clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Alexander Gustafsson: Khamzat Chimaev works harder than I’ve ever worked

“Who is this guy?”

That was the question Alexander Gustafsson and his training partners were asking after getting their first look at Khamzat Chimaev.

“He’s a welterweight, but hits like a heavyweight, strong as a heavyweight, fast like a lightweight,” Gustafsson said Monday on The MMA Hour.

The three-time UFC title challenger can’t remember exactly when the Chechen fighter walked into the Allstars Training Center he now owns with his longtime partners. But that first impression was only a preview of the potential Chimaev has realized.

Chimaev didn’t arrive a complete fighter. But he became one, setting the stage for the UFC run that’s made him the hottest commodity in recent memory.

“He works harder than I ever worked,” Gustafsson said. “He’s doing five sessions a day, at least. In my prime, when I fought Jon [Jones] and those guys back in the day, I did three sessions a day, and I did, like, 20 rounds every sparring [session]. My conditioning was crazy. But this guy, he outworks me. He doesn’t get tired.”

On the verge of a May 21 return at heavyweight against veteran Ben Rothwell, Gustafsson’s extra bulk hasn’t deterred Chimaev from locking up with him in the cage. He said the 27-year-old fighter gives him a good incentive to practice defense.

“I better keep my hands up,” Gustafsson said. “I’m not kidding. He hits hard. He has this thing that he’s fast, and he has very good precision, so he doesn’t need a lot of power to just knock people out, because he knows what he’s aiming at, and he hits every time.

“I’ve play-sparred with lot of guys, you’re just laughing and joking around and having a good time. But this guy, when he comes to spar, he comes to spar. It doesn’t matter if it’s me or another guy, he just goes.”

Getting Chimaev to slow down is the bigger issue. The UFC is working to finalize his next opponent, and one-time title challenger Gilbert Burns appears to be a leading candidate. The Brazilian also appears to be one of the only candidates to actually step up after Chimaev issued one of dozens of callouts of top fighters.

Since a battle with long COVID that threatened to end Chimaev’s career, Gustafsson said he and his team have worked as much on strengthening the contender’s mindset as his physical skills. As gung-ho as Chimaev can seem to the outside world, Gustafsson the reality is like any fighter with a dream and a passion for being the best in the world.

“We’re like a family,” Gustafsson said. “I still have some issues sometimes, and I’ve got the team coming up. We’re there for each other, so we all did our part to help him out. He’s a guy with a lot of emotions and a lot of feelings. He’s a pretty sensitive guy. We all are different species, so we help each other out in different ways.”

“I help him if he needs,” he added later. “I see some stuff I try to give input in, but I’m not trying to interfere too much either,. because I’m not his coach. I’m his friend, and I make sure the coaches there – I know and I’m 100 percent confident they do what needs to be done when it comes to his training. I’m just trying to be there as support when it comes to...sometimes, there’s just crazy sh*t going on inside of you, feelings, thoughts, big fights coming up, big crowds, big arenas. I just try to be there as a friend. If he needs my help, I’m always there.”