UFC 278: Aldo Looks to Continue Latest Renaissance Against Dvalishvili

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - AUGUST 18: (L-R) Jose Aldo of Brazil and Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia face off during the UFC 278 press conference at Vivint Arena on August 18, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

UFC legend José Aldo continues to work his way back to a shot at gold, but Merab Dvalishvili is looking to cut his renaissance short at UFC 278.

The latest chapter of José Aldo’s career is simultaneously awe-inspiring and frighteningly fragile.  He has been so consistently brilliant for so long that it is difficult to imagine the day that he simply won’t be anymore.  But that day feels as if it is on horizon.  Aldo was 23 years-old the day he bested the number one featherweight in the world to become champion.  In the twelve years since, he defended the title seven times (ten if you count his WEC title defenses before the promotion was absorbed into the UFC) and became not only one of the sport’s most respected and all-time great athletes.

Today, Aldo’s pursuit of gold feels like the last ride of a champion unlike any the game may see again.  After previously stating he may retire in 2019, he signed an eight fight deal that has mostly spanned his bantamweight run.  He came up short in his title bid in 2020, but has since reeled off a three fight win-streak that has seen him both battle hard from wire-to-wire and put on a clinic akin to an instructional video.  If he is to earn another title shot in what may be the final fight of his contract, then he will need to do it the hard way in taking on a dangerous up-and-comer who is eager to begin his own legend.

Merab Dvalishvili has seen his share of ups and downs, but he is hitting his stride ahead of the biggest fight of his career.  The Georgian began his professional career in Ring of Combat in 2014 where he lost his second fight to future Bellator contender Ricky Bandejas and handed current Bellator interim champion Raufeon Stots the only loss of his career.  Dvalishvili put together a six fight win-streak to get the attention of the UFC and signed with the promotion in 2017, but suffered losses in his first two bouts against Frankie Saenz and Ricky Simon.

What came next has been one of the most impressive turnarounds by any fighter as “The Machine” reeled off a seven fight win-streak against veterans like Cody Stamann, John Dodson, and Marlon Moraes.  The run has him on the cusp of a UFC title shot.  His longtime friend and current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling has even said publicly that he would step aside and move up in weight so as not to get in the way of Dvalishvili’s attempt to make history.  When looking at the fight with Aldo, one can argue that it is as good a time as any for an up-and-comer like Dvvalishvili to take down the former champion in order to ascend to the championship level.

Stylistically, the fifteen minute fight provides several advantages for Dvalishvili as he can afford to expend more energy given that the bout is shorter than the 25 minute bouts Aldo is accustomed to.  As such, getting to the clinch and even to the mat are key for Dvalishvili to neutralize Aldo’s offense.  Even if great damage is not being done, keeping Aldo working in the clinch will burn critical time off the clock and help the Georgian contender if he is effective in his strategy.  For Aldo, footwork will be paramount as he must keep Dvalishvili from settling in for a takedown.  The first half of the fight will be particularly important as Aldo will need to set a tempo early when Dvalishvili is at his freshest.  Should he be effective, then the former champion’s arsenal at mid-range is expected to provide more than enough problems to secure the victory.

Though the bantamweight title picture is currently muddled, it is clear that the winner will be in prime position to challenge for the title in their next outing.  Aldo has already said that he will only fight for the title in his next fight should he win, and it is likely he will be willing to wait for it as he enters the final fight of his current contract.  Dvalishvili’s only obstacle, if you could call it that, is that his longtime friend and training partner Aljamain Sterling currently holds the belt.  Should Sterling defeat TJ Dillashaw in October and subsequently move up in his next outing, then Dvalishvili could face anyone from Marlon “Chito” Vera, Sean O’Malley, Petr Yan or Henry Cejudo.  There is also the possibility of avenging his teammate’s defeat should Dillashaw be the one who wins the title fight in two months.