UFC on ESPN 32 breakdown: Can Calvin Kattar rebound against Giga Chikadze?

UFC on ESPN 32 breakdown: Can Calvin Kattar rebound against Giga Chikadze?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC on ESPN 32.

UFC on ESPN 32 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on ESPN following prelims on ESPN+.

Calvin Kattar (22-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC)

UFC on ESPN 32 breakdown: Can Calvin Kattar rebound against Giga Chikadze?

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – JANUARY 17: (L-R) Calvin Kattar punches Max Holloway in a featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 17, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 33 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 72″

  • Last fight: Decision loss to Max Holloway(Jan. 16, 2021)

  • Camp: New England Cartel (Massachusetts)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Regional MMA titles
+ Wrestling base
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt
+ 11 KO victories
+ 2 submission wins
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ KO Power
+ Good feints and footwork
+ Accurate shot selection
^ Works well off of left hand
+ Solid wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Shows good grappling
^ Positional awareness and fundamentals

Giga Chikadze (14-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC)

UFC on ESPN 32 breakdown: Can Calvin Kattar rebound against Giga Chikadze?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 28: (R-L) Giga Chikadze of Georgia kicks Edson Barboza of Brazil in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 28, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 33 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 74″

  • Last fight: TKO win over Edson Barboza(Aug. 28, 2021)

  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)

  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ Black belt in Goju-Ryu karate
+ 2x European karate champion
+ Multiple kickboxing accolades
^ Pro record of 38-6 with 22 knockouts
+ 9 KO victories
+ 1 submission win
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Athletic and explosive striker
+ Improved jabs and cross counters
+ Dynamic kicking arsenal
^ Devastating left kick
+ Strong inside the clinch
+ Shows defensive wrestling improvements
^ Underhooks, hip awareness, etc.
+ Active and attacking guard

Point of interest: Striker’s delight

The main event on ESPN features a fun featherweight fight between two fantastic strikers.

Quietly crafting his tools in and out the regional scene for roughly a decade, [autotag]Calvin Kattar[/autotag] stepped onto the UFC stage with some fundamentally sound striking and well-earned hype.

Whether he is coming forward or sticking and moving, Kattar does a great job of keeping his feet underneath him, occasionally shifting stances when he finds his groove. Typically working behind a high guard, Kattar maintains a solid shoulder and head position that helps him protect his chin from a lot of the big punches that come his way.

Kattar, who trains with a lot of pro boxers, also does well at diversifying his shot selection from a boxing perspective. From slipping offline to changing his level, he offers options to both the body and the head.

Wielding a stinging jab (both defensively and offensively), Kattar will either use it to disrupt his opponent’s striking rhythms or allow it to help set up punishing uppercuts and crosses once establishing his range. That said, Kattar will likely need to be mindful of both his weight distribution and high guard, given the kicking acumen of his current counterpart.

Enter [autotag]Giga Chikadze[/autotag].

Born into fighting (thanks to his father), Chikadze grew up practicing the art of Goju-Ryu karate, eventually earning his black belt and multiple European championships. Chikadze later shifted his sights over to muay Thai as a teenager, smartly moving shop to Mike’s Gym in the Netherlands in order to expand his skills as a martial artist.

After making this move, the difference in Chikadze’s style became somewhat immediate, as the Georgian fighter started to both attack and counter with leg kicks more often. However, as Chikadze transitioned over into mixed martial arts, he ended up setting up shop stateside in Southern California at Kings MMA.

There, under the care of Rafael Cordeiro, Chikadze has steadily built around his vaunted “Giga kick,” which is basically a powerful liver kick delivered with a bit of a traditional martial arts touch to it. The strong and unique mechanics that Chikadze utilizes on his left kicks command defensive respect while also making question mark kick attachments difficult to read in the moment.

Giga kick:

Although Chikadze will still throw his favored kick naked, he has done a better job at disguising his shifts and weight transfers off of the committed right crosses that he tends to throw both coming forward or off the counter. Chikadze will also throw a majority of his axe kicks and spinning assaults from orthodox, but suspect his newfound love for jabs and calf kicks will serve him well considering Kattar’s previously-mentioned guard and stance.

Nevertheless, Chikadze will still need to respect the fact that he’s in there with a more experienced MMA fighter who has more than one way of changing the complexion of the fight.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Despite both men being strikers by trade, I would still not be surprised to see some mat time take place in the smaller octagon this Saturday.

Sure, neither man is known for their consistent grappling efforts, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable.

Kattar, for instance, comes from a wrestling base and has shown that he can hit opportunistic shots when needed (e.g. his fight with Andre Fili). And once the Massachusetts native gets his man to the floor, he demonstrates excellent positional awareness in regards to his hip positioning and ground striking.

Reactionary doubles, at least on paper, would be a great idea against a blitzing Chikadze, but you can’t discount the improving defense from the Kings MMA product.

Whether it’s his hip and underhook awareness along the fence or the sprawls in the open, Chikadze has shown some solid improvements to his first-layer defense.

When Chikadze is taken down, his leg dexterity helps him stay active and urgent with his attacks (though he’s also not beyond waiting patiently for his spots to explode up and reverse). And when Chikadze ends up on top, the 33-year-old possesses solid ground striking that he seems to get good leverage on.

Still, I’m not sure how much top time we’ll see from Chikadze in this spot.

Not only does Kattar’s on-balance striking stance help keep him in position to defend takedowns (akin to Jorge Masvidal), but he also demonstrates a no-nonsense attitude toward scrambling when he does get taken down, quickly utilizing the fence or other wrestling style get-up tactics like turtling/tripoding up to his feet.

The potential problem with turtling or tripoding, however, is that it can often give way to back-takes or front-headlock opportunities, especially in lower weight classes. And considering that Chikadze has shown flashes of front-choke threats in recent fights, Kattar will likely need to protect both his head and neck when returning upright.

Chikadze finishing Barboza:

Point of interest: Odds and opinion

The oddsmakers and public are siding with the Georgian fighter, listing Chikadze -260 and Kattar +190 via Tipico Sportsbook.

Despite my belief that this fight is closer than betting lines or common narratives lead on, I don’t have an issue with Chikadze being favored in this spot.

Not only is Chikadze the more active man with momentum on his side, but this also appears to be a winnable fight for him from a stylistic perspective. Kattar, due to his propensity to box behind a high guard, has traditionally struggled against kick-heavy strikers and dedicated workers of the body.

Kattar has also seemed to have some issues whenever fighters go southpaw on him, so don’t be surprised to see Chikadze find success from that stance this Saturday. That said, I will be curious to see what happens if Kattar survives the initial storms.

Chikadze, both in kickboxing and MMA, typically tends to slow down and tire as the fight goes on. Couple that with the fact that Chikadze has never seen championship rounds (a place where Kattar has already been tested) and things could get interesting come the third frame.

I could also see Kattar having success earlier if he can consistently pressure and counter Chikadze into skirting on the outside near the cage. Not only will Chikadze sometimes surrender this space to fellow strikers, but Kattar’s right hands and potential takedowns become much more in play here as well.

Kattar finishing Lamas:

Still, no matter how much a Kattar victory would make me happy, I can’t ignore the fact that his high guard seems to invite kicks and body assaults alike. Add in the steady boxing improvements of Chikadze, and I think that he can hurt Kattar enough (probably with a liver kick) to force a stoppage within the first three rounds.

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