A new rival has emerged within the bantamweight division at UFC 278, and his name is Merab Dvalishvili. The Georgian has put a notice in the division with a unanimous decision to win over José Aldo on the main card from Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Jose Aldo was expected to be the hardest check for Merab Dvalishvili up till now and The Ring of Rio didn’t disappoint. Aldo started to throw punches and body kicks from the very first round and Dvalishvili tried to set his rhythm. The fighter from Georgia extended his win streak to eight with his victory via unanimous decision over the Brazilian which put him on the cusp of a title shot. Dvalishvili has been unblemished since his two consecutive losses at the start of his UFC career.
Afterward in the post-fight interview, Dvalishvili softened the idea of a potential title fight against bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, who was in his corner this Saturday, instead called Sterling his "brother." Both have wished not to face each other as they don’t want any bad blood between them. Sterling even stated that he would move up a division rather than face his friend for the defense of his title. During the UFC 278 media day, Merab told:
"This is a good problem to have. Two good friends, two teammates, two brothers to be on top of the world, and I'm proud of Aljo [Sterling]. I was following him, and I have been training with him. I'm proud of him, and I look up to him... We will see after. I have to win. Aljo has to defend this belt, and let's see how things go after."
A win over Aldo has cemented Dvalishvili position in the top 5 of the division while Aljamain Sterling is set to defend his title against T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280. Even if Sterling manages to win, it doesn't guarantee that Dvalishvili will get the next title shot due to Marlon Vera and Petr Yan/Sean O'Malley being in the mix. With rumors of 'The Funkmaster' potentially retiring after a few more fights, Dvalishvili may never face his friend.
Before his fight with Jose Aldo, Dvalishvili also hinted at moving down to the flyweight division if he is not given a notable fighter for his next run. The rising contender admitted that it would be a hard weight cut as he prefers old-school techniques for cutting and doesn’t have any nutritionist.
“I want to win,” Dvalishvili told Helen Yee in an interview. “I’m not going to let Jose Aldo beat me, and if Jose Aldo beats me, he’s next for the title shot. But I’m going to win. I don’t care (about) the title fight now. After this win, maybe I will try cut and go 125, or I fight Sean O’Malley or somebody with a big name’’
“I’m walking around like 155 and I cut like 20 pounds. I never had a nutritionist. I never asked somebody. Otherwise, I cut my old style when I was cutting 10 years ago – the same style. Then I see people cutting 30 pounds. I cut 20. Everybody (else) cuts 30 pounds. Not everybody, but most people. So if they do it, I can do it, too. But we’ll see. I’m just focused on this fight and I know that I can make 125. If I kill myself, I’ll make 125.”
We have heard these types of stories before too, and former training partners and friends fight all the time. The most recent example is the Masvidal Covington feud. For now, there are quite a few dominoes yet to fall in the division before it becomes a real issue.