Belal Muhammad was one of the only fighters on the entire UFC roster to call out undefeated prospect Khamzat Chimaev – and it turns out he almost got his wish.
After picking up a dominating victory over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to extend his unbeaten streak to seven fights, Muhammad got the call he wanted with a chance to headline the upcoming UFC London card.
“It’s crazy because it was maybe three or four weeks after my fight, [my manager] Ali [Abdelaziz] called me up and said, “They’re offering Khamzat in London as a main event,” and I was like, “Let’s go, book it,” Muhammad revealed to MMA Fighting. “He’s like, ‘Are you sure you’re down? he’s [ranked] No. 11, ‘and me [said] I want this fight, let’s go. He said, ‘OK, but don’t say anything yet’.
“Three or four days later I’m sitting there messaging my family, they’re looking for tickets to London and getting ready to book, and [I said] don’t do anything until we get a contract because you never know.
It turned out that Muhammad’s family were smart to avoid booking air travel or hotel rooms in London, because that’s when Muhammad got another call that put the fight of Chimaev in danger.
“All of a sudden they called me back and said, ‘We have some problems,'” Muhammad said. “Gilbert [Burns] and Vicente [Luque] are very good friends and they will never fight, so we have a problem, so it’s going to be something between you three. It’s you, Gilbert, Luque and Khamzat”, they want to match us to these three somehow.
“So he’s like, ‘Out of these three, which one do you want the most?’ I want Khamzat. He’s the one I want the most. You get the most hype beating a guy like that even if he’s not the top-ranked, and especially getting the chance to make the front page of the O2 arena, I think that would have been huge.
As firmly as Muhammad felt about fighting Chimaev, the UFC needed to look at the bigger picture in the welterweight division, with Gilbert Burns and Vicente Luque being close friends who have repeatedly said they don’t. would not face each other.
Because there were so many potential options available, Muhammad soon realized that he probably wouldn’t get the fight against Chimaev no matter how badly he wanted it. Instead, Muhammad is now set to fight Luque in the main event of an upcoming UFC APEX event in Las Vegas on April 16.
“All of a sudden it was like [I’m] will fight Gilbert, Luque will fight Khamzat,” Muhammad said. “It was like okay, whatever, Gilbert is [ranked] No. 2. Then two days later it was, ‘Okay, it’s you against Luque,’ and I was like, ‘Just send me a contract, I don’t care.’
“Obviously I gain a lot from fighting one of the three guys. It’s all tough tests anyway, so I don’t care which of the three it is. Let’s go. He said, “Okay, it’s going to be Luque”, so I said of course.
Muhammad certainly has the motivation to face Luque after suffering a knockout loss to him at UFC 205 in 2016, but that didn’t satisfy Muhammad’s thirst for a possible showdown with Chimaev. Due to the attention Chimaev has received since joining the UFC, Muhammad knows the Chechen-born welterweight is on the fast track to the title and may only need a little more. more win to secure a shot against defending champion Kamaru. Usman.
“If I beat Luque and [Khamzat] go out there and beat Gilbert, they’re gonna give him a title shot,” Muhammad said. “If I go over there and beat Gilbert and he beat Luque, they’re going to give [Chimaev] a title shot.
“I don’t want to be ignored by him in any way, so let me go straight to him. Fight the guy they all want to see fight [Kamaru] Usman next and they’re all buzzing. I’m like, I’d rather just fight this guy then.
Although he didn’t end up with Chimaev as his opponent, Muhammad is still more than happy to headline a UFC card for the second time in his career while hoping to avenge a loss on his resume at the same time.
A win over Luque will always be huge, but Muhammad can’t deny that beating Chimaev would have been satisfying as well.
“Khamzat is the guy who talks trash – Luque is so nice,” Muhammad said with a laugh. “Luque even helped me a few times for my fight against ‘Wonderboy’. We fought.
“It would have been a [more fun] build with Khamzat, but of course I’m super happy to fight a guy like Luque, who’s #4, who’s on a huge streak, who just got a huge win against [Michael] Chiesa, and a guy who weighed in to be the title fight backup when Colby [Covington] and Usman fought. So the UFC obviously thinks highly of him.
With Chimaev out of sight and out of mind, Muhammad is eager to make a statement against Luque as he looks to build even more momentum towards a possible title.
He will also have the chance to finally silence the doubters who still wonder if he is the real deal at the top of the welterweight division.
“I don’t even really consider it revenge,” Muhammad said. “I consider it a brand new fight because I’m a brand new fighter. That’s why I wanted this fight, to prove that I’m a whole new fighter and a different fighter. It will be a whole different fight. So obviously I gain something from this fight.
“If I go over there and finish [Luque], beat him, there is nothing that can deny me too. Even when I beat [Demian] Maia, they said he was old. When I beat “Wonderboy”, everyone said he was old. Now I’m fighting a guy who knocked me out, a guy who’s young, a guy who knocks everybody out, who finishes everybody, I go out and finish him – what excuse can you give now?