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MMA Junkie’s 2020 ‘Under the Radar Fighter of the Year’: Giga Chikadze a rising force at 145

Keep an eye on Giga Chikadze.

The Georgian native has become a sneaky force in the UFC featherweight division. Chikadze (12-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC) put in plenty of work and built solid base throughout 2020 – one that promises to take him places in 2021.

In a tough year where the UFC was forced to a halt due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Chikadze managed to compete four times in 2020 and won all four bouts

After making a successful UFC debut in September 2019, Chikadze clocked in his first fight of 2020 at UFC 248 in March, defeating Jamall Emmers in a close and somewhat controversial split decision.

Chikadze would go on to fight three more times in 2020.

He followed up with dominant decision wins against tough Latinos Irwin Rivera at UFC on ESPN 8 in May and Omar Morales at UFC Fight Night 179 in October.

And to cap off 2020, Chikadze scored the first stoppage win of his UFC career, putting away Jamey Simmons with a head kick followed by ground-and-pound in their main card bout at UFC on ESPN 17 in November.

Going 4-0 in the UFC within one year is impressive. But the true feat here is Chikadze’s progression in his MMA development. “Ninja” went from edging out a close split decisions in the prelims of a UFC card early in the year to picking up a first-round stoppage win on a main card before 2020 was over. Chikadze has shown a lot of improvement in his game.

The Kings MMA product enters 2021 on a seven-fight winning streak. He’s arguably a win or two away over a notable name from joining the ranks of the best featherweights in the UFC.

Chikadze isn’t ranked just yet, but he’s set a foundation for a very promising career. That’s why Chikadze is MMA Junkie’s 2020 “Under-the-Radar Fighter of the Year.”

Honorable mention

Merab Dvalishvili

Merab Dvalishvili

Merab Dvalishvili is the dark horse of the UFC’s bantamweight division.

In 2020 Dvalishvili (12-4 MMA, 5-2 UFC) picked up three wins, outpointing Casey Kenney, Gustavo Lopez, and John Dodson. Although Dvalishvili might not be consider an immediate threat to the title, he’s looking to be a future title contender and can already give trouble to the very best in the weight class.

“The Machine” is picking up steam and all things point to a rise to the top.

Juan Espino

Juan Espino’s bad lucked has kept him from fully showing the world what he’s made of.

The Spanish competitor won “The Ultimate Fighter 28” in 2018 but was unable to follow up on that accomplishment due to complications on broken hand and then the pandemic. Espino (10-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) finally made his UFC debut in 2020 and looked great doing it, winning via first-round submission.

Espino is easily one of the best grapplers at heavyweight, he’s a TUF champion, has plenty left in the tank, and he’s finally cleared to compete.

Magomed Magomedov

Did you know that Magomed Magomedov is 1-1 against UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan? Yes, that’s right.

Magomedov (17-1 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) recently joined the Bellator roster after a long career at ABC where he won the promotion’s bantamweight title and faced Yan twice – wining a split decision and then losing a unanimous decision to the UFC champ. Magomedov only has one professional defeat, and that’s to Yan.

Magomedov looked solid in his Bellator debut win against Matheus Mattos at Bellator 254 in December. He’s largely unknown in the states but has the potential of becoming a Bellator champion in due time.

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