Giga Chikadze was out to prove a point in his first UFC main event. Facing one of the legends of the sport in Edson Barboza on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Chikadze displayed his striking prowess and stopped Barboza in the third round after a flurry of punches. The former kickboxing star is officially one to watch at featherweight and has title aspirations with a postfight callout of Max Holloway.
Before Chikadze's performance, two new Ultimate Fighter champions were crowned in Bryan Battle and Ricky Turcios, and Daniel Rodriguez continued his run at welterweight with a victory over Kevin Lee. What's the ceiling for Rodriguez, who stepped into this fight on only two weeks' notice?
When Abdul Razak Alhassan returned to the UFC after a two-year absence, he failed to pick up where he left off. After losing his last three fights, Alhassan needed to find a way to defeat Alessio Di Chirico, and in just 17 seconds, he did just that. With a head-kick knockout, Alhassan stepped right back into the spotlight.
What did we learn from UFC Fight Night? Jeff Wagenheim, Brett Okamoto and Morgan Mularski react to another busy night in Las Vegas.
It's time to stop doubting Giga Chikadze
Wagenheim: Giga Chikadze went into Saturday's main event as a winner of eight fights in a row. And yet, he had something to prove.
Which he did.
Any doubts about the 33-year-old Georgian based on the level of competition that he had faced since joining the UFC in September 2019 were erased on this night, as Chikadze was in the cage with one of the best strikers in MMA. Prior to the bout with Edson Barboza, Chikadze, a longtime kickboxer and former Muay Thai world champion, had boldly claimed that he, not Barboza or anyone else, is the best striker in the game.
Did he prove that to be the case? He did show himself to be in a different class than Barboza, which is astounding in itself. Other than a short spell during the second round when Barboza gained momentum, this was Chikadze's fight all the way. He was faster, busier, tougher to hit and more diverse with his attacks, and in the end he had the power and finishing accuracy to knock out the Brazilian with punches at 1 minute, 44 seconds of the third.
Still, there are other strikers, even right there in the featherweight division, who will challenge Chikadze's claim. Max Holloway comes to mind, and he's not alone. We might actually get our answer soon, as Chikadze called out Holloway in his postfight interview.
The larger question is how Chikadze will fare now that he has inserted himself onto the periphery of contenders at 145 pounds. Fighters like Holloway and champ Alexander Volkanovski have the diverse skill sets to hang with an elite striker on the feet and take him out of his comfort zone on the canvas. How will Chikadze do once he's in with a more experienced grappler? That is still to be determined. But boy is it going to be fun watching that next Chikadze test unfold.
Daniel Rodriguez might be your new favorite fighter
Okamoto: So, I'm not ready to say our man D-Rod is ready to hold a UFC championship. I don't know how he'll fare against the very top of the welterweight division yet. To be clear, that's not me doubting him, I just really don't know yet. He's legitimate and entertaining, but can he beat guys like Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns, Leon Edwards? No idea yet.
Eventually we're gonna find out. But in the meantime, Rodriguez is about to have a job with the UFC for as long as he wants. He's talented, and he's entertaining. He has a swagger and a bravado to him. He took Saturday's fight on short notice, against a potentially tough style matchup in Kevin Lee, and he won the fight with a very appealing mixture of martial arts skill and good ol' fashioned alpha mentality.
Rodriguez is a fighter. That much exudes off of him. And if it does turn out that he can beat the very best at 170 pounds, the UFC has a seriously marketable contender on its hands.
Welcome back, Abdul Razak Alhassan
Abdul Razak Alhassan needs just one kick to finish off Alessio Di Chirico early.
Mularski: Seventeen seconds was all it took to step back into the UFC spotlight that Alhassan once owned. Not only did Alhassan's head-kick knockout make the highlight reel, but it also made history as the fastest head-kick knockout in the UFC. Alhassan's power is no joke.
All 11 of Alhassan's wins are by first-round knockout, with five of those finishes coming in the UFC. He joins Vicente Luque and Tai Tuivasa, who also have five first-round finishes in the UFC since 2016 (but still trails Francis Ngannou, who has seven KO/TKOs). Alhassan has become the seventh UFC fighter to score three knockouts in a minute or less.
This was exactly the result he needed coming off a three-fight losing streak. In fact, he was an underdog for the first time in his nine career UFC fights. It's comical to say that the power and patience he showed in 17 seconds was the perfect combo, but it's true. It's clear that his new camp has elevated his explosiveness, and I think Alhassan even surprised himself with yet another quick finish.
"I wasn't planning on finishing him in the first round, I came in here to just dominate for the whole 15 minutes," he said.
Alhassan has always been an exciting fighter to watch, and that KO will be a hard one to top. So welcome back to the spotlight, Alhassan. You've got our attention.