Giga Chikadze emerged as a serious player in the UFC’s featherweight division in 2021.

Serving as a pivotal training partner for UFC lightweight contender Beneil Dariush at Kings MMA for years, Chikadze (14-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC) made a splash when he entered the UFC in 2019. The former GLORY kickboxer went 4-0 in 2020, but three decision wins and his first octagon finish over newcomer Jamey Simmons hardly had people screaming “future champion.”

But the confident Georgian fighter always knew his potential and ended 2021 calling for a shot at UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, who holds wins over Jose Aldo, Max Holloway twice and Brian Ortega, and hasn’t lost in almost nine years.

In 2021, Chikadze finally got the big name he was looking for when he was matched up with perennial contender and fan favorite Cub Swanson at UFC on ESPN 23 in May. It would take him just over a minute to put Swanson away, delivering a brutal liver kick, also known as “The Giga Kick,” in the first round, which earned him the “Performance of the Night” bonus.

It was exactly the kind of performance Chikadze needed to match his words, which earned him his first UFC main event against fellow striker Edson Barboza in August. After a back-and-forth battle, Chikadze finished Barboza in Round 3 for his third consecutive bonus.

The 33-year-old, who was once choked out on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018, is unbeaten in the UFC and now being talked about as someone to potentially dethrone Volkanovski.

Chikadze was MMA Junkie’s 2020 Under-the-Radar Fighter of the Year, and now he’s a breakout star who could be knocking on the door of a title shot if he gets past Calvin Kattar in the UFC Fight Night 200 main event on Jan. 15. That’s why he’s MMA Junkie’s Breakout Fighter of the Year for 2021.

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Twitter reacts to Giga Chikadze’s thrilling TKO of Edson Barboza at UFC on ESPN 30

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