The fight world is buckling up for a phenomenal bout, as featherweights Edson Barboza and Gigi Chikadze meet this Saturday in the UFC on ESPN main event.
Eleven years into his UFC career, Barboza (22–9) looks better than ever. He will enter this fight with an incredibly shredded physique, prepared for a tough battle against Chikadze (13–2), who has been nearly unstoppable in the cage.
“It’s crazy, I’m 35 years old and I feel better than ever,” says Barboza. “Before, I was too hard on my body. Right now, I am very healthy. I’ve learned about my work, and this was the best camp of my career.”
Ranked ninth in the division, Barboza accepted the fight against Chikadze, who is ranked a spot below him at 10. Chikadze has been on a tear, winning eight in a row and 13 out of his last 14. He had been kickboxing and competing in MMA simultaneously, using the money from kickboxing to help finance his MMA pursuits, but his career took on new life was he solely shifted to mixed martial arts.
“That was really hard,” Chikadze says of his time doing both sports. It was when he had an opportunity on the Contender Series that he decided to stop kickboxing and focus entirely on MMA, doing more jiu-jitsu and wrestling. “I needed to take those steps to evolve in MMA. Finally, I now feel like a complete fighter.”
Chikadze has been so dominant since fully committing to MMA four years ago, many top-ranked opponents want nothing to do with him in the cage.
“No other top opponents wanted to fight me except Barboza,” says Chikadze. “My name is still new in UFC, but no one has striking like me. People will know my style after this fight.”
The 32-year-old Chikadze possesses the size, will and determination to pressure Barboza, which, amazingly, is part of the reason why Barboza accepted the fight.
“He’s tough, and that’s why I took the fight,” says Barboza. “I want people who see this fight to say, ‘Bro, I want to watch that fight.’ And it’s an opportunity for me in the main event. It is going to be a war.
“I need to go in there and do my job. The company is appreciating how hard I work, and that’s why I am in the main event, so this is very important for me. I have a lot to prove here.”
This is the first main-event bout for Chikadze, who is proudly representing the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
“I am honored to have such support from my country and represent them in the main event,” says Chikadze. “This fight is for everyone back home. They’ve been waiting to see a Georgian fighter headline a UFC card.
“Barboza has done a lot in the sport, he has a very entertaining style and a lot of highlights. There is a reason his videos are so popular in the MMA world. I’m looking to make another highlight, but for me with an entertaining highlight of how I knocked him out. I’ve been working for this a long time. After this fight, people are going to know my name. Right now, people are only talking about what he’s done. But my time is coming up. This is the fight I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”
Chikadze’s time is inevitable, but Barboza seeks to hold off his challenger’s rise to prominence for at least one more fight.
“I’m still hungry,” says Barboza. “I want more. I’m prepared to fight. This will be tough. Get ready for war.”
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