UFC 273: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gilbert Burns, a Head-to-Toe Breakdown

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIApril 8, 2022

UFC 273: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gilbert Burns, a Head-to-Toe Breakdown

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    Saturday's UFC 273 event in Jacksonville, Florida, will be topped by a pair of compelling title fights. Yet it's possible the most anticipated fight of the night will be over before there is ever a belt on the line.

    The middle bout of the UFC 273 main card will pit former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns against one of the most hyped fighters in the promotion's history: an unbeaten Chechen juggernaut named Khamzat Chimaev. The fight seems to be generating more buzz than any other on the bill.

    Chimaev has been a force of destruction in the UFC. He debuted on July 15 of 2020 with a second-round submission win over John Phillips in the middleweight division. By September 19 of the same year—just over two months later—he had also beaten Rhys McKee by first-round TKO at welterweight and Gerald Meerschaert by first-round knockout back up at middleweight.

    Following that frenetic and violent opening act, Chimaev was sidelined by a serious case of COVID-19. He even briefly considered retiring. Yet he ultimately made it back to the cage last October, when he rag-dolled the extremely tough Li Jingliang to a first-round submission win.

    That catches us up to the present, when Chimaev is at once MMA's most compelling prospect and its greatest mystery. We know he is incredibly talented—but that's all we know. What happens when he isn't able to win inside a round or two? What happens when his gas tank is pushed to the limit? What happens when he gets hit clean across the side of the head by a shin or catches a fist to the jaw? How is his submission defense?

    These are the questions everyone is hoping will be answered at UFC 273, when Chimaev takes a gargantuan step up in competition to battle Burns. While a little undersized for the welterweight division, the Brazilian has proved he has the power to stop any welterweight on the feet and the guile to choke anybody on the mat.

    The oddsmakers are forecasting another Chimaev blowout. Yet there are skeptics everywhere, and if you think they're loud now, just imagine how raucous they'll be if Burns derails his Chechen rival's hype train this Saturday.

    As ever, there's no way to know how it will all shake out until they're in the cage together. That being said, a closer look at their respective games reveals some interesting insights.

    Keep scrolling to see how Burns and Chimaev match up on paper.


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    For a wrestler and a jiu-jitsu player, Chimaev and Burns are both very dangerous strikers. Both guys have shown the ability to set traps, both can counter, both are very fast and both have fight-ending knockout power.

    Still, Chimaev is probably going to have the upper hand as long as this fight is on the feet. Not only does he have a better knockout rate than Burns—the man has won half of his fights by KO or TKO—but he's also just as fast as the Brazilian, much longer and probably more powerful, which is saying something considering Burns hits like a truck.

    Chimaev also has Burns beat in every striking-related metric tracked by UFCStats.com.

    Then again, there's so much we don't know about the Chechen finisher. One of the biggest mysteries surrounds his chin and how it will fair when it's faced with a fist or a foot traveling at high speed.

    You've got to pick Chimaev in a kickboxing fight with Burns, but given how little we know about his durability and how ridiculously powerfully Burns has proved he can punch, you sure can't do it confidently. 

    Edge: Chimaev


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    Khamzat Chimaev has won half of his UFC fights by submission. He knows his way around a choke so well that you'd have to give him the edge in a submission grappling match against almost any other fighter in the UFC welterweight division—champion Kamaru Usman included. But not Gilbert Burns.

    Burns is not an MMA fighter who is good at jiu-jitsu. He's a jiu-jitsu fighter who is good at MMA.

    Long before the Brazilian made it the UFC, his trophy case was already crowded with shimmering baubles collected at some of the most prestigious submission grappling contests in the world. Since then, he has earned eight of his 20 MMA victories with his submissions. That number would probably be higher if he hadn't discovered he was so good at knocking people out too.

    The intention here is not to suggest Burns will have a big advantage if his fight with Chimaev hits the mat. Far from it. He'll be in as much danger as anybody else in that nightmarish position with the Chechen, who attempts a staggering 5.8 submissions per 15 minutes. Still, if there's anybody who can catch Chimaev in something—maybe a choke off a takedown or an armbar in scramble—it's Burns.

    When it comes to submissions, he simply has few equals.

    Edge: Burns


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    Much like Burns come from jiu-jitsu, Chimaev came from wrestling. Before he became the most-hyped prospect the UFC has seen, he was a three-time national wrestling champion in Sweden, where he has lived since he was 18 years old.

    Before that, he was wrestling in his native Chechnya. There are many legends about the wrestling he did back home, about his accomplishments competing at the junior level in Russia, but they are difficult to verify.

    What we know for sure is that in 2022, Chimaev is one of the most terrifying wrestlers in MMA. He shoots for takedowns like a locomotive at full speed and lands an impressive 66 percent of them. And much like his fellow Russian, the great Khabib Nurmagomedov, he is an absolute nightmare from top position.

    Throw in his obvious physical advantages—he has blown away middleweights while Burns has lost to lightweights—and it's all the clearer that he will be the superior wrestler in the cage this Saturday night in Jacksonville.

    Edge: Chimaev


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    Burns' X-Factor: Fight Like a Veteran

    Gilbert Burns biggest strength in this fight is not his power or his jiu-jitsu; it's his experience. He's been in more than twice as many fights as Chimaev, and he's faced significantly better opposition.

    Sure, he could win a wild, first-round firefight with the Russian, or catch him in a submission during a frenetic scramble sometime in the early going, but he'll be much better off he can drag his foe into the second and third rounds, when exhaustion and frustration may begin to set in.

    To do that, he will need to be smart and cautious in the early going. He will need to be defensive and economical. He will need to fight like a veteran.


    Chimaev's X-Factor: Don't Get Complacent

    Chimaev oozes confidence. His self-belief is almost tangible, like his beard, like the muscles he has built and honed with the explicit purpose of inflicting extreme damage on his opponents. That kind of confidence can be a powerful thing.

    It can also make a fighter complacent. You don't not want to be complacent against a fighter like Gilbert Burns, who can hurt anyone in just about any position with almost no warning. If Chimaev has even a slight lapse in judgement, he could find himself tapping or napping under the Jumbotron.


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    At this point, it's hard to say if Khamzat Chimaev is actually a more skilled fighter than Gilbert Burns. There are still so many unknowns surrounding this guy.

    What we do know about him is that he is big, he's powerful, he's aggressive, he's confident and he's got a ton of momentum behind him. Those things matter.

    The Chimaev hype train may yet skitter off the rails, but it won't be this Saturday. Burns' veteran slickness might force a second round, but we won't see a third.

    Prediction: Chimaev by KO, Rd. 2