High Stakes in Merab Dvalishvili vs Henry Cejudo at UFC 298

Merab Dvalishvili and Henry Cejudo, UFC 298
Merab Dvalishvili and Henry Cejudo, UFC 298 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Surging contender Merab Dvalishvili will look to secure a fight for the belt against former two-division title holder Henry Cejudo at UFC 298.

It doesn’t seem like it on the surface, but things could be shaping up for a run of epic proportions for Merab Dvalishvili.  Ahead of UFC 298 “The Machine” has put together a nine fight win-streak that has many pointing to him as one of the top bantamweights in the world today.  However, it is not a run that has locked in his shot at the title.  The current champion has elected to face a former foe, and Dvalishvili has already been on the sidelines for eleven months. Could he wait for a shot at the belt? Of course. But in the midst of his athletic prime, and with contenders like Corey Sandhagen waiting in the wings, sitting aside is a huge risk with no guarantee of a payoff.

That leads to this Saturday’s fight with Henry Cejudo, the latest in a line of decorated veterans that Dvalishvili will be looking to add to his resume. He’s already dispatched the likes of featherweight legend José Aldo, former champion Petr Yan, former Bellator champion Raufeon Stots, former title challenger Marlon Moraes, and more.  While the 2012 Olympic gold medalist is a dangerous threat, he is worth the risk to the Georgian powerhouse as it would add a huge name to a run that is shaping up to be one of the best in MMA’s most loaded weight class.  Furthermore, it would throw down the gauntlet just weeks away from the next bantamweight title fight and likely secure Dvalishvili’s shot at gold.

Henry Cejudo has just as much to gain, and much more to lose, in the fight with Dvalishvili.  The former two-division champion has already cemented his place in UFC history, to the point that he was able to walk away from competition in 2020 for several years comfortably.  He returned to the game in 2023 where he came up short in a five round effort against then champion Aljamain Sterling.  Though obviously not the result he wanted after so much time away, he also showed he was still a force to be reckoned with in the bantamweight division.  With a new champion now atop the weight class in Sean O’Malley, the door is now open for Cejudo to potentially get back to a title shot quickly.

Now comes the brass tacks of the situation.  With contenders like Dvalishvili, Sandhagen, Song Yadong, and others all rising the ranks for a shot at the belt, a second loss in a row would put him well out of reach for at least the next twelve months.  At 37 years-old, the statistics are also well publicized to be against in him in regards to his chances of winning the belt.  Cejudo will go down as one of the most decorated athletes to compete in mixed martial arts following his success in Olympic competition.  But the biggest risk he is taking on Saturday is becoming the proverbial launch pad for the next contender on his way to making his name.

Should Dvalishvili win, then a shot at the winner of Sean O’Malley and Marlon “Chito” Vera would make the most sense whenever the winner of that bout is available.  Should Cejudo win, then it will likely come down to when the winner is ready to compete again.  Should the champion take an extended layoff for any reason, it is not out of the question that Cejudo would need to face Corey Sandhagen to determine the next title challenger in 2024.