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Preview: UFC on ESPN 32 ‘Kattar vs. Chikadze’

Kattar vs. Chikadze


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After a rare four-week sabbatical, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns for its first card of 2022. Headlined by a featherweight showdown between Calvin Kattar and the surging Giga Chikadze, UFC on ESPN 32 remains a solid affair despite losing some fun fights on approach. Jake Collier and Chase Sherman offer the type of entertainment only unranked heavyweights can provide in the co-main event, and some surprising name value exists further down the card. Katlyn Chookagian rematches Jennifer Maia in a battle of former title challengers at 125 pounds, and flyweight Brandon Royval always has his name in the running for most exciting fighter on the restore. All in all, this should make for a good time.

Now to the preview for UFC on ESPN 32:

Featherweights

#5 FW | Calvin Kattar (22-5, 6-3 UFC) vs. #8 FW | Giga Chikadze (14-2, 7-0 UFC)

ODDS: Chikadze (-235), Kattar (+190)

Kattar again headlines the first card of the year and undoubtedly hopes this time goes much better than the last. In January 2021, Kattar was matched with Max Holloway in what looked to be an interesting opportunity for “The Boston Finisher.” He did not figure to win, but Kattar’s impressive boxing gave him a solid opportunity to at least match the former featherweight champion on his own terms. Instead, with Holloway facing someone who did not provide the threat of a takedown, he took the opportunity to unleash one of the most impressively one-sided beatings in recent memory. By the latter stages of the fight, which went to a decision, Holloway managed to outbox Kattar while both looking at and talking to the announce team at cageside. It is a credit to Kattar that he managed to survive all 25 minutes with Holloway, but he missed the rest of the calendar year to recover, only resurfacing once this fight was announced. Despite it all, Kattar remains in a favorable spot, at the fringes of contender status in a division that has yet to churn over since his last win—a July 2020 main event victory over Dan Ige. However, the next generation of 145-pound talent is rising through the ranks, and Kattar now finds himself in the spot of having to hold serve against Chikadze.

Chikadze figures to be the hottest rising talent in the division after a breakout 2021 campaign that saw him cash in on some hype that initially seemed undeserved. The Georgian was a well-regarded kickboxer before fully transitioning to mixed martial arts, but his resume was paper-thin prior to his UFC debut in 2019. Chikadze had a few quick wins over what barely qualified as professional competition and looked unimpressive in a Dana White’s Contender Series loss to Austin Springer that saw “Ninja” get taken down and submitted. However, even in his UFC debut against Brandon Davis, it became apparent that Chikadze had improved rapidly in the year since his loss to Springer, and he continued a trend of rapid progress over the next two-plus years. Chikadze enjoyed an interesting year in 2020, as he racked up four wins that did not answer much about how he would fare as a contender. While he obviously showed some newfound comfort in his new sport, Chikadze’s performances did not run particularly deep, as he would do just enough to control his fights and win while leaving questions about exactly how broad his arsenal ran. The following year answered those questions in the positive. Faced with a historically durable veteran in Cub Swanson, Chikadze got the win in just 63 seconds, landing his signature Giga Kick to the liver and closing the show shortly thereafter. He backed up that performance in his first UFC main event in August, maintaining his range against Edson Barboza for two rounds before pressuring the Brazilian and scoring a knockout in the early going of the third. It does seem a bit odd that Chikadze has worked his way up the ranks of one of the sport’s deepest divisions with what looks like a limited game on paper—low-volume and high-power kickboxing—but he has shown enough craft and finishing ability that he figures to establish himself as a contender sooner rather than later. With the pecking order at 145 pounds currently in flux, that shot comes here against Kattar.

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream the UFC, PFL, Dana White’s Contender Series and “The Ultimate Fighter” live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

Kattar represents an interesting next step up for Chikadze, but this still figures to be a fight that the Georgian can win. With the victories over Swanson and particularly Barboza, Chikadze showed an ability to dictate range that should serve him well in his latest assignment. Kattar’s ability to jab usually gives him the upper hand in terms of range weapons, but Chikadze’s combination of being the longer fighter and much more willing and effective kicker should allow him to get more damage done. Add in that some of Kattar’s best performances have come through countering what his opponent brings to the table, and this seems like a fight where he is going to have to stage a comeback at some point to win, given that Chikadze figures to win those battles of attritional damage. Kattar’s durability—assuming it has not been permanently compromised by the Holloway fight—make this an intriguing bout in the latter stages. Kattar’s willingness to throw at a higher volume could make the Kings MMA rep work a bit more than usual, and if the Massachusetts native can hang around to the championship rounds, Chikadze is unproven as any sort of pace fighter over the course of 25 minutes. With that said, Chikadze should be able to build an early lead even before factoring in Kattar’s tendency for slow starts. Plus, Kattar faces a similar issue that came out in the Holloway fight: The lack of the threat of any wrestling or grappling can open up a variety of options for a striker like Chikadze; and frankly, Chikadze has shown enough at this point that he figures to be able to hold his own if Kattar decides to take a late-career pivot and try to take this to the mat. The hope is that Kattar can make this a tough enough fight to give some insight as to how Chikadze can perform over 25 minutes at a championship level. The pick is Chikadze via clear decision.

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