Just In Merab Dvalishvili’s journey from being beat up and choked out by Aljamain Sterling MMA Life

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OTTAWA, Ontario – For Merab Dvalishvili, competing in the UFC is a chance to do what he loves. But it is also an opportunity to serve as inspiration for those in his native country of Georgia.

Dvalishvili (9-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC), who held both the U.S. and Georgian flags after dominantly beating Canada’s own Brad Katona (8-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) at this past Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 9, says he wants to serve as testament to the power of hard work.

And what better way of doing that than sharing his own journey from 21-year-old amateur fighter to winning UFC bantamweight?

“When I came to the U.S.A. seven years ago, I was a fighter but I was an amateur fighter,” Dvalishvili told reporters, including MMA Junkie, after the ESPN+-streamed main card bout Canadian Tire Centre. “First time, I remember when I sparred with (Aljamain Sterling). I had, before, 11 amateur fights. But when I sparred with ‘Aljo,’ I feel like who I am, I’m not even fighter.

“Because ‘Aljo’ take me down, control me, beat me up, choke me three times in 10 minutes. I’m like, ‘Who I am, where I am? This is different world, I thought I’m a good fighter but I saw my weight class guy, ‘Aljo,’ he beat me up and choked me. I’m like, ‘Wow, I have to work so hard.’”

So, Dvalishvili did just that. And with the help of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, which he says became a family in the U.S., he’s now four fights and two consecutive wins into his UFC career. Quite a journey for that guy being choked out left and right by his teammate and fellow UFC bantamweight not that long ago.

“I think I can fight every opponent in my weight class,” Dvalishvili said. “I’m ready for everybody, and I’m happy to make my team happy, also. All hard work pays off today.”

A 2-2 UFC record might not make the best impression at first glance, but there is some context to Dvalishvili’s losses.

About 10 days before the first one, to Frankie Saenz, Dvalishvili said he got very sick with the flu. Not one to pull out of fights, he kept the appointment and managed to score several takedowns en route to a split-decision loss he doesn’t quite agree with. After the fight, Saenz praised Dvalishvili as someone to look out for in the future.

Then, came Ricky Simon and a unique situation. In the final seconds of a fight that seemed to be going his way, Dvalishvili found himself locked in a guillotine attempt by Simon. Dvalishvili seemed to survive it until the final bell, but then the referee in charge determined that he’d been out and gave Simon a controversial TKO win.

Dvalishvili wasn’t very pleased with the situation then and would still like a chance to revisit the contest. But, at the same time, it seems like he’s not losing much sleep over his past negative results.

“This guy, Ricky Simon, he’s now No. 14,” Dvalishvili said. “I never got a chance to rematch with him. So, I don’t care, if this guy don’t run from me, if he wants rematch, I’m fine. If not, anybody in my weight class, I’m ready. I’m happy. I’m healthy.

“I’m happy, and that’s what I want to do with my life. I promise you guys I will show you real fight. I have four losses in my record. I have reasons for this, but I don’t care anymore, I just want to show everyone good fights, and that’s why I’m here. I promise you guys, I will show you a lot of good fights.”

Dvalishvili delivered on that on Saturday, but it took dealing with some adversity, after a clash of heads left Dvalishvili worried about a concussion. He was able to play it smart and stick to his gameplan, though, dominantly claiming Katona’s invincibility in the end.

After a successful end to his current UFC contract, Dvalishvili has a pretty simple picture of how he wants his future to look like.

“I want to stay with UFC and I want to fight the best guys, because I love this,” Dvalishvili said. “Nothing better than this. That’s all I want. I want to fight all my life and I love UFC. This is a dream, and this is very big deal for my country. I’m from Georgia. Georgia is small, beautiful country, and then I make proud a lot of people from Georgia – and I want to show young kids that if you work hard, the world hugs you. There’s nothing better than this.”

To hear more from Dvalishvili, check out the video above.

And for complete coverage of UFC on ESPN+ 9, check out the UFC events section of the site.

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