About 20 seconds after his fight against Gerald Meerschaert began, Khamzat Chimaev was already celebrating.
It took just 17 seconds for Chimaev to knock out the American veteran, completing a record-breaking three-fight UFC winning streak across 66 remarkable days, taking the Performance of the Night award on each and every occasion.
His victories against John Phillips and Rhys McKee came in just 10, another record in the modern history of the sport. Up next was highly-rated Brit Leon Edwards.
But then ‘Borz’ tested positive for coronavirus. 11 months later, after three postponements, coughing up blood, a premature retirement and a weigh-in controversy, the Russian-born Swede is ready to fight again.
He faces Li Jingliang at UFC 267 on Saturday with his undefeated record on the line. Will fans see the same fighter who burst onto the scene took the sport by storm? Below, Sportsmail assesses his chances of beating the 18-6 Chinese in Abu Dhabi.
Although Chimaev didn’t start training in MMA relatively late, when he was 23, he began wrestling at the age of five in Chechnya, Russia. After emigrating to Sweden with his mother at 19, he took a job working at a small poultry factory in Kalmar and occasionally working in security.
Majdi Shammas, who owns a martial arts facility in the capital Stockholm, recalls the first time he met Chimaev.
He told ESPN: ‘I went downstairs and I saw two guys had jumped on one. I said, ‘Whoa, whoa! What is happening here?’ I separated them, and the one who was by himself, I didn’t know him.
‘When I looked into his eyes, I could see he just wanted to rip the others’ heads off. He knew I was the owner of the gym and I said, ‘Well, who are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m a wrestler and I want to be a pro MMA fighter.’ And that was Khamzat.’
After seeing his initial promise, Shammas claims he kept Chimaev in the gym so much that he didn’t go back to his house for two years.
He continued his wrestling career – which currently stands at 22-0 – winning three gold medals between 2015 and 2018 at the National Championships, during which time he also won his only three amateur fights.
His first professional fight lasted five seconds, before winning at Fight Club Rush 3 and four under the Brave Combat Federation banner. The upward trajectory was clear.
There is a school of thought to say Chimaev hasn’t fought anyone yet. His three previous UFC opponents have records of 10-13, and are hardly world-beaters.
But at the same time, he had to start somewhere. Chimaev carries on his journey against Li, and although defeat would be a real setback, victory will be a step away from the Covid-19 horrors he suffered and back on the path to the top of the sport.
Chimaev posted an Instagram picture previewing Bulldog Fight Night 9, where he faces Jack Hermansson, a fellow Swede and sixth-ranked UFC middleweight, in a freestyle wrestling clash on November 19.
That’s only three weeks after the Li fight, and he obviously thinks he’s fine to do both. Shammas reckons he’s the ‘Chosen One’. Saturday will go a long way to determining that.
Takedown off the rip for @KChimaev!
— UFC (@ufc) October 30, 2021