LAS VEGAS — Fighting Giga Chikadze has to be like fighting an octopus armed with a bunch of nightsticks and a baseball bat or two.
The UFC featherweight is a whirlwind of action, using every limb to cause pain and create damage on his opponent. His bout with Edson Barboza on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 35 was low-key one of the best bouts of the year on paper, and it delivered in a major way.
In the process, it may have created a new star.
Chikadze overwhelmed Barboza, who was the slight favorite at BetMGM, in a battle of two of the UFC’s top fighters, stopping him with his hands at 1:44 of the third after bludgeoning Barboza for the better part of two-plus rounds.
“I’m just geeking out over that,” UFC president Dana White said as he made his way to the dais for the post-fight news conference.
White couldn’t resist taking a shot at his newly developed rival, Jake Paul, who boxes ex-UFC champion Tyron Woodley on a pay-per-view in Cleveland on Saturday.
During the middle of the fight, White left his cageside seat and approached reporters to chastise those who went to Cleveland instead. At the news conference, he unloaded again, unable to fathom those who didn’t see Chikadze-Barboza as the great match it turned out to be.
“If you are an MMA reporter or blogger or whatever, you are bats*** nuts if you were in Cleveland and weren’t here to see this,” White said.
Chikadze was quicker and more accurate than Barboza, who has been a stalwart in the UFC’s lightweight and featherweight divisions over the last decade and has left more fighters limping after bouts than just about anyone.
A former kickboxer, Chikadze is just coming into his own as an MMA fighter after debuting in 2015. As White likes to say, fighting is in his DNA.
“It’s been a long time. I’ve been doing this since I was a 4-year-old,” Chikadze said. “I’m sure my dad had the plan for me [to be a fighter] since I was born, maybe not even. Really, I don’t do anything besides this. Martial arts is what I have done since I was born, and it’s what I enjoy. It’s my hobby.”
He’s going to be getting paid very well for his hobby now. He endured plenty of sacrifices in his camp and said 80 percent of those on his team felt he should have pulled out because of injuries that included a biceps tear, broken bones in his right hand and a knee injury.
In addition, he fasted for eight weeks for religious reasons as he was preparing for the biggest fight of his MMA life.
“Life has been a big challenge for me and I never say no to opportunities,” Chikadze said. “That’s not the type of character I have.”
Character was a big factor, but Chikadze’s physical skills were the difference in this bout. He was beating Barboza to the punch regularly and he moved effortlessly around the cage.
He praised his team for the preparation and said he knew everything Barboza was going to do.
Chikadze’s head coach, Rafael Cordeiro, pointed to his quickness and his footwork as critical factors in pulling off the game plan.
“His quickness was a huge difference,” Cordeiro said. “His speed was a big difference. His footwork was a difference. Edson was not prepared for Giga’s footwork or for his speed. This was Giga’s best performance.”
He threw kicks to Barboza’s legs, his body and at his head. He mixed up his punches, although he joked that he almost forgot to throw punches because he was so into the kicks. And he even worked on a submission at one point.
Chikadze’s going to be a major factor in the division because of how good his kickboxing is.
“There have been a lot of different eras in MMA,” Cordeiro said. “We had a jiu-jitsu era and a wrestling era, but I believe this is the kickboxing era. The strike is back, and of course, striking is important because every fight starts on the feet. Giga just has beautiful [striking] skills and he understands it so well.”
Chikadze came into the bout ranked 10th in the featherweight division and should shoot up the rankings. He noted without saying Yair Rodriguez’s name that Rodriguez is ranked third in the division and hasn’t fought once in the two-plus years Chikadze’s been in the UFC.
White said he hasn’t decided whether to use Chikadze as a backup for the featherweight title fight between champion Alex Volkanovski and Brian Ortega on Oct. 30, but I’ll say this:
The more Giga Chikadze, the better. It’s almost impossible to get too much of that guy.