UFC takeaways: Prochazka has done enough to earn title shot

Jiri Prochazka has arrived. The native of the Republic of Georgia established himself as a legitimate UFC light heavyweight contender Saturday night by knocking out Dominick Reyes with a spinning elbow.

It was the most impressive performance on a card with several ranked fighters competing.

ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim break down the biggest storylines from Saturday’s Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Helwani: Prochazka’s next fight should be for title

There’s a new contender in the light heavyweight division, and he’s a damn entertaining one, too.

Jiří Procházka is a promoter’s dream: he is unique, fun, wild and powerful.

He’s also got a great look — I mean, that hair is just tremendous — and he’s now won 12 in a row.

And what a way to extend his UFC record to 2-0. His fight — or should I say brawl? — against Dominick Reyes on Saturday is one we’ll be talking about in December during award season, for sure.

That spinning elbow KO, just the third in UFC history, was as shocking as it was beautiful. That first round was exciting as it was brutal.

It was everything Procházka needed to cement his spot as a legit player in a wide-open light heavyweight division.

Of course, we know light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz will defend his title against Glover Teixeira on Sept. 4. That’s a done deal.

So, the question now is, do you save Procházka for the winner, or dare to match him up against someone in the interim?

If he’s down with it, I’d save him. His style is too wild, and that win was too great to risk him against anyone else. There are certainly options out there, like Aleksander Rakić or Anthony Smith, but I’d keep Procházka on ice. Have him fight the winner of Blachowicz-Teixeira, replay this fight as many times as you can and hope his hair looks even better when he fights for the belt.

And yeah, I know the UFC doesn’t usually give title shots after two fights, but when you KO the likes of Volkan Oezdemir and Reyes like he has so far, to say nothing of his pre-UFC success, you’ve done enough.

As for Reyes, how can you not feel for him? A little over a year ago, he should have defeated the great Jon Jones to win the light heavyweight title. Instead, the judges in Texas sided with Jones. Then, he gets knocked out by Blachowicz in his attempt to win the vacant 205-pound title, and now this.

The fight game is a cruel one. One day you’re a previously undefeated fighter losing an oh-so-close decision to the greatest light heavyweight ever, and the next you’re on the receiving end of a highlight-reel knockout against a surging star.

Raimondi: Giga Chikadze gets signature win with signature kick

During the pandemic, it seemed like Giga Chikadze was fighting every few weeks. Chikadze stepped into the Octagon five times between September 2019 and November 2020 and won every bout. He was 4-0 last year alone. In his last bout, Chikadze finally picked up his first finish, a first-round TKO over Jamey Simmons last November.

All of those five were nice victories. But Chikadze was missing one thing to make him a true featherweight contender: a signature win over a big name. The Republic of Georgia native has that now. Chikadze dispatched Cub Swanson, a featherweight stalwart, with a liver kick and punches Saturday in just 63 seconds. Chikadze has nicknamed that body kick the “Giga kick” from his time in Glory Kickboxing. And he used it to pick up the biggest win of his career at UFC Fight Night: Reyes vs. Prochazka.

The only thing to do now is give Chikadze a contender fight. He has won six straight with two knockouts in a row. The karate black belt is a legitimate force at 145 pounds — there’s no longer any doubt about that. I’d love to see him in there with someone like Calvin Kattar, Arnold Allen or even fellow prospect Bryce Mitchell next.

Wagenheim: Merab Dvalishvili is making his move

Prior to the explosive knockouts in the main event and co-main, this was a night of decisions, decisions and more decisions — eight of them by the judges, and one by the referee who ruled a disqualification. That’s not typically the kind of fight card that gets the fans stirred up, but there actually were some moments — one of the best of them provided by Merab Dvalishvili.

The bantamweight charge of trainers Ray Longo and Matt Serra is perpetual motion. In winning his sixth straight bout, he threw 306 strikes, surpassing 100 in each of the last two rounds. That’s a busy man. But once again his most significant offensive weapon was his relentless pursuit of takedowns.

Dvalishvili landed five of 11 takedown attempts, keeping Cody Stamann on the defensive the whole way. That gives the native of the Republic of Georgia 59 takedowns in the UFC, the most ever by a fighter in their first 10 UFC appearances. The thing is, Dvalishvili has had only eight UFC fights. He has two more Octagon trips to add to his record total.

The most significant number of all for Dvalishvili, though, is five — his number of consecutive wins at bantamweight. That gives him the division’s second-longest active streak, one behind his teammate Aljamain Sterling, the champ. At 30 years old, Dvalishvili appears to be heading toward the top of the weight class. And he’s making his journey entertaining to watch.

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