Well, it’s certainly a bold statement from the former two-time UFC middleweight title challenger, but Chael Sonnen believes that the promotion’s top welterweight contenders are “scared” of the streaking uber-prospect, Khamzat Chimaev.
The winner of three Octagon outings between his promotional bow which occurred last July and September, Chimaev immediately burst onto the scene with eye-catching stoppages of John Philips, Rhys McKee, and a particularly devastating seventeen-second knockout of Gerald Meerschaert.
Failing to feature in the Octagon since his UFC Vegas 11 stoppage win over Roufusport mainstay, Meerschaert, Chimaev is continuing to deal with lingering health issues amid a positive COVID-19 test result late last year.
Scheduled to match with the #3 ranked, Leon Edwards in a high-profile potential title-eliminator at UFC Vegas 17 in December, Birmingham native, Edwards was himself forced from proceedings after he tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Rebooked for UFC Fight Island 7 in January, and a subsequent UFC Vegas 21 outing on March 13 — the above mentioned lingering health issues which have plagued Chimaev’s activity since his positive test result has forced the cancellation of both matchups, with the promotion expected to book Edwards against a new opponent in a bid to keep him on the March card.
Giving his thoughts on the lie of the welterweight land at the moment, Sonnen spoke with ESPN MMA reporter, Ariel Helwani on their show, Ariel & The Bad Guy — claiming that the upper-echelon of the 170-pound division are “scared” of the emerging Chimaev.
“170 pounds has been a little bit baffling right now,” Sonnen said. “Get, up, get to work and get busy. I don’t understand what all these guys are doing. They all got scared of (Khamzat) Chimaev — they don’t want to admit that, but they did.“
“Chimaev has removed himself, and it sounds like a time — and in all fairness, (Jorge) Masvidal’s hands aren’t clean in this either,” Sonnen said. “Masvidal hasn’t stepped in there (the Octagon) in over a year and has held things up. I mean look, Ariel (Helwani), squat on your spot? I don’t know about that one. But to your point, are you guys fighters or not?“
In regards to activity amongst the top-five of the welterweight rankings, champion Kamaru Usman knocked back most recent title challenger, Gilbert Burns just last weekend at UFC 258 — stopping the Brazilian with a third round knockout.
Former interim 170-pound titleholder, Colby Covington has been linked with a matchup against the above mentioned, #3 ranked Edwards possibly for a March date, however, he’s claimed he’s not doing “charity” for the Team Renagade BJJ & MMA mainstay, distancing himself from the matchup.
Masvidal, whom Sonnen referred to, last featured at UFC 251 in July of last year on ‘Fight Island’ — dropping a unanimous decision loss to incumbent titleholder, Usman, Following his successful defence last weekend, Usman called for a rematch with Masvidal — with the promotion expected to explore that option.
Rounding out the top-five, two-time title challenger, Stephen Thompson has won two consecutively — scoring unanimous decision triumphs over both Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, but is expected to be sidelined until the summer as he deals with a hand injury suffered in his December win over fellow striker, Neal.