The UFC’s first event of 2022 takes place this Saturday at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas and will feature a featherweight clash between Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze as the main event.
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Kattar returns for the first time since being overwhelmed by former champion Max Holloway in January last year. Before then, Kattar was on a roll with consecutive wins against Dan Ige and Jeremy Stephens.
Chikadze is undefeated in the UFC since joining in September 2019. Now with seven wins to his name and has earned another main event showdown after winning three Performance of the Night awards in his last three fights.
Kattar vs. Chikadze betting odds
Chikadze enters this fight as a moderate favorite following his recent wins against Edson Barboza and Cub Swanson.
This matchup pits two of the division’s better strikers against each other, and while Kattar may look to take Chikadze down at some point over the five rounds to mix things up, I doubt it’s a major part of his game plan going in. For the most part, I expect to see a heavily striking dominated competition.
The way in which either fighter approaches the striking game is different, Kattar is mostly a boxer with a nice stabbing front kick to push his opponents back. While he has immense hand speed, a super technical and sharp boxing, he does leave something to be desired when it comes to speed of his footwork. Against both Max Holloway and Dan Ige, the issue he often fell upon was being able to dictate when he wanted to enter and exit range. That being said, he gets around this issue by anticipating and intercepting his opponent’s attacks with short crisp punches and elbows that have finishing intent and ability on all of them. When he is on the front foot, he uses his jab more as a feeler to set up a laser-like right straight, sometimes followed by a scooping left hook to the liver.
Giga Chikadze on the other hand is more a kickboxer than boxer, utilizing a kick-heavy-oriented game. While Kattar sits heavy on the front leg like most boxers, Chikadze fights in an unusually upright stance so as to easily check kicks. However, this does leave his head high up making slipping and rolling more difficult. He instead depends more on constant lateral movement and range to stay safe, he will move from side to side to set up his kicks and keep his head a moving target. His punches are easily some of the fastest in the division and they come in explosive bursts, although due to his stance occasionally leaves his chin in the air.
Coming off of his first main event in the UFC with a third-round knockout, we’ve yet to see Chikadze enter the championship rounds. His cardio is still a question in the latter rounds and will likely be needed this Saturday as Kattar has proven to be as durable as anyone. While we have not necessarily seen Kattar gas, he has had to take slower paces in order to sustain himself. This allows him to be outstruck volume-wise in order to stay in the fight, but because he is a bit more stationary and power punch driven it makes sense.
I think early on Chikadze’s more varied attack will allow him to find more openings against Kattar than vice versa. At some point, Chikadze will have to prove himself in later rounds, something new for him to do inside the UFC, and then there is the added variable surrounding how Kattar will look following the devastating loss to Holloway in his last go-around. Ultimately, I lean towards Chikadze.
Prediction: Giga Chikadze to win
Kattar is a top-tier boxer with a stone jaw and what can only be described as a Boston toughness that allows him to continue to keep pushing in every minute of every fight. Kattar has climbed to #5 in the featherweight rankings behind the strength and technique of his fists. In an age where so many fighters implement all facets of mixed martial arts, Kattar rarely kicks and even more rarely wrestles. Instead, Kattar will stay in a wide boxer’s stance, step forward, land a quick and heavy combination, and cut an angle to exit the pocket. Rinse and repeat. Kattar pushes a high pace, maintains consistent volume, and lands in combination to the body and head of his opponent. His path to victory is simple- hit you harder and more frequently than you hit me. However, when he is out-landed or when he faces a creative striker with more variety, Kattar’s elite but singular game- his boxing- can be outmatched.
Chikadze, undefeated in the UFC, has quickly climbed to #8 in the rankings despite a slow start to his career that caused many to question his commitment and cardio. He entered the UFC in 2019 and won back-to-back split decisions where Chikadze started slowly and ended uninspiringly. However, his kickboxing skillset was undeniably impressive. Since those two fights, Chikadze has won 5 in a row in a more dominant way. None more impressive than his recent two stoppage victories, one where he landed a snapping kick to the liver. He later dubbed this the “Giga Kick.” Chikadze’s style is slow and methodical but absolutely dangerous. He only lands 3.76 significant strikes per minute; however, he moves well and intelligently so to only absorb 2.7. Furthermore, Chikadze picks his shots well. He will work the entire body of his opponent, from the calf, to the liver, and to the head. He often lets his opponent move forward and unsuccessfully try to land cleanly. From here, Chikadze will evade the strike and land a creative and devastating combination in return. His path to victory is to continue what has gotten him here- chop the leg, touch the chin, and obliterate the midsection with intelligent and selective combinations.
I’m surprised by the line in this fight; Kattar is the higher-ranked fighter, has the more pedigreed competition, and has proven he can go 5 hard rounds with some of the best in the world. However, Chikadze is still larger than a 2:1 favorite. This fight could go the way of Holloway v Rodriguez where Kattar overwhelms Chikadze’s kickboxing with technical boxing. It could also go the way of Lewis v Daukaus where the veteran outclasses the hype-heavy prospect. However, I am on the side of Chikadze here. I think he can match Kattar’s speed and fundamentals on the feet. Further, Chikadze should be able to maintain range with his quick-twitch footwork which should negate Kattar’s chance at a knockout. The X-Factor is Chikadze’s elite kicking game which, when unleashed at Kattar’s calf and midsection, slow Kattar’s movement and volume. In short, I think Chikadze’s hype train continues forward.
Prediction: Chikadze by decision
To say Giga is confident in his striking is a vast understatement. The Georgian fighter is an elite kicker boxer who has progressed fight-over-fight, with his most impressive performance coming in his last bout, having stopped the significant momentum of #10 ranked, Edson Barboza. Within this bout, as with seemingly all others, Giga showcased impressive kicks from both stances, southpaw being the most dangerous – the left kick to the body is often coined “The Giga Kick”. To combat these kicks, his opponents have attempted to blitz Giga with heavy output spurts, Barboza being no exception. Although somewhat successful in doing so, the problem for his opponents stems from the extreme difficulty in knowing when to attack, given Giga’s frequent stance switches, movement, and creative striking. The result is Giga’s opponents standing directly in front of him which, in turn, allows Giga to not only land strikes at a clean and damaging rate, but also, enables Giga to blitz his opponent himself which proved to be a fight-ending problem for Barboza. The strategy of infusing confusion within his opponent is perhaps Giga’s secret weapon, similar to that of UFC middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya. The question for Giga will be if he can manage distance and maintain the same lateral movement as Adesanya does to negate both pressure striking and potential takedowns from the top-ranked fighters.
Kattar, a top-ranked fighter in his own regard, lacks an affinity for shooting takedowns, but he makes up for that by a desire to stand in a phonebooth and land combinations. When Kattar lets his elite boxing combos fly, he is an extremely dangerous fighter for any featherweight to stand against. Often, similar to many other multi-combo fighters, Kattar needs time to feel out his opponent in order to enter that free-flowing state in his striking. Once there, the impressive speed of his combinations with an underlying desire to KO his opponent makes for a thing of beauty for fans that seek to watch leather meeting someone’s face. The deciding factor in this matchup against Giga is if Kattar’s elite jab can set up his free-flowing boxing or if his opponent going to effectively negate the jab by chopping his lead leg. To combat this presumable attack, Kattar will need to show improvement from his previous fights, as several opponents have had success in landing significant blows to the heavy lead leg of Kattar, notably, in his loss to Moicano. Although improvement is needed, the fact that Kattar has never been finished inside of the UFC accompanied by this bout being a 5 round fight warrants the belief Kattar will have the necessary time and inherent grit needed to open up his own striking against the dangerous kickboxer. If done effectively, Kattar should surpass his 5.07 significant strikes landed per minute given his opponent has shown the ability to be pushed back against the cage which opens up the door for striking combinations. This path of using the jab to open up the door for letting combinations fly and land is a path that Kattar is both familiar with and has had success in implementing over his 6-3 record in the UFC.
Both men in this bout should have similar game plans of winning via striking, but the way in which done is drastically different, as Kattar will look to utilize his hands and Giga his kicks. Until boxing-style, heavy lead leg fighters, display an ability to combat the calf strikes, I tend to back the kick-dominate fighters when they match up against one another. In this specific bout, the historical propensity of Kattar wearing significant damage to his calf parlayed with having a high guard against blitz attacks makes for a clear path to victory for Giga, as he can chop the leg of Kattar, and when the opportunity presents itself, blitz Kattar with the aim at landing the ever-dangerous “Giga Kick” once Kattar raises his guard. If Giga implements this game plan, it could make for a difficult night for Kattar. I anticipate Giga doing so, and although Kattar has dangerous hands, Giga should be able to manage distance and keep the biggest threat of Kattar’s boxing combinations at bay. Although I believe this to be the case, the value vs anticipatory results needs to be discussed when making a bet. Meaning, I anticipate Giga winning this bout against Kattar; however, the price of over 2:1 is far steeper than what I would set the line at, as such, there is value on Kattar. Nevertheless, it is difficult to back the value over the gut-belief in who will win.
Prediction: Chikadze to win
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.