Ain’t that a kick: Chikadze’s secret weapon

LAS VEGAS — The one blow that very few fighters in the history of organized combat sports have been able to withstand has been a perfectly delivered shot to the liver.

Sometimes, it doesn’t appear to the naked eye that the blow was all that serious, but a fighter who takes one goes down and can’t move for at least 10 seconds, sometimes up to 30 seconds.

Giga Chikadze is a world-renowned kickboxer who is coming into his own as a mixed martial artist, and he made a massive statement in May in his last outing when he knocked out Cub Swanson in just over a minute.

It was a liver kick that briefly took the life and the fight out of Swanson and instantly ended the bout.

On Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Apex, Chikadze will fight in his first UFC main event when he takes on Edson Barboza in a highly anticipated featherweight bout. They are two of the most proficient kickers in MMA and Chikadze said he has his secret weapon — the kick to the liver — finely tuned and ready for Barboza.

“When I deliver this kick, whether it’s Edson or anyone else in front of me, no one really can take it,” Chikadze said, beaming.

A knockout of Barboza would be the biggest statement that Chikadze has made in MMA. He’s on an eight-fight winning streak since losing via rear naked choke to Austin Springer in 2018 on “Dana White’s Contender Series.”

He’s gone 8-0 with four finishes since, including 6-0 with two finishes in the UFC. Notably, those finishes have come in his last two fights, a head kick KO of Jamey Simmons in November and the liver kick KO of Swanson in May.

That vaulted him to 10th in the featherweight rankings and into the bout against the ninth-ranked Barboza.

Barboza has long had some of the best kicks in the UFC and he’s chopped down many an opponent by frequently attacking the legs.

Chikadze was an elite kickboxer and while he acknowledges Barboza’s proficiency as a striker, he expresses no concerns. He pulled out the old, “There’s level to this game,” line that ex-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier made popular.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 01: (R-L) Giga Chikadze of Georgia kicks Cub Swanson in a featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 01, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
(R-L) Giga Chikadze kicks Cub Swanson in a featherweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Apex on May 1, 2021 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

While he’s been beating up on some of the world’s best kickboxers, he said Barboza has been doing the same to MMA fighters. That, he said, is the difference between them.

“I’m excited to prove what my striking is all about,” Chikadze said. “He’s definitely a good striker, but against who? It’s been against MMA strikers. I’m a different breed. I’m a kickboxer and I was at the highest level of kickboxing. I was beating the best of the best in my division.

“I was a kickboxing world champion. I was a karate world champion, too. I was one of the highest ranked and strongest karate fighters. So we’ll see if he brings something special. There are levels in this. Everybody’s talking about how good of a striker he is, and he’s a very good fighter, very good striker. That’s MMA. I’m different, though. You guys will see. After one round, he’ll start shooting on me and try to take me down.”

Chikadze trains at Kings MMA under Rafael Cordeiro where his teammates are guys like Marvin Vettori, Kelvin Gastelum and Fabricio Werdum. He’s worked on making himself a more well-rounded fighter during his sparring with those guys.

He’s confident that he’ll be able to deal with anything Barboza attempts. And he’s not even worried about the Las Vegas jinx that at one point seemed to be following him.

On Aug. 7, 2015, he lost a Glory kickboxing match in the Fight Capitol to Anvar Boynazarov. On Dec. 18, 2015, he turned pro in MMA and lost his debut in the World Series of Fighting to Gil Guardado.

The next time he got to Las Vegas, he was submitted by Springer.

It would have been enough to give a guy a complex.

“It’s funny that you mention that because we were just talking about it,” he said. “It could have been something, but I’m not worried about it. I have come to Las Vegas [three times] since then and did my job and won my fights. I’m not worried about that.”

He ought to be worried about Barboza’s kicks, but he chuckled and said, “This is what I signed up for. These are the kinds of fights that really motivate you against a guy like this. I can’t wait to get in there and see who is [the better man].”