Giga Chikadze came to the UFC with the normal amount of hype we’ve come to expect from fighters with a relatively deep kickboxing background. A 10-fight Glory kickboxing veteran with years of professional kickboxing experience, Chikadze was hailed as, naturally, a devastating knockout artist.
But through his first four UFC bouts, Chikadze was unable to find the knockout, winning twice by split decision and twice by unanimous decision. He followed that up with a pair of first-round finishes in his most recent bouts.
How good, exactly, is Chikadze’s striking? Following his May 2021 win over veteran Cub Swanson, Chikadze deemed himself “the best striker [in the UFC].” This weekend at UFC on ESPN 30, Chikadze will have a chance to strengthen that claim as he takes on perennial contender and striking specialist Edson Barboza.
Is Chikadze really the best striker in the UFC, as he says? The question deserves a closer look.
Footwork – drawing them in
Like any well-schooled striker, Chikadze’s success starts with his footwork. And against the relatively unrefined strikers that populate much of the UFC’s featherweight division, footwork is often all Chikadze needs, as he will simply circle away from his opponent, waiting for that opponent to pursue in a straight line and run directly into a Chikadze strike.
Unlike the relatively small kickboxing ring with four corners, the UFC’s Octagon offers Chikadze seemingly endless space to move away from his opponent with little fear of being backed into a corner. Knowing that his opponent will pursue and typically attack in a straight line, Chikadze will backpedal, never resting directly in front of his opponent. When his opponent predictably commits to moving forward, Chikadze intercepts that movement with a strike, often a jab.
And because Chikadze’s background is in karate and kickboxing, his understanding of distance and timing is generally much better than his MMA contemporaries. At range, few if any UFC featherweights can out-strike Chikadze.
The more the jab lands, the more desperate Chikadze’s opponents become to close the distance, which in turn sets them up for Chikadze’s more powerful strikes.
Knowing that he likes to fight on the counter, or at least as his opponent is pursuing, what are Chikadze’s best weapons? Owing to his karate background, Chikadze rarely counters with a combination; instead, he is a sniper, throwing a single strike at a time with full force.
One of Chikadze’s best counter-strikes is a looping overhand in response to an opponent that commits hard on his own right hand. Again, this counter works because Chikadze has laid the groundwork by forcing his opponent to commit his weight forward.
Rather than a small outside slip we’re accustomed to seeing in boxing, Chikadze dips big to his left, banking on his opponent over-committing to a right hand in order to close the vast distance. Because his opponent is so close, Chikadze doesn’t have room to throw a straight right and instead loops an overhand to counter.
Another one of Chikadze’s favorite strikes is the intercepting knee, a strike he will use against a hard-charging, head-down opponent. Once again, the set-up to this strike is Chikadze creating a large distance between him and his opponent, forcing his opponent to over-commit to closing the distance. When his opponent closes the distance with his head down – perhaps to threaten a takedown or simply to avoid Chikadze’s jab on the way in – the tall-standing Chikadze simply raises his back knee to meet his opponent head on.
The “Giga kick”
Of course, any look at Chikadze’s striking would be incomplete without a look at the eponymous “Giga kick.” That kick refers to Chikadze’s liver-crushing left body kick from the southpaw stance, but that kick is almost always preceded by another kick meant to draw his opponent’s attention away from the body.
Chikadze’s favorite way to set up the Giga kick is a classic southpaw dilemma. Against an orthodox-stanced opponent, Chikadze’s left kick is available to both the head and the body, as is the threat of a straight left hand. Chikadze will typically throw a left kick to the head, drawing his opponent’s attention and guard up. Moments later, Chikadze will throw another left kick, but this time to the body. Because his opponent is preoccupied with defending the head kick, his guard will be just high enough that Chikadze can slip his kick just under the guard to land on the liver. The results can be devastating.
Against professional kickboxers in a small ring, Chikadze was often facing an opponent that’s directly in front of him, making the Giga kick a bit easier to land. In MMA, although Chikadze is facing less-refined strikers, the kick can be more difficult to land because his opponents have much more space to move and a greater fear of exchanging strikes, so they tend to keep a safe distance (or crash all the way inside).
Working in open space, then, Chikadze will look to land the Giga kick later in the fight once his opponent has slowed considerably or his opponent is frustrated with the constant in-and-out type of fighting that Chikadze forces. The moment his opponent pauses too long in range, Chikadze will fire off the Giga kick, again typically set up with a preceding kick to the head.
Exchanging in the pocket
If there is one area of concern for Chikadze on the feet, it is his defense in the pocket. Although he likely has the speed, power, and chin to trade strikes with most UFC featherweights, doing so nonetheless exposes him to unnecessary risk. Chikadze knows this and rarely exchanges in the pocket, instead preferring to fight one strike at a time, dictating the terms of engagement.
But when he does exchange, Chikadze seems to be a much less refined striker than he is. His punches widen, his defenses fall, and his head stays still. Any opponent looking to beat Chikadze on the feet would be well advised to force these types of exchanges, particularly if that opponent has the power to test Chikadze’s chin (he has been knocked out at least twice in kickboxing).
Chikadze’s fight against Barboza at UFC on ESPN 30 should answer lingering questions about the level of Chikadze’s striking. Against less-skilled MMA fighters that tend to attack predictably and in a straight line, Chikadze has been largely able to avoid any damage while landing intercepting strikes like the jab, knee, and counter overhand. But he’ll be dealing with a different beast in Barboza, who is one of the division’s most competent and proven kickboxers. Barboza won’t easily give Chikadze openings to attack, which will in turn force Chikadze to dig a bit deeper into his bag of tricks.
So, again, how good is Chikadze’s striking? Saturday night could answer that definitively.
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