The featherweight title picture was crystal clear until suddenly it wasn’t last week.
When former champion Max Holloway had to pull out of his trilogy fight against current titleholder Alexander Volkanovski, it seemed like the entirety of the 145-pound division started throwing their proverbial hats in the ring. Even some non-featherweights wanted in on the action.
Holloway’s withdrawal put Giga Chikadze (14-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC) in an odd position. He’s set to headline UFC on ESPN 32 this week against Calvin Kattar (22-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC). But at the same time, if the UFC suddenly said it wanted him to take Holloway’s place at UFC 272, what was he going to do? Say no?
“The first thing, I was talking to myself: ‘Giga, chill. You have business to handle – a very tough fight,’” Chikadze told MMA Junkie on Monday of the moment he heard Holloway was out. “I feel like it’s the strongest opponent I’ve ever faced. I’m taking this very serious.
“But everybody’s dream is to fight for a title, right? I saw the news and I started to get more excited, but I was calming myself down: ‘You have things to do. Don’t get too excited. They might get someone else.’ I don’t have to be too frustrated with anything, and I don’t have to get too excited, either. … The chance, I know it will come. If it’s going to be sooner rather than later, I’ll take it.”
Chikadze has seven straight wins to open his UFC career, so clearly he’s in the title picture. That became especially true after his most recent three victories. After four decisions to start his UFC tenure, he’s got three straight knockouts – all of which picked up $50,000 Performance of the Night bonuses.
He’s on UFC president Dana White’s radar, and he knows it. White told him as much at the UFC Performance Institute and told him to be patient when it comes to getting a title shot.
“I even had a quick chat with Dana since I was at the P.I.,” Chikadze said. “We had some interactions there. He said, ‘You’re right there. Handle your business and then we’ll talk after.’ (I have) even more motivation from that, I guess.”
So Chikadze said he remained tuned in on Kattar, who hasn’t fought in nearly a year. Kattar’s January 2021 outing was a rough one. Holloway put on the best striking performance in UFC history against the Bostonian en route to some of the most lopsided scores in UFC history: a pair of 50-43s and a 50-42 – which means Holloway had four 10-8 rounds from one of the judges.
But when it comes to proving he needs to be in that title picture – and perhaps be next if the UFC doesn’t decide on a new opponent for Volkanovski before his fight against Kattar – Chikadze said the right people better be paying attention.
“I just want to warn everybody that I have a fight this weekend. I’ll be knocking out people that no one would believe I was going to knock them out – in a minute, in a striking way, in this, in that. I just want them to open their eyes and watch this weekend very well, and after this make a decision. I’m just concentrating to perform the best I’ve ever been.”