The Ultimate Fighting Championship is a sport that’s been around for decades, but the UFC has only made its presence known in recent years. Now, they’re making waves again with their first ever card on ESPN+, featuring some of the best fighters from across the world and their highly anticipated matchups. Experts are predicting huge things for this new broadcast venture and Sportsbook at Bodog will offer you betting options
With UFC Fight Night this Saturday, it is time to get your picks in. The experts at ESPN have made their predictions and they are looking forward to the main event between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.
Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze attempt to strengthen their featherweight championship prospects in the UFC’s first main event of 2022, which is a major fight for the 145-pound division.
Kattar (22-5) hasn’t competed in almost a year. In January 2021, “The Boston Finisher” had a bad night at the office as he was defeated by Max Holloway in a unanimous decision. The 33-year-old contender has had plenty of time to rest and recover, and he’ll be looking to make a statement against one of the division’s hottest fighters.
Chikadze (14-2) has all of the makings of a championship contender. In the UFC, he’s 7-0, including victories over Edson Barboza and Cub Swanson in his previous two fights.
In this key clash, who has the upper hand? ESPN enlisted the help of numerous experts to provide analysis and predictions.
Note from the editor: Responses have been modified for clarity and brevity.
GLORY MMA coach and UFC welterweight James Krause
Calvin Kattar defends his featherweight championship against fast-rising Giga Chikadze in a bout between featherweights vying for a title chance.
UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs. Chikadze Saturday, Jan. 15, UFC Apex, Las Vegas • Main card: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+ • Prelims: 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+
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How Kattar wins: Calvin is a really good boxer. He’s going to want to put pressure on Chikadze. Stay in that boxing range, see those kicks come in, possibly threaten a takedown. It’s really a range battle. Can Calvin keep it in a boxing range and half-wrestle, or will Giga keep it at a distance? Calvin’s got to have Chikadze going backwards and he needs his own back to the center of the cage. He’s got to keep Chikadze on his back leg and make him feel the pressure of the cage. It’s not smart to throw kicks when you’re against the cage because you have nowhere to go. It opens you up to the takedown, so that’s where Calvin’s boxing can really be effective, when he has Giga’s back to the cage.
How Chikadze wins: His striking experience outside of the UFC is to his benefit. I think you’ll see him finding a home for those kicks and either them adding up or him finishing the fight with one of those kicks. He’s good at throwing kicks and then feinting that kicking motion again, and throwing punches instead after his opponents’ reaction. Then ending that combination with a kick. He’s very good at that.
X factor: Momentum. Calvin hasn’t fought in a year. Where is he at mentally? Giga is on a roll right now. That could be an X factor.
Prediction: I think Kattar beats him. He does a good job of cutting off the ring and using wrestling to help his striking. Competition-wise, Kattar has also fought at a higher level.
Syndicate MMA instructor John Wood
Giga Chikadze, on the left, makes excellent use of the distance to launch his strike. Zuffa LLC/Jeff Bottari
How Kattar wins: Calvin’s got really good boxing. He needs to manage that boxing range and stay away from those kicks. He needs to stay sharp and be able to counter the kicks, get to the inside, make it a dirty fight. His boxing is his sharpest tool, and I’d be leaning on that in a big way. He was outboxed by Max Holloway, but Max is a different animal. Max is one of the best strikers in MMA. If I was Calvin, I would maybe try to push into the clinch and try to dirty box. But so far, not many have been successful with that and Giga will be expecting that.
How Chikadze wins: This is his toughest test for sure. The guy is an amazing striker. We haven’t seen him too much on the ground, and that might be because of his takedown defense. His setups and traps, the things he does, are among the elite when it comes to striking. His kicking, distance and versatility are what’s going to win him this fight.
X factor: This is Calvin’s first fight since Holloway. That was a brutal, brutal fight. Those are sometimes the kinds of fights that can change people. Now, Calvin is obviously so tough — but it’s going to be interesting to see how he comes back from that.
Prediction: Chikadze by decision.
Xtreme Couture coach Eric Nicksick
If Giga Chikadze, right, uses his kicking talents to his advantage, he has a chance to win the bout. Zuffa LLC/Chris Unger
How Kattar wins: Feints, lateral movement. Knowing where Giga kicks the most, knowing when he drops into southpaw he’s usually looking for that open-stance kick to the body. I really think Calvin has underrated wrestling skill. When you really break both of these guys down, I think Calvin needs to get to some offensive wrestling at some point because it might take away from Giga’s kick game, if he’s able to score some takedowns. If he’s able to catch a few of those kicks and work takedowns off that, at the very least, I think Calvin should get into the clinch and dirty box this guy against the cage.
How Chikadze wins: Obvious answer is his kicks, but it’s important to break down details of what makes his kick game successful — and I think that’s the angles they come from and the way he’s able to find the body. It doesn’t have a loopy roundness to it, it’s more of a linear kind of stab where it rotates at the end. Every kick that comes out of him almost looks the same. It’s hard to know where his kick placement is going. He does it well by his head placement, eye placement and what he does with his chest. You can go back to one of his first fights in the UFC: He poked the kid to the body with the teep kick, then came right back upstairs with the head kick, and what he was looking for was the defensive reads. That’s my biggest thing for him, keeping that kick range.
X factor: Distance management. Who keeps it at a distance needed to amplify their game the most?
Prediction: May the best man win. I’m biased. I know both guys really well and even worked a bit with Calvin. I don’t think I can make a pick on this one.
ESPN betting expert Ian Parker
Kattar returns to the cage after a year away, coming off a defeat to Max Holloway, to attempt and get back in the win column. Chikadze, a promising talent, stands in his way. Kattar is as tough as they come, but Chikadze is a terrible opponent for him aesthetically. Kattar will have to employ some type of wrestling to keep Chikadze guessing in order to go past him. Otherwise, I feel this battle will follow in the footsteps of Holloway’s. Chikadze will be the more effective striker, because to his tremendous kicks and sniper-like attacking mindset. I feel Chikadze will get it done here as long as he stays off of his back.
Prediction: Chikadze wins.
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