At the time, the UFC featherweight was running neck-and-neck with the outspoken middleweight – they both had 4-0 records in 2020. Chikadze heard Holland had gotten a fifth fight, and he wanted to get to 5-0 first. So he made the four-hour drive from his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. But like many who visit Sin City, he left empty-handed.
“I was just waiting for my chance,” Chikadze told MMA Fighting. “I informed all the matchmakers, if someone pulled out, I was there to take the fight.”
Holland went on to knock out Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in a signature win that won him a spot on MMA Fighting’s Knockout of the Year list. He is currently tied with Neil Magny and Roger Huerta for the most wins in a calendar year, and he could break the record if he beats Derek Brunson in March.
Chikadze still feels pretty good about his resume. Considering his struggle to find willing opponents, he has good reason to. According to him and his manager Ali Abdelaziz, there aren’t many fighters anxious to take on an unranked striking phenom. So for now, he finds himself at that classic crossroad of being a promising talent with relatively little name value.
“We offered a fight to Jeremy Stephens right after my fight, and he said he was going to fight me in December, but he disappeared,” Chikadze said. “First, it looked like it was going to happen, and I hear now rumors that he’s moving to 155.
This past month, Chikadze went back to his native Georgia to decompress and celebrate the holidays. As an Orthodox Christian, he was supposed to fast for Christmas. But he couldn’t help himself from Khinkali and Khachapuri (dumplings and cheese bread, respectively).
Now, he’s waiting for a big name to sign on the dotted line.
“It’s very frustrating, yeah, because I’ve got five wins, and I remember people after five wins getting title shots, and I’m not even in the rankings,” he said.
The featherweight division is quite crowded, of course. Current champ Alexander Volkanovski notched seven wins before he was awarded a title shot, and his first four fights came against unheralded competition. So maybe Chikadze is just where he needs to be. It doesn’t feel that way, though.
“I’m the guy who always takes the fights, and I don’t know why people wouldn’t fight,” Chikadze said. “If you’re a fighter and it’s the thing you love to do, you are in the biggest organization in the UFC...
“I enjoy doing this. I’m having so much fun. When I don’t fight is when I get depressed. When I have a planned fight, I’m super happy. I’m a completely different person. Life is good.”
Thankfully, he’s somewhat used to this problem. During his stint in the kickboxing promotion Glory, he said, opponents regularly fell out. Once he got into the rankings, champions refused to fight him. He understood he was a bad matchup. In the UFC, he’s still adjusting to that reality. A Performance of the Night-winning head kick win over Simmons probably didn’t reassure his potential foes.
As far as how things are going to change, he’ll leave that to Abdelaziz.
“Hopefully, they can work it out and make things happen,” Chikadze said. “I’m not the guy who trash talks without any reason. If I have a reason, I have a mouth, too. So far, there was only a couple times I was not happy with my opponent. I’m a professional guy, and I’m going to stay professional. If somebody talks sh*t, I’m not going to stay silent. I’m always going to give them the answer, whatever they deserve.
“This is my dream to be UFC champion, and I don’t see anybody taking that dream from me. If anybody wants to stop me, I’m just going to take over. Whoever it is, I’m going to get in their head, and then in the octagon, I’m going to make things happen by my fists and kicks.”
And if Chikadze goes by the calendar year, he still has a shot at catching up to Holland. Two more wins before March, and he goes 6-0. It’s hard to imagine he won’t be in the rankings – and fielding plenty of offers.