The UFC’s first main event of 2022 is a big fight for the 145-pound division, as Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze look to bolster their featherweight title hopes.
Kattar (22-5) hasn’t fought in almost exactly a year. “The Boston Finisher” had a rough night in the office in January 2021, when he lost to Max Holloway via unanimous decision. The 33-year-old contender has had ample time to rest and heal, and will be looking to make a statement against one of the hottest fighters in the division.
Chikadze (14-2) looks like a title contender. He is 7-0 in the UFC, with finishes over Edson Barboza and Cub Swanson in his last two outings.
Who has the advantage in this crucial game? ESPN asked several experts for their breakdowns and picks.
Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
James Krause, GLORY MMA trainer and UFC welterweight
How Kattar wins: Kattar is more of a traditional boxer. He has good power in his hands and he is so tough. I feel like he needs to move inside, test Chikadze. The UFC paired Giga with other forwards. It’s MMA, man. You have to fit in and at least see, check the dude’s takedown defense. Is it as good as it says? I would at least see. Giga comes from a kickboxing background, and often these guys aren’t good at the clinch. I think the clinch could prove important for Kattar.
How Chikadze wins: He is a world class kickboxer. Those kicks add up, and he’s been there with some really top kickboxers. When it comes to technical kickboxing, he has the edge – I mean, he has a kick named after him. He must, however, be able to stay within the striking range.
X factor: Vary.
Prediction: Too close to call me.
Marc Montoya, Factory X trainer
How Kattar wins: Calvin is a very good boxer. He’s going to want to put pressure on Chikadze. Stay in that boxing range, see those kicks coming, maybe threaten a takedown. It really is a ranged battle. Can Calvin keep him in a boxing range and a half fight, or will Giga keep him at bay? Calvin needs to back Chikadze and he needs his own back in the center of the cage. He has 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 takedown, so that’s where Calvin’s boxing can really be effective, when he has Giga’s back in the cage.
How Chikadze wins: His hallmark experience outside of the UFC is to his advantage. I think you’ll see him find a home for those kicks and either they add up or he ends the fight with one of those kicks. He is good at throwing kicks, then feigning that kicking move again, and throwing punches instead after his opponents reaction. Then finish this combination with a kick. He’s very good at it.
X factor: Momentum. Calvin hasn’t fought in a year. Where is he mentally? Giga is on a roll right now. It could be an X factor.
Prediction: I think Kattar beats him. He does a good job of cutting the ring and using wrestling to help him strike. On the competition side, Kattar has also fought at a higher level.
John Wood, MMA Syndicate Coach
How Kattar wins: Calvin has very good boxing. He has to handle that boxing range and stay away from those kicks. He has to stay sharp and be able to counter kicks, get inside, make a dirty fight of it. His boxing is his sharpest tool, and I would lean heavily on that. He was sent by Max Holloway, but Max is a different animal. Max is one of the best forwards in MMA. If I was Calvin, I might try to push in the clinch and try to dirty the box. But so far few people have succeeded with this and Giga will expect it.
How Chikadze wins: It is certainly his most difficult test. The guy is an amazing striker. We haven’t seen him on the pitch too much, and maybe that’s because of his takedown defense. His setups and his traps, the things he does, are among the elite when it comes to hitting. His kicks, his distance and his versatility are what will win him this fight.
X factor: This is Calvin’s first fight since Holloway. It was a brutal, brutal fight. These are sometimes the kind 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.
Eric Nicksick, Xtreme Couture coach
How Kattar wins: Feints, lateral movement. Knowing where Giga kicks the most, knowing when he’s going southpaw, he’s usually looking for that open kick to the body. I really think Calvin underestimated wrestling skills. When you really break these two guys down, I think Calvin needs to get into an offensive struggle at some point because it could hurt Giga’s kicking game, if he’s able to score any takedowns. If he’s able to catch a few of those kicks and work on that, at the very least, I think Calvin should get into the clinch and smear this guy’s box against the cage.
How Chikadze wins: The obvious answer is his kicks, but it’s important to detail what makes his kicking game so successful – and I think it’s the angles where they come from and how he’s able to find the body. It doesn’t have a curly roundness, it’s more of a kind of linear stab where it turns at the end. Every kick that comes out of him almost looks the same. It’s unclear where his kick placement is going. He does this well by the placement of his head, the placement of his eyes, and what he does with his chest. You can go back to one of his first fights in the UFC: he pushed the kid to the body with the kick and then came right back upstairs with the kick to the head, and that what he was looking for was the defensive readings. That’s my biggest thing for him, keeping that range of kicks.
X factor: Remote management. Who keeps him at the necessary distance to amplify his game the most?
Prediction: May the best win. I am biased. I know both guys very well and even worked a bit with Calvin. I don’t think I can make a choice on this one.
Ian Parker, ESPN betting expert
Following his loss to Max Holloway, Kattar returns to the cage after a year of layoff to try and get back into the win column. The best hope Chikadze stands in his way. Kattar is as tough as it gets, but stylistically Chikadze is a nightmare for him. In order for Kattar to overtake Chikadze, he must use some form of wrestling to keep his opponent guessing. Otherwise, I believe this fight will look like the Holloway fight. Chikadze will be the best attacker and has devastating kicks to go along with his sniper like striking mentality. As long as Chikadze can stay off his back, I strongly believe he makes it here.
Prediction: Chikadze wins.