Dana White has denied that undefeated star Khamzat Chimaev has retired from the UFC after the Chechen-born Swede made an emotional retirement post on social media amid his ongoing Covid-19 treatment. Here’s the timeline so far.
After beginning his UFC career with a whirlwind of activity that saw him claim three wins in the first 66 days of his tenure with the organization, including two in ten days on ‘Fight Island’ where he announced his arrival last summer, Chimaev has since been forced to sit idly on the sidelines as he watches the rest of the upper echelon of the welterweight division jockey for position to be next in line for champion Kamaru Usman.
The Chechen-born star, who fights out of the Allstars Training Center in Sweden, quickly became one of 2020’s most talked about fighters due to the manner in which he eased past first John Phillips, and then Rhys McKee in Abu Dhabi – before he underscored his growing reputation with a stunning one-punch knockout of Gerald Meerschaert on his US debut.
It seemed as if Chimaev’s path to title contention was extending out in front of him. He had three debut wins in just over two months and had captured fans’ attention with his vows to “smash” everyone who crossed his path at 170lbs – so why, then, is a frustrated Chimaev hinting at retirement on social media?
So Chimaev still can’t train, is still coughing up blood, and is so dejected he just posted that he’s retiring… but Dana says he’s on track to fight in June. pic.twitter.com/Dv9daa16xz
— Rob Walden (@RobertCWalden) March 2, 2021
A note which appeared on his Instagram profile overnight said (via translation): “I want to thank you all so much for supporting me in my journey in this sport.
“I think I’m done. Yes, I know I didn’t take the belt but it is not the most important victory in this life.
“It may upset you but my heart and body tell me everything. I want to say a big thank you to my team [the gym] and I want to say a big thank you to UFC.”
To understand why he felt compelled to post the above message, one must look closer at his past few months. Chimaev had been lined up to face the third-ranked Leon Edwards in December before both men were forced to pull back after contracting Covid-19.
The fight was finally rescheduled for March before, once again, Chimaev pulled out, citing the ongoing impact of his Covid-19 infection on his health.
Covid-19 has, of course, been a central narrative to much of the global sports world over the course of the past 12 months, with iconic names like Cristiano Ronaldo and Novak Djokovic being struck down with the virus in the past year.
However, while the virus and its effects are extremely debilitating, many of us have become accustomed to reading news about famous sports figures contracting – and subsequently recovering – from a Covid infection.
Ronaldo, Djokovic and co. are all back in action – but what of Chimaev? Just under four months since contracting the virus, why does it seem to be having the type of residual impact which has led to one of MMA’s biggest prospects considering calling time on his career?
“He was really bad, you know?” Chimaev’s manager, Majdi Shammas, said last month of his fighter’s attempts to return to training.
“He didn’t even do two rounds straight. He did one round and then rested. He started coughing, he started feeling ill again, and we had to cancel the training. He even went to the ambulance, to the hospital.
“He complained that he had some chest pains after the training, so we are going to check the heart as well. We have been in and out of hospitals so many times now.
“Nowadays, lately, the last weeks it’s been crazy. The other day, when he finished the training on Tuesday, he couldn’t even walk up to his room. He didn’t even have the energy to go up to his room. He fell asleep in the lobby.”
— Dave McConnell (@Davesgenius) March 2, 2021
And it seems that sentiment continues, even a full month later. After the latest crumbling of the fight with Leon Edwards, it was revealed that UFS boss Dana White was seeking to bring Chimaev to the United States so he could meet with “the best doctors” – and it seems, according to White at least, that this very treatment might be responsible for Chimaev’s out-of-the-blue retirement post.
“When he got here, the doctors took care of him and they put him on prednisone, which is a nasty f***ing steroid,” White told MMA Junkie.
“So he’s on prednisone, and he’s supposed to be taking this thing and chilling, relaxing, and letting himself recover. He went in and f***ing trained today, felt like sh*t, and got super-emotional and posted that.
“He’s not supposed to be training, but you know, this guy’s a savage. He wants to fight like every f***ing weekend, and now he can’t even train, so he just got emotional and posted that. But he ain’t quitting.”
White continued by saying that the most beneficial method of recovery for Chimaev is the one that comes least naturally to him: rest.
“He was flown out here so that we could take care of him,” White said. “We get him taken care of. They got him on medication. He’s going to be fine, and he goes in and starts f***ing training. He’s not supposed to be training, and he’s super-frustrated.
“He’s training when he’s supposed to be resting. He’s got to stay off, at least while he’s on this medication.”
Chimaev had recently stated that he is targeting June for his comeback to the cage, which will be a little less than a year since he made his debut against John Phillips in the Abu Dhabi sunshine last year. If his target return date is accurate, it will still mean that Chimaev fought three times within his first year with the company.
There is a toll to be paid. An opportunity to fight the third-ranked Edwards might well have fast-tracked Chimaev’s title ambitions significantly. Instead of preparing for what will in effect be a comeback fight this summer, on another timeline Chimaev could have been prepping for a world title fight.
Those opportunities, you feel, will come sooner or later – just perhaps not at the breakneck speed which Chimaev had craved.
For Chimaev to retire just at the point where he has become one of the welterweight division’s most-discussed prospects would be a real shame for a sport constantly in search of new stars.
You know what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. This may be the only time we can use that phrase to describe the famously competitive Chimaev.