Merab Dvalishvili believes two things kept him from winning his UFC debut last December.
The first issue was judging, which has been a common complaint by fighters on the wrong end of a fight since the sport’s beginnings. Dvalishvili outstruck his opponent, landed 11 takedowns and maintained control for more than half of the 15 minutes of fight time, but still lost a split decision to Frankie Saenz.
The second problem is a bit easier to solve — illness.
“I fight good, I just got robbed in my fight,” Dvalishvili said “It’s hard, I know last time I was sick so this time I can do better. I learned a lot, I know I can do better.”
Dvalishvili, who settled in New Hyde Park after emigrating from Georgia a few years ago, returns to the cage Saturday in Atlantic City feeling healthy as he seeks his first UFC victory in a bantamweight bout against Ricky Simon.
The Serra-Longo fighter said he was exhausted by the end of his fight with Saenz, leaving him unable to secure the finish.
“I don’t feel well, my cardio was not good because I was sick, I tired easily because I was sick, the weight cut was hard all because I had a virus,” Dvalishvili said.
This time around, Dvalishvili (7-3, 0-1 UFC) says he’s focused on staying healthy in the days ahead of the fight. He’ll need all the energy he can get against Simon. A Washington state native, Simon (12-1) is a pressure fighter making his promotional debut, and Dvalishvili believes the former LFA champion won’t give him much room to breathe.
“He has good striking, but his best skill is good wrestling,” Dvalishvili said of Simon. “He’s a wrestler and does good takedowns, but I know how I can stop him. It’s going to be war, because this guy has good pressure.”
Dvalishvili believes it will be a competitive fight if they go the distance.
“He has good striking, but I’m going to fight my fight,” Dvalishvili said. “I’m looking for a knockout, I’m looking for some crazy punches, spinning kicks, I think I can finish him.
“It’s not going to be an easy fight because he likes to pressure. It’s going to be a very mixed fight. Ricky could do some takedowns on me, it’s going to be very back-and-forth, but I’m going to break him.”
And this time, illness shouldn’t hold him back.
“I’m healthy now, I know I have no excuses, I know it’s all up to me now. I’m not sick like last time,” said Dvalishvili. “I’m ready for war, I’m going to fight my fight.”
UFC ATLANTIC CITY FIGHT CARD
Main card, 10 p.m. Eastern on FS1
Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee
Frankie Edgar vs. Cub Swanson
Chase Sherman vs. Justin Willis
David Branch vs. Thiago Santos
Aljamain Sterling vs. Brett Johns
Jim Miller vs. Dan Hooker
Prelims, 8 p.m. on FS1
Ryan LaFlare vs. Alex Garcia
Magomed Bibulatov vs. Ulka Sasaki
Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Luan Chagas
Corey Anderson vs. Patrick Cummins
Early prelims, 6:30 p.m. on UFC Fight Pass
Leslie Smith vs. Aspen Ladd
Merab Dvalishvili vs. Ricky Simon
Tony Martin vs. Keita Nakamura