Giga Chikadze – Georgia’s High-flying Fighter Aims for the UFC Featherweight Crown
May 16, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Giga Chikadze (red gloves) fights Irwin Rivera (blue gloves) during UFC on ESPN at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Anyone interested in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is likely to be thrilled by the prospect of January 15’s UFC contest, the first Fight Night of 2022. The main event of the evening will be the much-anticipated featherweight battle between Georgia’s Giga “Ninja” Chikadze (currently ranked #8) and American Calvin Kattar (#5) nicknamed the Boston Finisher.
The contest will be Chikadze’s second consecutive main event, having previously defeated Brazilian legend Edson Barboza with a third-round TKO (technical knock-out). This brings Chikadze, named 2021 Breakout Fighter of the Year by MMA Junkie, ever closer to challenging Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski as UFC World Champion. Australian star Volkanovski, who’s on a 20-fight winning streak, had hoped to complete a trilogy with previous champion Max Holloway. However, Holloway’s recent injury meant that a new opponent would be needed for Volkanovski’s next defense. Hopes were raised that Chitadze might be able to step in much quicker than previously imagined. The two fighters are already engaged in a Twitter feud, Chikadze declaring his readiness to dethrone the Ozzie. When Volkanovski decided his preference was to fight “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung instead, Chikadze lashed out on social media suggesting that “the champ is trying to have an easy task.”
Born in Tbilisi in 1988, baby Giga was – they say - immediately recognized as a potential fighter. By the age of 4, he was training at a karate dojo. Always encouraged by a strong family support network, Giga swiftly gained black belts in the Goju-ryu and Kyokushin forms of karate, earning the nickname ‘Ninja.’ He later moved into kickboxing which proved altogether more lucrative.
As a professional kickboxer, he won 38 of his 44 matches, 22 by knock-out. Still, due to promotional hitches with K-1 Kickboxing and reduced income after moving to Glory Kickboxing, in 2016 he started seeking new opportunities to refocus his career. Initially considering boxing, a series of coincidences brought him to Kings MMA in Southern California, where he met jujitsu master and lightweight MMA fighter Benil Dariush. The two quickly became friends. Suddenly everything fell into place. Discovering MMA rekindled Giga’s childhood memories of a UFC videotape that his dad had rented: Ultimate Fighter (1993), in which diminutive Royce Gracie took on and beat far bigger guys while fighting in a Brazilian jujitsu kimono. This outfit reminded young Giga of his own child-sized karate suit. MMA also let Chikadze use more of his ‘crazy karate’ moves. Dariush let Chikadze live in his home when he first moved to LA – even offering his guest the master bedroom.
The two became sparring partners. Benil is well known for his wrestling and overall ground game, but Giga has emerged as the self-proclaimed “best striker in the organization.” Those who once saw such boasts as mere bravado had to think again when watching Chikadze beat Edson Barboza, himself a legendary striker - and maybe the best kicker - in the UFC. Back in 2017, Barboza had finished Dariush with a flying ‘nasty knee’ to the chin. To “avenge” his friend, Chikadze tried to do the same against Barboza. However, his signature move is a left kick to the liver –now known as a “Giga-kick.” It’s so powerful it stopped a fight in its tracks against Cub Swanson, who had never before suffered a knock-out.
Already fans believe that Chikadze will soon be calling out Volkanovski for a title fight. Indeed, during a recent visit to his homeland, he promised Georgians that he would be the first of their countrymen to bring a UFC Belt back to Tbilisi. But first, he needs to beat Calvin Kattar, a good boxer and strong striker.
Chikadze is just one of half a dozen Georgian stars rising in the UFC mixed martial arts firmament. Undefeated 24-year-old Ilia Topuria is another Georgian featherweight to watch. Then there’s New York-based Georgian bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili who recently made a phenomenal comeback against Brazil’s Marlon Moraes, bringing his ranking to 6th. Roman Dolidze is a promising middleweight, and there are high expectations for lightweight Guram Kutateladze, assuming he fully recovers from injury. All in all, the future looks bright for Georgian MMA fighters, even if they aren’t quite as well-known as their Caucasian neighbours from Dagestan and Chechnya. Well, not yet.