It’s been more than a year since Khamzat Chimaev picked up a submission win over Kevin Holland in his most recent UFC appearance. The middleweight fighter is now in a possible No. 1 contender clash with Kamaru Usman at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi, however one issue remains: It’s unlikely that Chimaev can currently enter the United States.
So would the UFC book Chimaev against 185-pound champion Sean Strickland overseas and take the risk of having a titleholder not eligible to enter its home territory?
Chimaev was based in Sweden for many years but recently announced that he has moved to the United Arab Emirates ahead of UFC 294 on Oct. 21. Alan Nascimento, Chimaev’s jiu-jitsu coach, confirmed to MMA Fighting that one the main reasons the fighter decided to switch countries was to help his travel situation.
“The thing is, Chimaev doesn’t have Swedish passport,” Nascimento said. “He’s not a Swedish citizen. He never was. He has a Russian passport. With this situation going on, the war, it’s hard for anyone to travel around the world with a Russian passport. Especially for a Chechen.
“I won’t go into details, but anyone who knows the story and is following what’s going on in the world knows that everybody is trying to corner Russia with sanctions. He’s living that. That’s one of the reasons why he chose to leave Sweden. Like, ‘I fight for the country, I live there since I was a teenager and pay taxes, and I always apply for a citizenship, but never get it.’”
Like Chimaev, Nascimento moved to Sweden 19 years ago to work in combat sports. A jiu-jitsu coach at Allstars Training Center, the Brazilian grappler was able to eventually become a Swedish citizen, “but I was lucky because it all happened many years ago — it’s way harder now, especially for a Russian,” he said. Because of that, Nascimento explained, Chimaev is “unable” to travel to many territories to fight.
Russians athletes have found issues entering certain countries after Russian invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and many UFC fighters have been caught in that web. In Chimaev’s case, his close ties to Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov only adds to the issue given the fact that Kadyrov was officially sanctioned by the U. S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for “serious human rights abuses” in Russia. Kadyrov’s MMA entities, like Absolute Championship Akhmat and Akhmat MMA, were also sanctioned by the U.S. for providing the dictator “pride and significant profit,” OFAC announced.
“[Chimaev] just got a 10-year visa in Abu Dhabi and will apply for a type of passport here in the U.A.E., something like a citizenship, that could be used for travels,” Nascimento said. “Many Russian athletes are suffering with that. Chechens, Dagestani, Russians in general. But I think things will start to flow for Chimaev soon, and for other athletes too.”
“Sports save lives,” he continued. “To see athletes, people that have never committed any crimes and are just trying to live life in a positive manner and serve as example for the next generations, to pay the price and be unable to work because of problems caused by other people, I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s right. People might condemn what I’m saying, but what does an athlete have to do with a war started by two people that have nothing to do with sports?
“There are people paying a bigger price than not being able to fly. There are people losing their lives, mother losing their children, families being destroyed, fathers having to go to war. This entire situation is sad, man, and I won’t change my opinion because someone may disagree of support this thing. I don’t celebrate unfair punishment and I won’t celebrate any death, no matter which side that is. This is how I see it.”
UFC CEO Dana White announced the winner of Chimaev vs. Usman will challenge Strickland for the middleweight title next, barring an injury or other issue. Nascimento feels extra confident in the resolution of Chimaev’s travel dilemma because of that.
“I don’t think Sean Strickland wants his first title defense to be in Abu Dhabi against Chimaev. Absolutely not,” Nascimento said. “I think the UFC may have some type of plan for that. If that wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t have promised the winner of this fight a title shot knowing there’s a good chance a Russian will win — or they’re counting on Chimaev being able to get a passport or citizenship here in the Emirates.”
Chimaev has to get through Usman first, and that’s the main focus now, Nascimento said.
Nascimento confirmed that other names were thrown on the table before settling for Usman, from Marvin Vettori to Jared Cannonier and even Strickland himself, however the former UFC welterweight champion was the one to sign on the dotted line.
Switching from a striker like Paulo Costa to a wrestler like Usman drastically changes the matchup for Chimaev, and Nascimento admits it makes it harder in a sense.
“We already have the habit of working heavy in the wrestling department, so changing the fight to a wrestler makes it a bit easier to adapt, but it doesn’t mean the fight is going to be easier,” Nascimento said. “If you fight a fellow wrestler, he can interpret your actions because it happens because he has the same habit. The fight gets a bit more difficult even for Chimaev to be able to use what he has the most confidence in.
“But Chimaev reacted very naturally to all that. [Usman] was a champion for many years, he’s a top-5 fighter in the [welterweight] division and has fought all the best fighters. It’s hard to say there’s an easy path, but I don’t think there’s such thing as unbeatable human beings.”