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Coach recalls Khamzat Chimaev’s near-retirement after COVID-19 scare: ‘It affected him so quickly’

Khamzat Chimaev may be on the cusp of a potential UFC welterweight title shot, but there was a time not too long ago when the undefeated fighter didn’t know if he would ever compete again.

From late 2020 leading into 2021, Chimaev had a serious bout with COVID-19 and was left looking for answers. Less than a month after his battle with the virus Chimaev decided to return to training against doctor’s orders. The young contender believed he was in good enough health to resume fighting and didn’t think of the long-term consequences.

“It affected him so quickly,” Chimaev’s jiu-jitsu coach, Alan Nascimento, told MMA Fighting’s Portuguese-language podcast Trocação Franca. “He had every symptom, including difficulty to breathe. We were worried. He started to struggle desperately in the middle of the night, he couldn’t breathe, and we wanted to take him to the hospital.”

Nascimento, who was also infected with the virus, flew back to Sweden with Khamzat as soon as they tested negative. That’s when doctors took X-rays and a MRI that showed serious damage to Khamzat’s lungs. According to Nascimento, it was “looking like he had pneumonia or asthma, something like that.”

Unfortunately, Chimaev decided to later return to the United States without any of his team members or coaching staff and once again thought he was healthy enough to start training. That’s when things quickly took a turn for the worse.

“Time went by and he didn’t have any symptoms anymore, and he thought he was ready to train,” Nascimento said. “The UFC told him he couldn’t train, doctors used a lot of medication on him. [But] he went to Xtreme Couture to spar. And out of nowhere, he started to cough up and spit blood. There were a lot of cases of high-level athletes dealing with severe post-COVID complications at the time, or even death, because they didn’t respect the post-COVID [rest time].”

Chimaev, who may be one of the hardest training fighters in the game today, didn’t know what to do. He was unable to train and was experiencing serious complications from a virus that was no longer in his system. It was a difficult situation to say the least, which eventually led to the young fighter contemplating his future in the sport.

“That’s when he fell into despair,” Nascimento said. “There was no one there with him, people he was used to listening, people he trusted, so he went on and said, ‘It’s not worth doing this and putting my life at risk.’ That’s when he made that post and said he wanted to retire.”

Luckily, “Borz” is surrounded by a team that cares about his safety and fighting future. Nascimento was able to fly Chimaev back to Sweden so they can keep a close eye on their fighter and make sure he was making the right choices in his recovery.

“We knew he wouldn’t do that around us,” Nascimento said. “He’s a young kid, living all this hype. One day he’s living in a room in the gym, sharing his lunch with two other people, and the next day he’s the most talked-about guy in the MMA world, in the world’s biggest organization. He didn’t know how to deal with that situation.”

Chimaev is currently scheduled to fight Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 next weekend live on ESPN+ PPV from Jacksonville, Florida. If “Borz” is able to defeat Burns he’s likely to score a title shot against current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.