UFC welterweight contestant Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson has his theories on why Khamzat Chimaev seems to have the full weight of the UFC marketing machine on the back, and it’s about the resignation of Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Perhaps no fighter has seen his star shine as brightly as Chimaev this year. That summer, the Chechnya-born Swede was one of several unknown names drafted for her debut as part of the UFC sequence of events on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
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Sixty-six days and three wins later, Chimaev is on the doorstep of a world title fight if he manages to stop third-placed Leon Edwards’ undefeated streak in the next month.
It’s been a remarkable run for “Borz”, but one man in his division who may not be as impressed is two-time former title challenger Thompson.
Speaking to the Australian broadcaster Submission Radio, “Wonderboy” said that the Chimaev got where he came from not necessarily because of his skills, but because of his background – and that his rise is strongly linked to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s strategy of leaving the sport.
“The leaderboard will no longer exist, it’s about the exciting fights,” Thompson said of Chimaev, who was 15th on the UFC welterweight rankings this week, despite not having beaten or even fought a ranked fighter.
“I kind of called it,” he said. “I thought, man, why are you pushing this Khamzat guy so hard. And then I thought to see Khabib retire.”
While there is some degree of uncertainty about Chabib’s immediate future, the Russian champions actually announced their retirement in the cage immediately after defending the title against Justin Gaethje last month, and Thompson suggests that it is suspicious that a Russian champion is resigns. Another Russian-born fighter is being pushed into his place.
“You did the same [Darren] To. When [Michael] Bisping pulled out, they needed someone from that market to bring those fans in, and it was Till, “explained Thompson.
“I think the same thing with Khamzat. They knew Khabib was going to retire and they needed someone from this market and there we go. You have this Khamzat guy who does work.”
While Thompson’s stance is a little too conspiratorial for our tastes, it can hardly be denied that the UFC is trying to identify potential stars and drive them to the moon. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and all you have to do is look at the opposing fortunes of the fighters who have received the full support of the UFC’s PR machine.
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The most obvious example is Conor McGregor, who was selected as a potential superstar after making his UFC debut in Sweden in 2013. On the other side of that coin, Sage Northcutt could be seen as a fighter given every opportunity to succeed but the Octagon ultimately failed to deliver.
Time will tell which side of that chasm Chimaev will fall on, but our intuition tells us it will be much closer to McGregor than Northcutt.
One thing is for sure, it will be a lot of fun figuring out.