After last weekend’s UFC Vegas 57 there is no doubt that the UFC’s welterweight division is blessed with at least two extremely exciting (and frightening) prospects.
On the main card Kazakhstan’s Shavkat Rakhmonov passed his stiffest test to date, submitting the highly experienced, and durable, Neil Magny in the second round. The win took him to 16-0 in his pro career (4-0 in the UFC) and primed him for a big step up in competition.
Rakhmonov has been somewhat under the radar despite winning all four of his first UFC contests by stoppage. In his 2020 debut he submitted Alex Oliveira with a guillotine. He followed that up with a rear naked choke on Michel Prazeres and a spinning kick KO over Carlston Harris.
The former M-1 welterweight champion has finished all 16 of his pro bouts, eight by T/KO and eight by submission.
Despite having a more impressive record, Rakhmonov has not received nearly the amount of hype as fellow undefeated UFC newcomer Khamzat Chimaev.
Chimaev, who was born in Chechnya, but lives in Sweden, also debuted for the UFC in 2020. That year he tore through John Phillips, Rhys Mckee and Gerald Meerschaert to earn comparisons to Khabib Nurmagomedov and praise from UFC President Dana White.
After those wins Chimaev was forced onto the sidelines for a long, and difficult, battle with symptoms of COVID-19. He returned late last year to submit Li Jingliang. This year he beat Gilbert Burns by unanimous decision.
The win over Burns was the first time Chimaev has gone to a decision in his eleven fight career.
With both men surging up the rankings, many are understandably excited about the prospect of a Khamzat vs. Shavkat showdown. However, former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith is begging the UFC to not rush on this proposed match-up.
“If you do it now you burn it,” said Smith on Michael Bisping’s Believe You Me podcast (ht Sportskeeda). “You burn one of them, like one of these long time contenders. I think that’s a fight, and maybe I am putting my promoter hat here a little bit, that’s a fight that’s likely, again, I am not writing anybody off, I am not just crazy, that’s a world title fight.”
“I don’t feel you waste that kind of a fight at that level with two guys that are so fucking good and have such a high ceiling,” he continued. “I don’t know if you waste that at a Fight Night main event or a three-rounder on a pay-per-view card. That’s a money-maker down the road if both of those guys continue to do their job.”
The welterweight division is currently ruled by Kamaru Usman, who has been stellar ever since joining the UFC in 2015. In the Octagon he’s won 15 straight fights. He won the 170 lbs title with a win over Tyron Woodley in 2019. Since then he has defended the title against Gilbert Burns, Jorge Masvidal (twice) and Colby Covington (twice).
Usman is due to defend his title to Leon Edwards at UFC 278 on August 20.
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