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On the Cusp: Merab Dvalishvili

Although Aljamain Sterling is the reigning champion, his teammate Merab may be the best bantamweight in the world and on the cusp of becoming champion.  Dvalishvili’s last outing against Petr Yan put the entire division on notice.  He pitched a five round shutout against the former champion to stake his claim as the next title challenger.  

Image – Georgian Journal

Although bantamweights in general fight at a high pace, Merab takes it to another level.  He shot 49 takedowns against Yan, a staggering figure.  Most fighters tend to slow down after only a few attempts, particularly if the opponent defends well.  Yan defended 38 of those attempts, but Merab remained undeterred.  He also blends his relentless wrestling with a high striking output.  He out struck Yan, one of the most feared strikers in the promotion.  At a glance, no one in the division appears to be able to match this attribute.  Furthermore, no one else has such a decisive win over Yan.  Both Sterling and Sean O’Malley edged controversial split decisions over Yan.  Merab left no stone unturned with a unanimous 50-45 decision victory over one of the best pound for pound fighters.

Dvalishvili remains unwilling to fight his teammate Sterling for the belt, but there are many fun fights available for him.  Top contender Cory Sandhagen has called for a fight against Merab.   O’Malley does not have an opponent.  Furthermore, Henry Cejudo will challenge Sterling for the belt.  If Cejudo wins, Merab will have a fantastic opportunity to challenge for the belt.  Even if Sterling wins, the champion may choose to move up to 145 pounds to give Merab his title shot.  

Cejudo may be the only top contender who can handle Merab’s wrestling, outside of Umar Nurmagomedov.  However, we still have to see how “Triple C” looks after a long layoff.  Simply having good takedown defense will not stop Merab.  Cejudo would have to either impose his own offensive wrestling or hurt Merab early to slow him down.  Based on his performance against Yan, Merab should easily handle Sandhagen or O’Malley.  While they have shown impressive grappling skills, Merab’s pace will likely be too much for them.  The possibilities are endless, but Dvalishvili’s coronation seems all but inevitable.

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