LAS VEGAS — If there has been a criticism of Giga Chikadze during his time in the UFC, it’s been that he’s been moved very slowly. Chikadze has a nine-fight winning streak going on, seven of which are in the UFC, but Edson Barboza was the first ranked opponent he faced.
Few fighters have the supreme confidence that Chikadze possesses, and he’s believed since Day 1 in MMA that he was destined to go to the top.
It’s much closer to reality now, as he’s ranked No. 8 at featherweight and will challenge No. 5 Calvin Kattar on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 46 at Apex.
Though he’s called for a title shot when Max Holloway dropped out of his scheduled bout with champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 272 because of injury, Chikadze has mostly accepted what he’s been given without complaint.
His coach, Rafael Cordeiro, told Yahoo Sports after Chikadze’s third-round finish of Barboza in August that the reason is simple.
“He loves to fight,” Cordeiro said. “It’s his passion. Some guys fight because they’re good at it, but it’s not what they really love. Giga loves it. He would fight a lot more often as he could because it’s who he is.”
The featherweight division is very deep and there are elite contenders both above and below Chikadze. A win over Kattar figures to move him up a bit, perhaps into the top five. Kattar is looking to rebound from a tough loss to Holloway last year in Abu Dhabi and is primed to get back on the winning track.
Chikadze has immense respect for Kattar but he’s aiming a lot higher. It’s why he took a few shots at Volkanovski in the media when Volkanovski was focusing on getting a fight with "The Korean Zombie," Chan Sung Jung, finalized after Holloway fell out.
Chikadze didn’t rip Volkanovski in an interview with Yahoo Sports, but made it clear he’s looking at the top. Beating Kattar will gain him entry to bouts against the best of the best of the best at featherweight.
“I just needed somebody to fight from the top five,” Chikadze said. “That’s why I took this fight with Calvin. I have a ton of respect for him for what he has done in this sport. He’s a very strong guy, a very tough guy. But no one was available [above Kattar] for me to fight at the time I was asking. Some of them were injured; some of them were already scheduled for other fights. Calvin Kattar’s name came up and I happily took this fight because he’s ranked five. That’s exactly what I need right now.”
Kattar has been fighting professionally in MMA since 2007, and Chikadze has long kept an eye on him. Even before Kattar made it to the UFC, Chikadze was watching him, both to learn from him and as a potential opponent one day.
He said Kattar has always impressed him and even the one-sided loss to Holloway, in which Kattar absorbed a record number of significant strikes, didn’t change his opinion.
“Calvin was still throwing bombs [late in that fight],” Chikadze said. “Max Holloway is a very tough guy with a great chin and he can take punches. With someone else, Calvin could have gotten a knockout, even late, because he was throwing bombs.”
So Chikadze, whose quickness is a huge advantage over most opponents, isn’t expecting a waltz. He likes what he sees of Kattar and believes he’ll be desperate to win, which will increase the urgency with which he fights.
Kattar has never been knocked down or knocked out in his long MMA career, so that’s become a goal of Chikadze’s. He praised Kattar for having rare power, one of the few guys in the featherweight division who carries knockout punching power.
Chikadze has the power, too, but his unorthodox strikes come with speed and from all angles, making him a difficult guy to prepare for because few others fight the way he does.
He’s reeled off three finishes in a row, but if he finishes Kattar, he’ll announce his arrival among the elite at featherweight in a big way.
“No one has ever finished Calvin Kattar,” Chikadze said, grinning ever so slightly. “So let’s see what is going to happen when you face the world champion in karate and kickboxing.”