In one of the most anticipated fights on the upcoming card featherweight veteran and fan favourite Cub Swanson will take on Georgian kickboxer Giga Chikadze. Both have diverse arsenals of strikes along with notable strengths and weaknesses and it promises to be an exciting matchup.
Cub Swanson vs Giga Chikadze – “Ninja”
The first thing that will become apparent when seeing Giga Chikadze fight is that he is a switch hitter first and foremost. This provides him with two major advantages. The first – and which probably explains why he has had significant showings of potential after transferring from kickboxing to MMA – is that Chikadze is extremely comfortable with shifting combinations coming forwards.
Since MMA is fought at a much greater distance than kickboxing this allows him to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time while attacking. Chikadze is also excellent at dropping his foot after a kick instead of retracting it and then immediately punching off the new angle created by the stance change.
The second is that it provides Giga Chikadze consistent access to his preferred tools. Chikadze is a huge fan of the mawashi geri chudan, or roundhouse kick to the body. This kick is tremendously more dangerous when the two fighters are in an open side matchup – orthodox against southpaw, southpaw against orthodox – because when blocked it will heavily damage the arm and when not blocked will land square on the ribs.
Chikadze will use his familiarity in both stances to spend most of the fight in that open stance matchup regardless of opponent. This stance matchup also makes double leg takedowns more difficult, allowing Chikadze to rely on range and his dig-an-overhook-and-break-off defence.
Giga Chikadze’s body attacks underpin the core of his offensive strategy, which is to use body attacks to open up the head as a target. One of Chikadze’s most underlooked little wrinkles is that this principle even applies to his ground-and-pound. He applies the same commitment to the body he pursues on the feet to his ground striking, going after the body with two or three punches to draw the guard down before throwing a hard shot to the head.
One thing that is immediately apparent about Chikadze is that he is very tall. At 6 feet even he is colossal for a featherweight. It is likely that the harsh cut Chikadze undergoes helps explain why he so frequently drops off in pace in the third round. This reach advantage gives Chikadze a little leeway when it comes to when he can switch stance, and he either switches at range or shifts with an attack and doesn’t switch as much within his opponent’s shorter punching range.
If a fighter absorbs a punch mid-shift when their feet are level they can be easily knocked from their feet. Giga Chikadze is so used to a reach advantage that when he faced the similarly sized Jamall Emmers he seemed to not have his usual confidence with his long-range tools.
While he hasn’t paid for it yet in the UFC, Giga Chikadze’s preference for the body kick carries its own danger. Unlike the high roundhouse, which is difficult to catch and has a high reward, or a low roundhouse that has a long-range, the middle roundhouse is both primarily an attrition tool and is extremely easy to catch and convert into a single leg takedown.
Even worse, the opening which is most valuable in kickboxing – when the opponent’s elbow strays away from their ribcage – actually makes this kick easier to catch. Chikadze manages to avoid this primarily by never going to the same attack too many times and through heavy use of feints, including his trademark pinwheeling of the hands.
That being said, this high praise comes with significant criticism. Giga Chikadze’s main issue in his fights seems to be a battle between his experienced instincts as a striker and his greed for big moments and big finishes. He is at his best fighting with ranged weapons, in-and-out and with counters but has defensive flaws in extended exchanges and the longer the fight goes the bigger the chance he’ll be drawn into one.
He has a lot of range tools but often as a fight wears on Chikadze can be found to be countered after overcommitting to an attack. He’s defensively responsible at range and on the counter but less so while attacking and especially can be found out of position after attacks in later rounds, opening himself both up to his opponent’s striking and also their takedowns. For example, he will often slip to the outside of a jab beautifully to land a straight of his own but sometimes will leave his head there to be caught.
Part of this may be exacerbated by the fact that Giga Chikadze has primarily fought opponents like Irwin Riveria and Brandon Davis who have resilient chins and are completely willing to wade through fire to land their own strikes. But he is scarcely likely to get a break from this when he fights Cub Swanson.
Cub Swanson vs Giga Chikadze – “Killer”
Cub Swanson will likely never hold a belt but he is a ten-time fight of the night bonus winner across his combined WEC/UFC career. The definition of a fan favourite fighter, Swanson has a huge varied arsenal of strikes, is a creative and flashy grappler, and drives a high pace.
Swanson is incredibly difficult to finish with strikes. He has only ever been knocked out once, a quick knee finish in the opening of the first round by no less a figure than a young Jose Aldo. Doo Ho Choi was coming off of eight knockout victories in a row, a significantly better finishing rate than Giga Chikadze, and Swanson not only ended this streak of knockouts but defeated Choi in the ensuing war. Despite being hurt several times, Swanson showed veteran experience to survive and keep going, hurting Choi in turn en route to a decision.
Swanson seems to fight differently based off of whether his opponents pose much of a takedown threat or not. In his second fight with Frankie Edgar as well as his match against Kron Gracie Swanson was often on his bicycle going back and jabbing from either stance, but in a primarily striking battle such as against Choi or Daniel Pineda Cub was bursting forward swinging for the fences.
Swanson’s bread and butter is his lunging shifting hooks. These allow him to cover a lot of ground quickly and try to swing around his opponent’s guard. Sometimes Swanson begins a combination of these with a jab, other times all hooks, and he will throw them both advancing and as a counter-combination.
He will throw them enthusiastically to the body and sometimes uses a catch-and-pitch strategy, countering off of a high guard. Swanson has a huge amount of other strikes he can use, including crescent kicks, spinning back kicks and even cartwheel kicks. But these hooks are his primary entry on the feet. Against the tall Chikadze where Swanson will have to cover a lot of ground they will likely be seen.
Swanson’s other mainstay is his persistent jab. He can throw it from either stance and it allows him to pepper his opponent and maintain activity between kicks or his entries. Where Giga Chikadze’s open stance preference limits the number of jabs he has to deal with Swanson uses stance switching to keep them in the game.
Swanson has few major defensive flaws. The first is that his lunging shifting hooks do open him to counters, especially to short straight punches. Swanson will not always use these hooks as an entry, but will often give his opponents something else to think about – a leg kick, or a jab – and then burst in. But if his opponents start catching on or if Swanson starts throwing them naked then he is seriously vulnerable.
The second is that when on the backfoot Swanson can sometimes show chaotic footwork. Sometimes he shifts going backwards which can allow him to jab with an unexpected hand, keeping pressure off of him. But he also can end up crossing over himself if pressured consistently. Thirdly, when he’s not using a catch and pitch strategy Swanson will sometimes hold his hands low to throw punches from odd angles. While this can catch his opponents off guard, it does also make him hittable too.
Paths to Victory
For Giga Chikadze the most important factor is not to look for a finish. If he goes into this fight just trying to blow Swanson out of the water that leads to potentially getting drawn into Swanson’s game and getting dragged into brawls where Swanson excels. He needs to play the range game using his superior length and try to counter Swanson on Swanson’s often sloppy entries.
Swanson’s wide hooks seem like a prime opportunity for Chikadze to counter. If he can get a finish, excellent, but he can’t fight looking for it. He also needs to carefully ration his kicks to the body. They could be useful for reducing the pace that Swanson could employ in the final round, but at the same time they open Chikadze up to takedowns against the best grappler he has ever fought.
For Swanson, he needs to do everything he can to take Chikadze out of his element. He should try to use wrestling early on to wear Chikadze down as much as possible and frustrate him. He needs to be prepared for the moments when Chikadze stance switches into a closed stance matchup and use those as the triggers for takedown offence. What looks like a body kick could be disguised as something else, but a stance switch is a stance switch.
He could also use his own stance switches to keep the fight in a closed stance matchup which Giga Chikadze dislikes. Even if he can’t take the fight to the ground it is definitely possible to grind Chikadze against the cage and wear out his arms, as Jamall Emmers did in one of Chikadze’s toughest fights in the UFC. When Chikadze tires, he may start making mistakes, and if he overcommits he may be vulnerable to one of Swanson’s lethal counter-combinations of lunging hooks.
One thing both fighters should employ is leg kicks. Against fighters who switch stances a lot, leg kicks are useful since they can encourage fighters to stick to one stance to check while damaging a leg. In addition, forcing a switch can result in one fighter being forced into an unfavourable stance matchup. Daniel Pineda hurt Cub Swanson badly in their fight with leg kicks before Swanson finished him. They may be the key for both fighters.