Less than 24 hours after featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski replaced an injured Charles Oliveira to face Islam Makhachev in the UFC 294 main event, former welterweight champ Kamaru Usman (20-3 MMA, 15-2 UFC) accepted an opportunity to take on Khamzat Chimaev (12-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) in the co-main event on Oct. 21 in Abu Dhabi.
Usman is taking the scrap on just 10 days of notice and moving up a weight class to make his middleweight debut. He’ll be looking to bounce back from consecutive losses to Leon Edwards.
Prior to those two defeats, the 36-year-old Usman had dominated the 170-pound loop with 15 consecutive wins and five straight successful defenses of his welterweight belt. ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ appeared to be on his way to a 16th consecutive win that would’ve tied Anderson Silva’s record for the longest winning streak in UFC history.
Usman was ahead three rounds to one on the judges’ scorecards at UFC 278 before Edwards landed a head kick that knocked Usman out cold when he was only 56 seconds away from victory late in the fifth and final round.
Six months later on March 18 of this year in the UFC 286 headliner in London, Edwards won the trilogy bout with Usman and successfully defended his belt for the first time in a majority-decision win (48-46, 48-46, 47-47). We should note that Edwards was deducted one point in the third stanza for grabbing the fence.
Since that loss, Usman has entertained multiple matchups for his next trip back into the Octagon. One of those was attempting to face Chimaev, albeit in Usman’s division at 170 pounds. However, since Chimaev missed weight badly ahead of last September’s scheduled UFC 279 bout against Nate Diaz, both he and the UFC have seemingly been on the same page regarding him moving up to middleweight.
Chimaev was scheduled to face Paulo Costa, who revealed this past Monday that he had to have surgery three weeks ago for an infection in the area around his right elbow. Although Costa maintained his desire to still fight, he had gone rouge by not informing the UFC of the situation.
UFC President Dana White revealed late Tuesday night at his presser after the fights on the Contender Series that Chimaev-Costa was in jeopardy. Then on Wednesday, Costa said he had Staphylococcus bacteria inside his elbow that required a second surgery on Tuesday and that doctors were pulling him out of the fight.
Less than 15 minutes later, White announced that Usman was replacing Costa. Once again like the way it was forced to re-arrange the main card of UFC 279 (with new matchups like Diaz vs. Tony Ferguson, Chimaev vs. Kevin Holland and Daniel Rodriguez vs. Li Jingliang), White and his staff came through in the clutch.
Not only did the UFC save the card after the main event and co-main fell apart 11 days before the show, but it also created new matchups that are even more appealing than the originally scheduled scraps to the promotion’s rabid fan base.
Costa went on to state that a third surgery will be needed tomorrow. Although the Brazilian clearly has legit reasoning for not making it to the Octagon, it’s yet another failure in his career that’s rapidly gone South in the last four years.
Costa won his first five UFC contests, including a second-round knockout win over Uriah Hall at UFC 226 that garnered him a Performance of the Night bonus. Then he improved to 13-0 overall with a UD victory over Yoel Romero in the Fight of the Night at UFC 241.
Costa’s win over Romero in August of 2019 earned him a title shot against Israel Adesanya, who was 19-0 going into the fight. ‘The Last Stylebender’ defeated Costa via second-round KO (punches and elbows) to retain his strap at UFC 253 in September of 2020.
Since then, Costa has been a mess and a headache to the promotion. First, he withdrew from a scheduled bout against Robert Whittaker due to an illness a month ahead of the fight that was scheduled for April 17 of 2021.
Then in August of 2021, Costa pulled out of a match vs. Jared Cannonier. He claimed he never signed the fight contract with Cannonier due to a monetary dispute with the promotion, but his real reasoning for pulling out of the contest was never revealed.
Two months later on Oct. 23 of 2021, Costa lost a UD to Marvin Vettori in a five-round main event that had to be moved from middleweight to a light heavyweight contest when it became clear that Costa wasn’t going to make 185 pounds days ahead of the bout. The UFC initially agreed to a 195-pound catchweight before being forced to make the fight at 205 pounds.
Despite all the changes, Vettori agreed to stay in the fight and defeated Costa via UD (48-46, 48-46, 48-46). Costa was deducted one point for an eye poke.
Next, Costa had his fight against Luke Rockhold pushed back from UFC 277 to UFC 278 in the summer of 2022. In an exciting contest that won Fight of the Night honors, Costa got back in the win column by defeating the former middleweight champ via UD (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) in the co-main event.
However, Costa was back up to his old tricks earlier this year. A bout that was already being promoted for UFC 284 between Costa and Whittaker fell apart again. Costa again claimed that he never signed a contract to face Whittaker.
Eight months later, here we are again with another Costa bout failing to come to fruition.
Nevertheless, Chimaev still has a tough challenge in front of him. Although Usman doesn’t have the size and power of Costa, he has a wrestling base like Chimaev and is probably right there with Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes (in no particular order) as the three most elite grapplers the UFC’s welterweight division has ever seen.
Chimaev is 5-0 in middleweight bouts, going 2-0 at 185 pounds in the UFC. The 29-year-old from Chechnya, who is a member of the Allstar Training Center Team based out of Stockholm, Sweden, made his UFC debut with a second-round submission win over John Phillips in a middleweight scrap.
Chimaev also scored a 17-second KO win over Gerald Meerschaert in a 185-pound contest. He’s fought three times at catchweights ranging from 176 to 180 pounds, and he’s 4-0 in welterweight bouts. Chimaev is off a first-round submission victory over Holland at a 180-pound catchweight.
‘Borz’ has six KOs and five submissions in his 12 career wins. He’s only seen the third round once in his career against Gibert Burns on April 9 of 2022 at UFC 273 in Jacksonville. In a back-and-forth slugfest, Chimaev edged Burns by UD (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a bloody battle that was awarded FOTN honors and was a legit candidate for 2022 Fight of the Year.
Of course, Usman has a third-round KO win over Burns on his resume. He also owns scalps over the likes of Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal (twice), Colby Covington (twice), Edwards, former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, former welterweight and middleweight title challenger Demian Maia and current middleweight champion Sean Strickland.
As of Thursday morning, DraftKings had Chimaev installed as a -270 favorite vs. Usman, who had +220 odds on the comeback. BetMGM had Chimaev at -300 against Usman (+240), while FanDuel had the numbers at -295/+220. No total or prop bets had been released yet.
In comparison, Chimaev was a favorite in the -350 neighborhood at most spots against Costa. Likewise, Makhachev had been a -350 ‘chalk’ vs Oliveira but as of Thursday morning, the Dagestani sambo wrestler was favored in the -220 to -245 range vs. Volkanovski.
According to a report yesterday, the UFC also inquired into whether or not Justin Gaethje was interested in facing Makhachev on short notice, but Gaethje reportedly said he wouldn’t be able to make 155 pounds in that limited period of time.
Responding to a fan’s question on X, formerly known as Twitter, yesterday about if the UFC called him to gauge his interest, former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier replied, “Yes, they did call and I did say yes.”
When Diaz sent an X post Tuesday night saying that Oliveira withdrew from the fight with a “crotch injury like Dustin Poirier” in reference to a scheduled bout between Diaz and Poirier at UFC 230 in which Poirer pulled out of due to a hip injury, Poirier replied to Diaz, “Pull up.”