SALT LAKE CITY – UFC bantamweight contender Merab Dvalishvili was preparing to face all of the top names in the division, except one.
Saturday at Vivint Arena, Dvalishvili (14-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) will step into the cage to face former UFC and WEC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. The bantamweight bout sits in the middle of the UFC 278 main card, which airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN/ABC and ESPN+.
Even though he is a top 10 fighter in the bantamweight division, seeing Aldo (31-7 MMA, 13-6 UFC) as the opponent listed on his bout agreement was a surprise for Dvalishvili.
“When UFC call me and give me this fight, I was shocked because I was ready for everyone, but not for Jose Aldo,” Dvalishvili told reporters at Wednesday’s UFC 278 media day. “I was thinking everybody else but not Jose Aldo, because I was thinking I wasn’t big enough. But I guess I am, and he take fight with me. It means a lot.”
Dvalishvili, who currently holds the No. 5 spot in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie bantamweight rankings, is riding hot on a seven-fight win streak. Aldo is right on his heels at No. 6, and appears to have found his footing in the division by winning his previous three after dropping his first two when he made the switch from featherweight.
But how will the former champion of the higher weight class deal with Dvalishvili’s aggressive grappling approach?
“We will find out,” Dvalishvili said with a laugh. “He has a good wrestling defense. He fight Frankie Edgar two times, but I think I can still take him down, and if not, I’m still going to keep forward pressure and fight hard. But I believe I will take him down.”
Thus far in his UFC career, Dvalishvili has successfully brought every opponent he’s faced to the canvas. In his last outing, he scored four takedowns on former title challenger Marlon Moraes, and racked up five against Cody Stamann before that. However, he knows if and when he gets the fight to the ground, he has to worry about the black belt BJJ skills of Aldo.
“We all see how he beat ‘Chito’ Vera,” Dvalishvili said. “He take his back and control the last round. If he needs it, he can use it, but I’m ready for everything.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 278.