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Merab Dvalishvili clarifies injury, willing to fight Henry Cejudo despite limitations: ‘No problem’

Does Merab Dvalishvili want to fight Henry Cejudo or is he dealing with a hand injury?

As it turns out, both things are true.

“I did fight with my injured hand [against Petr Yan], I did win, but now I want to fix this too. But to fight Henry Cejudo? No problem,” Dvalishvili said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I can fight him, and after ‘Aljo’ [Aljamain Sterling] beats [Sean] O’Malley, I can fight him.”

Dvalishvili has been Cejudo’s top target since UFC 288. The Olympic gold medalist and former two-division titleholder called out Dvalishvili for an Aug. 19 showdown in Boston just days after falling short against Dvalishvili’s longtime friend and training partner, UFC bantamweight champ Sterling, in his comeback bid after a three-year retirement.

Dvalishvili said Wednesday that he suffered a hand injury two weeks prior to his recent win over Yan, which took place March 11 at UFC Vegas 71. Dvalishvili said he already has surgery scheduled for next week, but he’s considering delaying it to weigh his options.

“I was scheduled to [have it] coming up on Monday, surgery, but just in case I’m going to [get a second opinion],” Dvalishvili said. “Giga Chikadze recommends some other doctor in LA, I forget his name. Just in case I want to double-check and I want to move my surgery day to maybe [further out], I want to check with another doctor too, because [I want to know] if there’s any other way to fix this, because it’s painful. Every time I punch to the forehead it’s painful and [there’s] 20 seconds where I cannot use it anymore, and even when I hit the punching bag or even wrestling bothers me. I never had this problem before.”

Dvalishvili indicated that if the UFC wants to give him a top bantamweight contender to fight while Sterling and O’Malley settle their business for the belt, likely on Aug. 19, then he’s open to the idea of postponing surgery to fix the damage in his hand. But if the promotion wants him to fight further down the rankings against anyone not in the title mix, like its previously proposed fight against Umar Nurmagomedov, then he’s not as eager to play ball.

“It depends who I’m going to fight. It depends, because if they give me Cory Sandhagen, I will fight next week, two weeks, I don’t need the surgery. If I fight Henry Cejudo, I don’t need the surgery,” Dvalishvili said.

“I like the fights and it’s OK, I will bite my mouthpiece and it’s OK, I will eat the pain and whatever. Those fights excite me. This is the No. 4 and No. 3 guys, they deserve [it], they’re high-level, the fights excitement me. I do want to fight. I love fighting and those fights excite me, but not like a fight with Umar Nurmagomedov. He’s No. 11. This fight doesn’t excite me because he doesn’t deserve [it], man. I earned it. I’m in the UFC more than five years and I have 11 fights and every time they told me, I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes. I accept this.’”

Just days after Dvalishvili’s win over Yan, the UFC approached him about a quick turnaround against Nurmagomedov to headline the promotion’s May 13 event on ABC. Dvalishvili said Wednesday that he wasn’t interested for three reasons: His injured hand, his desire to help Sterling throughout the lead-up to UFC 288, and his belief that Nurmagomedov hasn’t earned a chance to jump the line at 135 pounds after a 4-0 start to his UFC run.

Dvalishvili said the UFC made him visit a doctor to prove the validity of his hand injury once he explained his reasoning. While he admitted the whole process was a little frustrating and that it felt as if the UFC was trying to punish him for his refusal to fight for the title while Sterling is champ, he also said he understood where UFC officials were coming from.

“It’s business and I understand,” Dvalishvili said.

“Yeah, a little bit [it’s frustrating], but I’m a fighter. I have to fight and I have to just make sure I win the fight, and I have to focus on myself. Those things, I cannot control. I understand the UFC’s point because, yeah, I’m not fighting [for the] title. Yeah, they want to punish me. OK then. ... Also, I understand the business. They need the main event.”

Ultimately, Dvalishvili said if he does go through with his scheduled surgery, an August return is off the table for him. He’ll likely need six to eight weeks of rehab before even being able to consider his next move. But that doesn’t mean he’s saying no to Cejudo.

“He’s a great fighter,” Dvalishvili said. “I was even surprised how good and well he did against ‘Aljo.’ His is a big challenge for me, and I like the challenge, I like top fights like this. If Henry really wants this fight, no problem, because I have so much respect for him.

“But I don’t know — to be smart, should I wait for when ‘Aljo’ moves up [to featherweight] and just fight whoever will be there? Because everybody lost. Henry Cejudo lost. Sandhagen is maybe good, but I have a nine-fight win streak.”

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