Giga Chikadze passed another major test Saturday night, winning the main event of UFC on ESPN 30 with a third-round TKO win over Edson Barboza.
The opening frame featured a lot of measuring up between the two strikers. Neither fighter was willing to commit too much as they each tried to get a read. However, Chikadze was the aggressor when strikes were thrown.
Those roles would be reversed in Round 2, and the Brazilian went on the attack. Barboza took the center of the cage while Chikadze was more than happy to use his speed advantage to counter in a close round.
That success would be short-lived, though. The Georgian kickboxer let his hands go in the third round and it was bad news for Barboza. He clipped his opponent and sent him to the mat. A D'Arce choke attempt ultimately failed but he eventually landed the TKO strikes that drew the finish.
The win may be the most impressive yet for the Georgian. Chikadze is a perfect 7-0 in the UFC but to outstrike a kickboxer as good as Barboza officially puts the featherweight division on notice. Chikadze can strike with anyone.
Outside of the featured featherweight main event, the card had a heavy Ultimate Fighter 29 flavor to it. Both the middleweight and bantamweight brackets crowned a champion with Brian Battle and Ricky Turcios joining the list of fighters who have won the competition.
Here's a look at the complete results and a closer look at each main card bout.
- Giga Chikadze def. Edson Barboza via TKO (1:44 of Round 3)
- Bryan Battle def. Gilbert Urbina via submission (rear-naked choke) (2:15 of Round 2)
- Ricky Turcios def. Brady Hiestand via split decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)
- Daniel Rodriguez def. Kevin Lee via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
- Andre Petroski def. Micheal Gillmore via TKO (3:12 of Round 3)
- Gerald Meerschaert def. Makhmud Muradov via sub (rear-naked choke) (1:49 of Round 2)
- Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Alessio Di Chirico via KO (0:17 of Round 1)
- Wellington Turman def. Sam Alvey via split decision (27-28, 28-27 x2)
- Dustin Jacoby def. Darren Stewart via TKO (3:04 of Round 1)
- JJ Aldrich def. Vanessa Demopoulos via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
- Pat Sabatini def. Jamall Emmers via submission (heel hook) (1:53 of Round 1)
- Mana Martinez def. Guido Cannetti via split decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)
Brian Battle def. Gilbert Urbina
The middleweight final of The Ultimate Fighter was a fight between two underdogs. Brian Battle was the last pick for Team Volkanovski on the show and beat an injury replacement in Gilbert Urbina to claim the title of The Ultimate Fighter.
Urbina, who is the third brother to be a contestant on the show, went out on his shield in pursuit of the upset. He came out strong in the first round and had Battle in trouble.
However, Battle showed some serious wherewithal and guts to survive the early storm and stay the course. While he was in survival mode for the first half of the opening stanza, he re-gained control of the fight in the second round.
He worked his way to the advantageous position on the ground and latched on to a rear-naked choke that will undoubtedly open future doors in the organization.
Battle's limited pro experience has shown he has the ability to get chokes. He has picked up four of his six wins by submission and this is the biggest one of his young career.
Ricky Turcios def. Brady Hiestand
Ricky Turcios and Brady Hiestand looked like a fun fight on paper, and with the Ultimate Fighter title on the line, Turcios and Hiestand lived up to the hype. Turcios earned the trophy and a UFC contract with a split decision win, but both fighters were winners.
Turcios punched his ticket to the finale with a fast-paced, high-pressure style and brought that to the finale. He was the more active fighter in the stand-up department and never rested, even when taken down.
Hiestand wasn't afraid to counter with heavy strikes of his own, and it led to some great exchanges:
Hiestand did his best work in the grappling department. He registered multiple takedowns and nearly eight minutes of control time, but the judges favored Turcios' damage to Hiestand's control.
Both fighters likely have a future in the organization. Hiestand may have lost, but at 22, he's incredibly young and has time to mold his game.
Daniel Rodriguez def. Kevin Lee
It was no notice, no problem for Daniel Rodriguez against Kevin Lee. Rodriguez stepped up and took the bout just over two weeks before the fight was set to take place and handled a difficult opponent in Lee to the tune of a unanimous decision.
Lee's grappling and submissions can be tricky for anyone, but Rodriguez stayed away long enough to earn the nod from the judges.
Lee opened the fight with two takedowns landed in the first round and over two minutes of ground control. It wasn't a strong start for Rodriguez, but he picked up steam in the second and third rounds.
Ultimately, his striking was the difference. He simply outpaced Lee and showed the flaws in his defensive game.
The win is as confounding for Lee as it is exciting for Rodriguez. The Motown Phenom has been anything but phenomenal for a while. He's now 2-5 in his last seven fights at both lightweight and welterweight.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, has won seven of his last eight fights. It's getting harder to ignore him as a fighter worthy of a top-ranked opponent in the welterweight division.
Andre Petroski def. Michael Gillmore
Andre Petroski might not have officially won a UFC contract by winning the Ultimate Fighter, but he did more than enough in his third-round TKO of Michael Gillmore to show he belongs.
Petroski lost to Brian Battle in the semifinals by submission but flashed enough skill to get a spot on this card. There were some bumps along the way, but he showed off the dominant wrestling and ground-and-pound that made him dangerous in the Ultimate Fighter house.
Gillmore made his name on the show by stepping up on short notice and fighting Gilbert Urbina. This time, he stepped in on short notice to fight one of the most talented fighters in the field. It went about as expected for him although he did have a few moments on the feet in the first round.
Ultimately, the vicious ground strikes of Petroski proved to be too much.
Petroski certainly has things to work on. His cardio was improved but will still need work, and there's a lot of room for improvement as a striker. But he has time to get better and can win plenty of fights with his current skill set.
Gerald Meerschaert def. Makhmud Muradov
The main card kicked off with the biggest upset of the night, as veteran Gerald Meerschaert scored a surprise second-round submission victory over Makhmud Muradov.
Muradov brought in a 14-fight win streak that went all the way back to 2016 into the fight. In the first round, it looked like that streak would be extended to 15. Despite taking an eye poke and low blow from Meerschaert in the first round, he won the round with sharp counterpunching.
However, Meerschaert's aggression paid off in the second round. He kept pressing forward and eventually dragged Muradov to the mat. In the scramble, he sunk in a hook that would ultimately lead to the rear-naked choke that drew the tap.
The win now puts the 33-year-old in a position with a little bit of momentum. He struggled through a 2-5 stretch from the end of 2018 to 2020 but has now notched two wins in 2021.
With both wins coming by way of submission, he's just showing he can't be counted out even when he might not have many advantages on paper.