Merab Dvalishvili says it’s title shot or bust at UFC 298.
Dvalishvili faces former two-division champion Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of UFC 298 in February. After the bout was announced, Cejudo claimed the winner would earn a title shot against the winner of the upcoming bantamweight title bout between Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera at UFC 299.
While Dvalishvili said he hasn’t been guaranteed anything like that from the UFC, he agrees with Cejudo’s declaration.
“No, they don’t tell me like this, but now I’m going to be ready again for a title fight,” Dvalishvili said on The MMA Hour. “That’s all I want to do now. Nothing left. I’m winning fights, and now my goal is fight for the title and win for the title. That’s my only goal right now.
“Like everybody knows, I have a nine-fight win streak and I beat two former champions. I’m fighting now one of the greatest fighters, Henry Cejudo, Olympic champion, two-division champion, and if I beat Henry Cejudo, I don’t understand why they shouldn’t have given me title. So I am pretty sure that now this time they will give me title fight after this.”
Dvalishvili has won nine fights in a row since losing to Ricky Simon back in 2018, including wins over former UFC champions Jose Aldo and Petr Yan in his two most recent performances. Adding a third in a row by beating Cejudo would, in his mind, leave only one possible next step.
“How I’m gonna go back and keep fighting guys from behind?” Dvalishvili said. “I want to fight guys that are in front of me, and I want to fight the champion. That’s how it’s goes. If you’re winning, winning, winning, you have to fight whoever is front of you, the champion. If you’re losing, then yeah, you have to back up a little bit if you win and come back again, you know, that’s how it works. That’s how this sport it. But nothing is guaranteed.”
Even so, the question remains why Dvalishvili even accepted this fight in the first place. He currently is the No. 2 ranked bantamweight in the UFC rankings, behind only his teammate Aljamain Sterling. The former bantamweight champ also plans a move up to featherweight. Dvalishvili has already done more than enough to warrant a title shot, but he said he didn’t want to sit around and wait when another big fight was possible.
“I have so much respect for Henry Cejudo,” Dvalishvili said. “And I want to be busy. I don’t wanna wait too long. I wanna keep fighting, and I wanna fight against the great guys. I fight Jose Aldo, you know, my mentality was with Jose Aldo, if he beats me, God bless him, he’s gonna fight title. But with Henry Cejudo, I’m not this kind this time. I want to beat him, and I want to fight title like, I won’t be too much happy if he beats me.
“I think a win against Henry Cejudo will be enough, even if I win a split decision. But I’m not looking for a split decision. I’m looking to dominate this fight, and I’m looking for maybe finish. But like I said, it’s a fight, we never know.”
However he gets it done, 10 wins in a row is likely to put Dvalishvili in line for a title shot. But that could also depend on who wins the scheduled bantamweight title fight. For his part, he hopes it’s O’Malley, as the two already have some heat between them and he
“I hope so, but it’s not gonna be easy,” Dvalishvili said. “I think ‘Chito’ can beat him again, unfortunately. But I hope O’Malley wins this.
“Let’s see. I think it will be a very boring fight, maybe. Chito usually, first couple of rounds, he’s not doing nothing. And O’Malley, last time with Aljo, he was running before Aljo tried to make action. Maybe let’s see. Maybe they’ll both run from each other. We’ll see how this fight is going to go.”
UFC 298 takes place Feb. 17 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.