Giga Chikadze has long considered himself the best striker in the UFC’s featherweight division and he’s more than anxious to prove it.
Following blistering knockouts in his past two fights including a brutal body shot finish over Cub Swanson in his most recent outing, the former kickboxer-turned-mixed martial artist was ultra-excited at the chance to face higher ranked competition, especially those opponents who consider themselves elite on the feet.
Enter Edson Barboza — widely considered one of the top strikers on the entire UFC roster with several memorable finishes on his resume including his spinning heel kick finish over Terry Etim and a reputation for some of the nastiest leg kicks in the business.
As much as Chikadze was hoping for a higher ranked opponent as he seeks to put himself into title contention, a fight against Barboza was a perfect opportunity to hone his reputation as the gold standard for striking in the featherweight division.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Chikadze told MMA Fighting. “It’s been a long time coming. Finally we got it. This is a fight that’s definitely was always interesting for me. I really wanted to — no hard feelings with him — but since he’s an exciting fighter, I definitely was looking for this fight for a long time.
“Somehow I was thinking I was going to get a higher ranked opponent but come on it’s Edson Barboza. Everybody knows his name. I want a ‘W’ against him, too.”
While Chikadze isn’t discounting the danger Barboza represents in the cage, he’s quick to dispel the notion that the Brazilian has the kind of arsenal on the feet that will give him a lot of problems.
Chikadze commends Barboza on all the jaw-dropping knockouts he’s amassed over the years but the Georgian featherweight also can’t help but dissect the striking skills possessed by those fighters who ended up on his highlight reel.
“He’s flashy, exciting, powerful, strong kicker, striker whatever you want to call it,” Chikadze said about Barboza. “He’s done everything against way lower level strikers. There are levels in this game, in the striking game especially. What has he done in kickboxing or karate? What is his accomplishment? I understand that it’s beautiful when he’s doing spinning, beautiful highlight kick against somebody that never did any high level striking in a fight. All this for me is nothing.
“I respect what he’s done in MMA definitely but it depends on who you do it against. I don’t see anything new to me. I’m just going to prove it. I’m going to prove everybody wrong that when they are matching me with this name or any other people ‘oh he’s good but he’s better’ or something, I’m just going to shut everybody’s mouth. That’s what I’m going to do 28 August. He’s good, he’s not bad. He’s really good but against who? So we’ll see 28 August.”
Thanks to the confidence he has in his hands and feet, Chikadze knows he more than capable of unleashing the same kinds of flashy moves that have helped Barboza earn a whopping 10 post-fight bonuses in the UFC but he’s never really needed it.
The same can be said regarding his approach to dealing with Barboza if he decides to uncork a spinning kick or a flying knee during their main event battle on Saturday night at UFC Vegas 35.
“If I fight like a regular guy, I might have trouble,” Chikadze said. “Because as I said, all these flashy kicks and nice highlight different kicks, it works against somebody who is just a regular fighter. I’m not a regular fighter. I’m not just a fundamental guy.
“I have all this what he has done in MMA and I have probably [done] like 10 times more things. I just keep my style fundamental cause it’s working great against guys who are in MMA these days.”
With a chance to shine in his first UFC main event, Chikadze wants a win more than anything but looking at the way he matches up with Barboza, he just doesn’t see how this isn’t a fan favorite fight from start to finish.
That said, he doesn’t expect Barboza to make it to the final horn.
“I’m going to look for a knockout,” Chikadze promised. “I’m going to do my best to finish this guy in early, beginning of three rounds. This means a lot to me.”
If all goes well on Saturday night, Chikadze hopes a win will propel him directly into title contention and he’s even keeping an eye on the upcoming fight between featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega in case either of them are unable to compete.
“I want straight title [fight],” Chikadze said about what he wants next. “I want to be the replacement fighter when Brian and Volkanovski fight. I want to be the replacement in this fight.”