A meteoric rise can often be followed by a crushing fall, especially in the cut-throat world of MMA.
But the circumstances around Khamzat Chimaev’s descent from the highs of 2020 are unusually devastating and tragic.
No fighter raised their profile higher than the Russian-born Swede in the strange yet compelling bubble of Fight Island last year.
Undefeated Khamzat Chimaev enjoyed a breakout 2020 but his career is now in doubt
Chimaev appeared to announce his shock retirement from the sport on Instagram
Chimaev won his first three fights in the UFC in the space of a golden three months, including an 11-day turnaround – the shortest in the organisation’s history.
He still only has nine contests to his name but captured the imagination of a viewing public trapped at home. Chimaev had the look of a bond villain and a ferocity inside the octagon rarely seen from newcomers.
The 26-year-old didn’t just beat his opponents, he put them away so easily it was like a lion toying with prey.
Dana White jumped straight on the bandwagon, saying: ‘The guy is special, I’ve been in this game my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like him. He’s special, he’s different, I’ve never been in a position where I’m like, “who is next?”.
‘It’s fun and I like it. I think if you’re a fight fan, a guy like this is one that you love to watch and follow and hate.
‘This is one of the most special fighters I’ve ever seen, if not THE most special guy that I’ve ever come across. And he kept telling me, “you think I’m a wrestler, wait til you see my hands”, holy s***.
The 26-year-old dominated Rhys McKee and all other opponents he’s faced so far
Chimaev posted a picture on his Instagram story of what appeared to be blood in a sink
‘It’s one thing to say you want a turnaround fight but not like he did, I’ve never experienced anything like it.’
That kind of backing from a man who has seen it all over the years can occasionally be taken with a pinch of salt but Chimaev backed up all the talk. Against Rhys McKee, Chimaev landed 40-0 in significant strikes and 68-0 in total strikes.
Afterwards he said: ‘I can smash everybody. How many fighters in the welterweight division? I can smash all of them.’
He might not have been the most eloquent on the mic but the belief coursed through him and he possesses that all important fear-factor.
There was of course the incredible anecdote that raised his profile even further. He flew to Ireland during the venomous build-up to Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov, wanting to beat up the Irishman.
He told Russian reporter Adam Zubayraev: ‘My mind was blowing up at the moment, but I’m living here very close to him. I was thinking that I would catch him in the streets or at the gym and beat him up. This is what he deserved.
The welterweight, who fights out of Sweden, was due to fight Leon Edwards three times
‘First, they stopped me a while, and then slightly they told me to go. Then I was going out. When I was going out from the airport, they stopped me again. That time, there were guys literally in uniform. … Yes, there were (special forces), and they told me, “You cannot go anywhere”.’
Chimaev was only 1-0 as a professional fighter at the time and a complete unknown. The story only fed into his rapidly growing reputation as one of the sport’s scariest characters.
After his three wins in quick succession and with a huge amount of hype behind him, Chimaev called out every big name in the welterweight and middleweight divisions.
Finally, Britain’s Leon Edwards accepted and the No 3 ranked star would have been an incredible test of the rising star’s credentials.
But then Edwards tested positive for Covid-19 and took some time to shake the effects.
Their fight was rescheduled for January 20 but had to be cancelled again, at the time the reason why was not disclosed but it was due to Chimaev contracting the illness.
Edwards recovered and was supposed to fight the Russian on March 14 but the fight was called off for a third time. Edwards is now headlining the show against Belal Muhammad.
Dana White (right) says he has not retired, insisting he was ‘super emotional’ after a workout
Chimaev was forced to withdraw due to the ongoing effects of Covid-19. The sickness has ravaged his body and even put him in hospital after a training session.
His manager, Majdi Shammas, told Front Kick: ‘Crazy. What can you say? I have no words.
‘He was really bad. He didn’t even do two rounds straight. He did one round and then rested.
‘He started coughing, started feeling ill again, and we had to cancel the training. He even went in an ambulance to the hospital. When he called me, he thought he was going to die.
‘This time, he started training, he got lucky (it wasn’t worse). Next time he might not be this lucky.’
Chimaev’s lungs and respiratory system have been severely damaged by Covid and White has flown him out to Las Vegas for specialist care.
This week, the Russian was so frustrated by his inability to train that he posted an emotional message on Instagram, heavily hinting at retirement.
Chimaev was building his profile inside and outside the cage when the illness struck
He showcased his dominant wrestling but also powerful striking when given the chance
He wrote: ‘I want to say thank you to everyone for their support in my path in this sport.
‘I think I’m done, yes, I know that I didn’t take the belt, but this is not the most important victory in this life.
‘It may upset you, but my heart and body tell me everything.’
He also posted a picture on his Instagram story of what appeared to be blood he’d coughed up in a sink.
White moved to allay fears about his retirement and insisted Chimaev was just reacting emotionally.
He explained to MMA Junkie: ‘When he got here, the doctors took care of him, and they put him on prednisone, which is a nasty f***ing steroid.
‘So he’s on prednisone, and he’s supposed to be taking this thing and chilling, relaxing, and letting himself recover.
Chimaev was named by White as one of the fighters to watch this year but may not compete
The Russian-born Swede can compete at welterweight and middleweight in the UFC
‘He went in and f***ing trained today, felt like s***, 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.’
So much is unknown about Covid and the ways in which it will devastate some people while passing through others unnoticed.
It remains to be seen whether Chimaev can shake the effects from his system completely and return to a place where he can compete with the best fighters in the world.
Despite the UFC president’s optimism, the fighter himself clearly feels his body is still gripped by coronavirus.
It would be an incredibly tragic end to one of the most promising breakthrough talents in recent years if Chimaev is forced to call it a day.
But if he fights the sickness with the same savagery has he does his opponents, we may yet see him step inside the octagon again.