LAS VEGAS — Duke Roufus is not only one of the elite MMA coaches in the world, he’s also one of the most easygoing guys you’re likely to meet.
It takes a lot to rile him up.
But Roufus’ voice takes a sharp turn when he’s asked if the fact that the UFC booked two fights for Khamzat Chimaev — at middleweight on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) against Roufus fighter Gerald Meerschaert and in November at welterweight against Demian Maia — is disrespectful to Meerschaert.
“Absolutely, 100 percent it is,” Roufus told Yahoo Sports. “There’s no other way to look at it.”
Meerschaert said much the same thing to ESPN, telling reporter Ariel Helwani, “He’s going to need at least six months to recover from what I’m going to do to him.”
Chimaev was 6-0 when he debuted in the UFC on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in July. He finished middleweight John Phillips in the second round and then 10 days later stopped welterweight Rhys McKee in the first.
After the win over McKee, he told UFC president Dana White he wanted to fight again at UFC 252, which was scheduled 20 days after he beat McKee. The UFC agreed, but it didn’t happen because he wasn’t able to get a visa in time.
But White told Yahoo Sports he thinks Chimaev has star potential and loves what he’s trying to do. He said in no way was he disrespecting Meerschaert by booking Maia against Chimaev before Chimaev’s fight with Meerschaert had occurred.
“I love guys like this,” White said of Chimaev. “He’s talented, he confident, he’s on a roll and he just wants to fight. We booked him at middleweight against [Meerschaert] and he’s at welterweight against [Maia]. Whatever happens in the fight with Meerschaert has no impact on the Maia fight. They’re different divisions. He’s either going to win or lose against Meerschaert and either way, he’s going to fight Maia. It’s not meant to disrespect anyone.”
Meerschaert is 31-13, but is coming off a first-round TKO loss to Ian Heinisch at UFC 250. He’s got a diverse game, with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to go along with his kickboxing background.
Chimaev, though, clearly isn’t impressed with Meerschaert’s jiu-jitsu.
“I am faster than him and I am better than him in everything, in wrestling and in jiu-jitsu,” Chimaev told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t understand how he got his black belt. He beat one guy, Jack Hermansson, and choked him out. I don’t think Jack Hermansson is a black belt.”
And so where Meerschaert might feel disrespected is the overwhelming confidence that oozes out of Chimaev as he discusses the fight.
He is looking to finish the fight in an impressive manner.
“Maybe I’ll knock him out or maybe I’ll take him down and smash his face,” Chimaev said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Chimaev wants to compete at both middleweight and welterweight and has set a goal of winning both belts. He said if he wins two, he’d want to be an active champion and defend the belts.
It’s a huge undertaking for someone who hasn’t fought a ranked opponent yet, but that’s how strong his self-belief is. White said there aren’t many who can do that but he suspects Chimaev may be one of them.
“People are going to love him because he wants to fight the biggest, baddest dudes he can fight,” White said. “I think he believes he already could beat [welterweight champion Kamaru] Usman. That’s how he is and the kind of confidence he has. If he keeps winning, he’s going to blow up.”
Chimaev confirmed that he does, indeed, believe he can defeat Usman now. When asked how he felt he matched up with middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who will defend his belt on Sept. 26 in Abu Dhabi against unbeaten Paulo Costa, Chimaev chuckled.
It would be, he said, easy.
“For me, I think it would be an easy fight fighting Adesanya because how is he going to get [me off of him]? … I’ll take him down and hold him down and get a submission. He’s a striker. [Yoel] Romero, everybody knows, he’s a hard puncher, but he didn’t take him down. Well, I’m going to take him down. That’s what I’ll do because he’s one of the best fighters striking in the UFC.”
He’s nothing if not honest. Those are big words, but it’s also a big nickname that his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, has hung on him, referring to him as “Khabib 2.0.” UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is 28-0, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and the most dominant fighter in the sport.
If he’s anything close to Nurmagomedov’s level, he’ll be fantastic.
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