UFC on ESPN 30 breakdown: Can Edson Barboza outkick Giga Chikadze?

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MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC on ESPN 30.

UFC on ESPN 30 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+ following prelims on ESPN+.

Edson Barboza (22-9 MMA, 16-9 UFC)

Edson Barboza

Staple info:

  • Height: 5'11" Age: 35 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 75"

  • Last fight: Knockout win over Shane Burgos (March 15, 2021)

  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info: + Regional MMA titles + Multiple muay Thai accolades ^ Record of 25-3 (22 by KO) + Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt + 13 KO victories + 1 submission win + 7 first-round finishes + KO power + Solid feints and footwork + Improved boxing technique ^ Jabs, pivots, counters, etc. + Devastating leg kicks + Accurate spinning attacks + Underrated counter wrestling + Solid butterfly guard ^ Good getup urgency

Giga Chikadze (13-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC)

Giga Chikadze

Staple info:

  • Height: 6'0" Age: 33 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 74"

  • Last fight: TKO win over Cub Swanson (May 1, 2021)

  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)

  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info: + Black belt in Goju-Rya karate + 2x European karate champion + Multiple kickboxing accolades ^ Pro record of 38-6 with 22 knockouts + 8 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: Kicking kings

May 15, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Edson Barboza lands a hit against Shane Burgos at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The main event on ESPN features a fun featherlight fight between two of the division's most dangerous kickers. Storming onto the UFC scene as a thunderous leg kicker, [autotag]Edson Barboza[/autotag] became renowned for his initial impressions of violence that reminded MMA fans why muay Thai is such an effective striking art. After a few years of mixed success, Barboza made his way up to New Jersey to train with Mark Henry, a coach who quietly helped him improve his footwork and fundamentals within the boxing realm. From hitting pivots to stepping off to the appropriate sides, the Brazilian has done a much better job of facilitating his punches and overall offense. Barboza has always possessed an underrated counter right-hand but has since developed his left hand under said upgrades. Though Barboza throws his jab with much more efficiency, it is the improvements of his check-hook and cross counters that may serve the Brazilian particularly well in this fight. That said, Barboza will need to respect the kicking ability of [autotag]Giga Chikadze[/autotag] more than any other fighter he's faced before. 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, we have seen Chikadze steadily build 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. 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 an orthodox stance, but suspect his newfound love for jabs and calf kicks will be his most high-percentage choices against Barboza. Nevertheless, Chikadze will still need to respect the fact that he's in there with a more experienced fighter who has more than one way of changing the complexion of the fight.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

May 16, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Giga Chikadze (red gloves) fights Irwin Rivera (blue gloves) during UFC on ESPN at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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, the UFC may be giving Chikadze the "strikers delight" treatment by keeping him away from wrestlers, but it's pretty clear that the Georgian fighter shares the same stylistic allergies that Barboza has traditionally suffered from. However, since Barboza’s early encounters with wrestlers the likes of Jamie Varner and Danny Castillo, the 12-year pro has steadily strengthened his counter wrestling acumen. Even in his more recent fight against former lightweight kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov, Barboza was still able to contest with his counterparts underhooks, creating enough space for separations despite being dead tired in the final frame. More importantly, Barboza – from an offensive perspective – is not beyond shooting a double-leg takedown of his own to help alleviate pressure. 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. But given Barboza's serviceable butterfly guard, I suspect that space to stand shouldn't be too big of an issue for as long as both parties are fresh.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

May 15, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Edson Barboza celebrates his TKO victory against Shane Burgos at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The oddsmakers initially opened the Brazilian veteran as a bigger favorite, but the betting market typically trends toward the younger fighter, listing Barboza -125 and Chikadze +100 at Tipico as of this writing. Despite my initial suspicion that this line would flip by fight week due to gambling trends, it appears that the public seems to be respecting the experience difference at hand. I know I come off as not a fan of Chikadze's style, which is the furthest thing from the truth given my own background in traditional martial arts. To truth is, I just can't help but try and over-correct the proverbial steering wheel when I see such over-the-top hype for a fighter before we even get consistent, definitive results to show the depths of their skills against proven competition. For that reason, I can't help but side with Barboza out of principle. Since dropping to featherweight, Barboza has been able to surprise us in somewhat similar ways to the great Jose Aldo by making the weight without issue, as well as showing improved pace management and composure. That said, Barboza will still need to be extra careful early on given his propensity to take a bit of damage as he finds his timing. Barboza will also need to mind Chikadze's newfound love for the calf kick, as the 35-year-old Brazilian tends to counter kicks with kicks, as opposed to checking them. Still, if Chikadze is not able to get Barboza out of the fight within the first round, then his chances to win dramatically decrease on paper given his history (and own admission) of fading in fights due to the weight cuts that he puts his large frame through. I suspect Chikadze has tightened up those areas as best he could ahead of this contest, but I don't think it'll be enough to secure a win outside of an opportunistic knockout. The pick is for Barboza to survive the early storm and eventually put Chikadze down in the third round via a left hook or right-handed return.

Prediction: Barboza inside the distance

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