Saturday will see one of the most enticing collisions of strikers yet in 2021 as surging contender Giga Chikadze meets UFC veteran Edson Barboza at UFC Vegas 35.
A banger of a fight that ended in stunning fashion by @EdsonBarbozaJr 😳
— UFC (@ufc) August 26, 2021
It is a testament to the business of mixed martial arts that most have forgotten that Edson Barboza’s UFC career was on life support roughly a year ago. On a three fight losing streak, and having lost five out of his last six overall, there was question as to whether he was fighting for his UFC job. He’s not only turned things around, he’s also signed a contract extension and is back in a headlining spot for the first time since 2019.
Usually, a 1-5 skid would not warrant a headlining spot. But as they say, a great finish can lead to a short memory. Barboza delivered just that, following a win over Makwan Amirkhani, with a rousing knockout of tough contender Shane Burgos this past May. The “delayed reaction knockout” made the rounds on social media and was seen as a return to form for Barboza who as of this November will have been with the promotion for 11 years.
"That's the 𝑮𝒊𝒈𝒂 𝑲𝒊𝒄𝒌!" 😳 @Giga_Chikadze
— UFC (@ufc) August 26, 2021
Giga Chikadze’s UFC career may not have gotten off to the start he wanted, but it could take off in a major way on Saturday. Following an extensive kickboxing career, “Ninja” committed fully to mixed martial arts after posting a 5-1 record that earned him an appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. He was stunned that night, losing via submission to Austin Springer and forced to regroup with two more victories on the regional circuit.
The Georgia native did get his shot at the UFC in 2019, and he has posted a perfect 6-0 record in his two short years in the promotion. While he has flown under the radar for most of that run, he had a breakout performance with a first round finish of exciting perennial contender Cub Swanson this past May. Most notably, it was his first UFC finish with his signature move: the Giga Kick. Following the bout, Chikadze stated that he was the best striker in MMA and called for a bout with former champion Max Holloway to prove it.
Stylistically, the fight pits the more technical and patient Chikadze against the raw explosiveness of Barboza in what is on paper one of the most high level striking bouts of 2021. Barboza keeps a very tight guard and his offense works using his chopping kicks wear down an opponent’s mobility and set up his hands. Chikadze has a more relaxed approach, looking to set up precise hits rather than overwhelm his opponent with volume. Chikadze will look to make Barboza weary of closing the distance, either with his movement or by timing the Brazilian’s kicks for counters. Barboza will need to be patient to set up his strikes at mid-range and wear down Chikadze over time. While he is expected to be able to use his physicality, he should not take the risks of getting into wild exchanges at close range.
Top featherweights looking to keep climbing the ranks 📈
— UFC (@ufc) August 27, 2021
While the winner of Saturday is still a way’s off from the title picture, they would likely secure an exciting matchup for their next fight. Looking at the rankings, a fight with rising contender Arnold Allen stands out or even a leap against The Korean Zombie who seeks an exciting opponent for his return to action as he looks to get back into the win-column.