Two years ago, Giga Chikadze was a relatively unknown commodity in the mixed martial arts world. Coming from a karate background and competing at the highest levels of kickboxing, the Georgian (the country, not the state) featherweight squeaked by Brandon Davis to win his UFC debut by split decision and was preparing to battle Jamall Emmers (which he would also win by split decision).
But after seven straight UFC victories (including consecutive “Performance of the Night” awards for his three recent knockouts) and a vicious body kick that has crumpled multiple opponents, Chikadze has spent his pandemic years vaulting to the top of the UFC’s featherweight division. Fresh off his first main event — where he stopped veteran striker and perennial contender Edson Barboza in the third round — the 33 year old is set to take on Calvin Kattar in the headliner of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN card (also known as UFC Vegas 46) to prove he’s ready to make the leap into championship contention.
Ahead of this weekend’s bout, SPIN spoke with Chikadze about his rise through the UFC’s ranks, the “Giga kick,” and more.
SPIN: What should people expect to see from your fight against Calvin Kattar this weekend?
Giga Chikadze: I want them to see the Giga who is ready for the championship belt. I want to perform the best I ever have, so they can see that I deserve the title shot next.
How does it feel to go from a relative newcomer to the UFC to be one of the top guys over the course of the last couple of years?
I’m a newcomer in the UFC, but I’ve been in this business for a while. I was at the highest level in other sports, so I honestly don’t feel like a newcomer. Maybe I am new to MMA, but at the same, I’ve been fighting in other types of martial arts for a long time. I’ve been around for a while, but I just didn’t have the big stage like I do in MMA. Now, I feel like I’m the whole package to show the fans what they’ve been missing from my fights.
You’ve won a lot of fans over with some of these knockouts you’ve landed in your recent fights, and now people call your kick to the body “the Giga kick.” What’s it been like to see how excited people are about your striking?
A lot of these techniques are things I’ve been doing for a long time, but — as I mentioned — I didn’t have a stage or platform to let the fans see them. Now, I’m just super happy to let fans see what I’m capable of — and there are so many more things coming. Every single time I fight, I’m more and more excited. Once I finished Cub [Swanson] and Edson [Barboza], it kind of put me on a different level with fans. I just can’t wait to fight again because I’ve felt this is what I’ve deserved for a long time, and now it’s all coming together.
After building up your striking background, you moved to California to train with some of the best of the best in MMA. What was your experience like when you started training with some of those top guys?
Ever since I moved to California and started to train at Kings MMA, it’s been nothing but motivation, because I witnessed how far you have to go and what you have to do to win a championship. I witnessed [Fabricio] Werdum’s championship. I witnessed [Rafael dos Anjos’] championship. At that time, I was focused on kickboxing, but I was already helping the MMA guys. I witnessed how good fighters become champions and how champions become legends, and that was a huge motivation to me. I just tried to follow their path. I watched [Beneil Dariush] evolve and how his career is moving forward now. It’s like a chain reaction. You help somebody, and then the other guys help you, and we all push each other and move each other forward.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re getting ready to train and fight?
Rap music from the ‘90s is one of my favorites. It pushes me the most to fight and have fun while training. I like to listen to electronic music too, because I used to live in Amsterdam for several years, and electronic music is big there. It also makes me feel more energetic. When I fight, I always use Georgian folk music. It puts me in fight mode, because this is the music they used to play when they went to war, before the battle started. When I hear that music, that’s how I know it’s time to fight. It’s like my DNA wakes up in fighting mode.
Speaking of Georgia, we’ve recently seen a few of your fellow countrymen make a splash in the UFC as well. What do you think it is that makes Georgians such good fighters?
We’ve been a warrior country for a long time, because we’ve been defending our territories in wars forever. We’re such a small nation, but now we’re showing the people what type of country we are and how tough we are. It’s been a long time, but finally, the world has heard about us. We only have six or seven fighters in the UFC, but MMA fans now know about our country. I’m very proud to be Georgian, and I’m proud to see our country’s success in MMA. It’s one of the toughest sports in the world, which shows what type of men and women we have in Georgia. I’m really proud and happy about it.
And outside of the Octagon, I know you put a lot of emphasis on your charity, the Knockout Cancer Foundation. Is there anything you’d want to share about your work there?
My mom died from cancer, and we had a really hard time dealing with it even before she died. The battle lasted for a long time, and every single time somebody would help us financially or mentally in this battle, it meant the world to me and to my family. So we are giving back by helping other people with whatever we can. Sometimes it’s a little thing, and sometimes it’s a big battle, but we just try to help others wherever we can. It makes us feel a little bit better, because we are doing this in memory of my mom, and it’s what she would have wanted.