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Retired or not, Khamzat Chimaev's health is the only thing that matters

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4-min read

LAS VEGAS — Hey folks, great news, if you’re among those who doesn’t understand that professional fighters are humans with feelings and only care about their ability to mercilessly dole out punishment on someone else.

Khamzat Chimaev is back!

Yep, and the source on this one is unassailable: Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, who said that the budding UFC star would not be retiring, as Chimaev had said on Monday in a post on Instagram.

Chimaev has been battling the aftereffects of COVID-19, which multiple times has forced him to postpone a bout with Leon Edwards. The UFC flew him from his home in Sweden to Las Vegas several weeks ago so he could be treated by American doctors.

But he’s been slow to recover and on Monday, announced his retirement. It sounded like a frustrated young man whose body wasn’t doing what he wanted and needed it to do rather than a person who had carefully thought things through and decided to retire.

Chimaev is only 26 and burst on the scene in a big way last year when he scored three one-sided UFC victories in quick succession after joining the promotion.

His story, though, is evidence that COVID-19 isn’t just something that affects old and infirm people. Chimaev is an elite athlete in magnificent condition and the virus has impacted him so greatly he’s considering walking away from a career that seemed so promising such a short time ago.

His only job at this point should be to figure out how to return to full health. Only when he does that should he concern himself with fighting.

My guess — and it’s only a guess — is that eventually he’ll recover and be able to fight.

Enter Kadyrov, who last June was sanctioned again by the U.S. government for extreme human rights abuses. On July 20, 2020, in a press release with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s name on it, the State Department released a statement that said, in part, “… Kadyrov is responsible for numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.”

On Tuesday, Kadyrov tweeted that he’d spoken to Chimaev and that Chimaev wasn’t going to retire. He said Chimaev would continue to fight because “the Chechen SPIRIT and will to win shout to him, ‘Go!’ Therefore, I know that Khamzat will take the UFC belt and prove that he is the best of the best.”

Kadyrov’s statement noted “how important his career is to every Chechen citizen.” Kadyrov said this even though before Chimaev joined the UFC in July, the overwhelming majority of Chechen citizens had probably never heard of him.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 19: Khamzat Chimaev of Chechnya prepares to fight Gerald Meerschaert in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Khamzat Chimaev has been suffering from the aftereffects of COVID-19 and announced his retirement from MMA on Monday. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

UFC president Dana White said Monday that Chimaev wasn’t retiring, despite his statement, and that he’d probably fight again in June.

He’s probably correct, though Chimaev’s health has to be the overriding factor here. Before he even thinks of stepping into a cage again to train, let alone fight, he needs to be fully recovered and able to do what he did before he contracted the disease.

The risk is too great otherwise.

White would be wise to remove any timeframe from Chimaev until it’s clear that Chimaev is 100 percent and ready to fight. Don’t make Chimaev feel any pressure, subtle or overt, to meet a timeframe. Let him come back when he’s healthy and ready. And if he’s not, he walks away, a modern version of Mark Fidrych, an uber talent who flashed spectacularly and flamed out quickly through no fault of his own.

Chimaev is hurting himself by training when his doctors tell him not to do so. It’s why the second planned fight with Edwards was postponed after the first was postponed when he initially contracted COVID-19.

The fighter bears some responsibility in all of this. He has to take his medications — according to White, Chimaev is on prednisone, a corticosteroid that works by suppressing the immune system — and follow all directives.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the side effects of corticosteroids are high blood pressure, mood swings and weight gain. The psychological effects include not just mood swings but issues with memory and behavior as well as confusion and delirium.

All of those things could have worked together to cause Chimaev to post his retirement.

And he shouldn’t fight just because a brutal dictator is urging him to do so, though given Kadyrov’s past, that’s not an order that’s so easy to ignore.

More than anything, Chimaev’s physical health is the only issue of concern here.

When he’s fully healthy as certified by doctors, then he should return. But he needs time and space and a lot of TLC, not a dictator pressuring him so he can use his talents as propaganda.

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