2020 was an unprecedented year in too many ways to reflect on here. With the world on hold as the Coronavirus ran rampant, the UFC announced its plans to push onward. Of course, as with everything in 2020, things had to be modified.
Many of the UFC’s stars and champions could not leave their homelands due to travel restrictions. This led to the organization rushing to sign fighters from regional shows to fill their cards. Many of the 2020 newcomers were pushed into the spotlights too soon, and their performances showed. Some, like Missouri’s Joaquin Buckley, faltered at first but later picked up a KO of the Year contender and proved he belongs.
But one athlete who debuted this year put not only two divisions but also the entire world on notice.
Khamzat Chimaev (9-0) made his UFC debut in July during the promotion’s Fight Island run. The former Swedish wrestling gold medalist took John Phillips to the ground and controlled him completely, en route to second round submission. His dominance on the ground lead to comparisons to Khabib Nurmagomedov. Fans couldn’t wait to see what next for the Chechen. They wouldn’t have to wait long.
Just 10 days later, Chimaev dropped from middleweight to welterweight and again graced the Octagon. This time against Rhys McKee. Chimaev ripped his opponent to the ground in the opening seconds and battered him until the referee, mercifully, stepped in to stop the bout in the first. McKee wouldn’t land a single strike.
🇸🇪 @KChimaev with the RD 1 demolition!
— UFC (@ufc) July 26, 2020
People were paying attention. MMA media and UFC president Dana White were singing Chimaev’s praises. But “The Chechen Wolf” wasn’t done with 2020 just yet.
Just over a month later, Chimaev would meet UFC veteran Gerald Meerschaert at ESPN + 36. Meerschaert is a battle-tested black belt in jiu jitsu, who was an underdog, but scrappy and good enough on the ground to have some offense against his undefeated opponent. Fans were just getting excited for Chimaev to face-off against his biggest UFC test, and were just moving to the edge of their seats when the fight ended. Chimaev needed only 17 seconds and no takedowns to separate Meerschaert from consciousness.
KHAMZAT CHIMAEV JUST DID THAT 😳
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 20, 2020
By this point, the hype train was reaching capacity. The UFC fast tracked Chimaev and booked him against number 3 welterweight Leon Edwards. Unfortunately, that fight has since fallen through twice because of COVID-19. It seems likely we’ll see that bout in the near future.
Despite us missing out on that banger, Chimaev still won 3 fights in 66 days across two weight classes. All three of his bouts led to a “Performance of the Night” bonus, and so far, he’s only been hit twice throughout his UFC career.
That is why Khamzat Chimaev is The Scrap’s 2020 Newcomer of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Royval, Adrian Yanez and Jiří Procházka.