Featherweights#14 FW | Giga Chikadze (12-2, 5-0 UFC) vs. #15 FW | Cub Swanson (27-11, 12-7 UFC)
ODDS: Chikadze (-185), Swanson (+160)
Once again, rumors of Swanson’s demise have been exaggerated. After an inconsistent World Extreme Cagefighting run more notable for its blowout losses than anything else, it was nice to see Swanson make what figured to be a late-career run towards title contention from 2012 to 2014. That came to an end with losses to Frankie Edgar and Max Holloway, the latter being the Hawaiian savage’s breakout performance, but Swanson refused to fall into irrelevancy, starting a new four-fight winning streak that included a 2016 “Fight of the Year” contender against Doo Ho Choi. That success got Swanson onto the shortlist of title contenders but eventually gave way to the roughest stretch of Swanson’s career: four straight losses, albeit against a strong slate of competition. The last of those defeats, a narrow affair against Shane Burgos, proved that Swanson still had something left in the tank, and he has turned things around since, beating Kron Gracie before blasting Daniel Pineda for his first victory inside the distance since 2013. Now 37 years old, Swanson looked to have a few more good years in him as a tough veteran test for rising prospects, and he will certainly be the strongest challenge yet for Chikadze.
Heading into his UFC debut, Georgia’s Chikadze had all the hallmarks of a prospect who would fall flat on the big stage. Chikadze was a well-regarded kickboxer, but his wins in MMA came against unthinkably weak competition, and any steps up against legitimate opposition saw him lose in clear fashion. That has made it a bit of a shock to see how well Chikadze has done during his UFC run. Even in his UFC debut against Brandon Davis at the tail end of 2019, Chikadze showed a level of grappling that had not been present even a year earlier, when he dropped a bout to Austin Springer on Dana White’s Contender Series. It was still hard to parse where Chikadze fell in the UFC’s featherweight pecking order through his first few fights. His tendency to sell out on power in search of the knockout led to a lot of inefficient performances, but “Ninja” still kept racking up wins, albeit against competition that never figured to test his striking. That made his October win over Omar Morales, another large and dangerous striker, a bit of a breakout performance. Beyond beating his best opponent to date, it was a rare complete fight from Chikadze from start to finish. Chikadze stepped in four weeks later to score his first UFC finish against an overmatched James Krause-Simmons, and now comes the true test to see if he can carry his current skills towards legitimate title contention.
Looking at this fight basically comes down to how much faith someone has in Chikadze. His improvements have been legitimately impressive, but outside of the Morales fight, they have come in fights where Chikadze was supposed to impress without being in much danger. That Morales fight saw Chikadze pace himself much better than usual. Prior to that, it was essentially a lock that Chikadze would tire himself by the third round thanks to his pursuit of a flashy finish. Even with that mental barrier crossed, it will be interesting to see how he fares here against Swanson, his first opponent who figures to have both the skill and the disposition to press the pace on Chikadze and not allow the Georgian to dictate the terms of a fight. The worry for Swanson is that aggression could lead to eating an early knockout, but the veteran has still proven to be quite durable in recent years, so he should be able to turn the tide of the fight if he can ride out any early trouble. Between pace, an ability to close space and a better gas tank, Swanson should manage to separate himself from Chikadze on the scorecards as the fight goes on, even if there figures to be a lot of violent attrition in the process. Chikadze could show out here, but the pick is Swanson via decision.
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