A new contender has emerged in the bantamweight division at UFC 278, and his name is Merab Dvalishvili. The Georgian made a statement with a unanimous decision win over José Aldo on the main card from Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Aldo was expected to be the toughest test to date for Dvalishvili and he did not disappoint. He looked strong and quick in the first round. While Dvalishvili was setting the pace for the fight, the King of Rio was firing off counter punches and body kicks.
Most notably, Aldo was able to stuff early takedown attempts from Dvalishvili, forcing the fighter to go to Plan B.
That's not something Dvalishvili has generally had to do. The Georgian usually takes fighters down at will, but he had Aldo yawning with his takedown attempts by the second round.
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However, Aldo's lack of activity might have been his downfall. While he shut away every takedown attempt he didn't give back enough of his offense to win rounds.
Thus, it was a blue collar win for The Machine. There were few moments that will end up on his highlight reel but he did what he had to do to walk away from the cage with a win.
Dvalishvili has been quickly rising up the rankings as he continues to pile up the wins. Though Dvalishvili's level of competition has continued to get tougher, Aldo is his most notable win to date.
The 31-year-old has also bested Marlon Moraes, Cody Stamann and John Dodson.
A win over Aldo—who is a surefire Hall of Famer and former featherweight champion—only serves to cement Dvalishvili's status as a top-five fighter in the weight class.
Getting to the mountaintop could be complicated for him, though. He and current champion Aljamain Sterling are training partners, and The Machine is insisting he won't fight his friend.
"We're still the same page that we're not fighting each other," Dvalishvili said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. "First, I have to win this fight, Aljo has to defend his belt. I know he's going to do it. We will talk after, but we're not going to fight."
Of course, we've heard this line before, and former training partners and friends fight all the time. For now, there are quite a few dominoes yet to fall in the division before it becomes a real issue.