I don’t know him at all,” Chimaev said. “Of course, everyone knows who he is. He was at one of my fights and he said, ‘Good job, brother. You are good.’ But if people say I can fight like him, it’s OK.”

In MMA these days, it’s the ultimate comparison.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 16: Khamzat Chimaev of Czechia prepares to fight John Phillips in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Khamzat Chimaev of Czechia prepares to fight John Phillips in their middleweight fight during UFC Fight Night inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 16, 2020, in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Chimaev called out Mike Perry immediately after the bout and later said he wanted to fight either Robbie Lawler or Donald Cerrone, as well.

Chimaev, who fights out of Sweden now, already speaks fluent English and is learning quickly how to promote. He didn’t hesitate to take shots at Perry, whom the UFC is disciplining after an incident in a restaurant in which he allegedly slugged an older man.

“Mike Perry, just an idiot,” Chimaev said. “You don’t hit old man. That’s not what we do. You want to fight? Come fight me. I’ll show you something.”

Abdelaziz has a deep roster that is loaded with UFC champions, but he said not to overlook Chimaev.

“Believe me, this guy is a future champion,” Abdelaziz said. “He’s a killer and he can do it all.”

Plenty of elite prospects on Fight Island

The UFC’s series of shows in Abu Dhabi has been successful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the number of elite prospects who emerged from them.

Chimaev was virtually unknown prior to his debut against Phillips, but his performance quickly got the sport talking.

Beyond him, though, Mounir Lazzez, Amanda Ribas, Jiri Prochazka, Modestas Bukauskas, Lerone Murphy, Askar Askarov, Arman Tsarukyan and Rafael Fiziev all stood out. And even Petr Yan, the 27-year-old Russian who stopped the legendary Jose Aldo to win the vacant bantamweight title, took a star turn with that performance.

Only Lazzez, at 32, is older than 28. Combined, not counting Yan, the group is 109-10-3 overall and 15-1-2 in the UFC. Not all prospects reach their full potential, but the UFC figures to land a couple of stars who will be around for a while from this group.

“We’ve been showcasing unbelievable up-and-coming talent,” UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports.

White’s son’s friend knew

White loved the performance Lazzez gave in a victory over Abdul Razak Alhassan. Alhassan blitzed Lazzez at the opening bell and seemed to be on the verge of a finish.

Lazzez survived the onslaught and took a unanimous decision in a Fight of the Night battle. White once again retold the story of how he found Lazzez. At a birthday party, White was seated next to one of his son’s 17-year-old friends, Adam Babb. Babb told White about Lazzez and begged him to bring him to the UFC. He showed White a video and White was convinced.

He contacted matchmaker Sean Shelby and told him to sign him.

“You know how our matchmakers are,” White said, laughing. “So I tell them to get this guy a fight and they tried to get him killed by [matching him with Alhassan]. But you know what? That’s how you know if a guy is real or not. You put him in there with someone like that in his UFC debut and he’s in trouble right away. The guy blew me away with what he was able to do.”

Harris throws hat into the fold

UFC heavyweight Walt Harris is known as “The Big Ticket,” but he may soon be known by a different name: Councilman Harris.

Harris announced via Instagram on Monday that he had filed to run for city council in Homewood, Alabama.

“I’m still fighting,” Harris wrote. “This is just another way to show may community of Homewood how much I love them and how grateful I am to have them in mine and my family’s lives.”

Hooker wants Ferguson

During a live chat with White on my Instagram page on July 15, UFC lightweight Dan Hooker jumped in and left a comment for White. He said he wanted to fight Tony Ferguson, who lost an interim title fight to Justin Gaethje on May 9 at UFC 249.

Hooker is coming off of a loss in a great fight with Dustin Poirier on June 28 in Las Vegas.

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” White said when the question was presented to him. “He put on an incredible performance in his last fight. He looked great. We’ll get you figured out, Dan. I promise. I’m not making fights right now. I’m still over here [in Abu Dhabi] doing what I’m doing.”

White is home in Las Vegas now, so just a reminder, Dana: Hooker wants to fight Ferguson. No excuses. There is time to work on it now.

He said it

“I love to be the underdog and to show my skill and that’s exactly what happened tonight. I came in as the underdog and I enjoy the victory. When he put me in the first round against the cage, I said, ‘What, this is all that you got?’ I still have a lot of weapons and just step by step, I killed his will with the kicks, moving around, high kick, low kick, I showed my wrestling, my takedown defense. I kept visualizing this over and over as just another fight. I said, ‘Don’t put pressure on yourself and just go enjoy what you do.’ I love this craft, I loved when I get clipped and I see the will inside the eye of my opponent, that mental game, I love that, I love that deep water stuff.

“My mental game, I’ve said it before, maybe you can be more technical and maybe you can be more powerful, but my will and my mental game, you can’t beat it.” — Mounir Lazzez after his win over Abdul Razak Alhassan.

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