Merab Dvalishvili, top, fights with Brad Katona in a bantamweight...

Merab Dvalishvili, top, fights with Brad Katona in a bantamweight mixed martial arts bout during UFC Fight Night in Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, May 4, 2019. Credit: The Canadian Press via AP/Justin Tang

Ray Longo threw around three adjectives when discussing a specific statistic for one of his UFC fighters.

“Crazy.” “Insane.” “Phenomenal.”

All three apply to Merab Dvalishvili collecting the most takedowns in UFC bantamweight history. He has 39 of them. Second place isn’t that close — Urijah Faber and Ricky Simon each have 26.

But here’s the crazy part: Dvalishvili accumulated those takedown in just five UFC fights. Five. Simon has six fights, Faber 18.

The insane part?

“I’ll never be a good wrestler because my wrestling has never been like the crown [jewel],” Dvalishvili said. “But now for MMA, I can wrestle and because I’m sparring a lot with my team, MMA wrestling is different.”

Longo credited Aljamain Sterling, a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Cortland and the No. 2-ranked UFC bantamweight, with helping Dvalishvili improve on the ground.

UFC fighter Merab Dvalishvili trains for his upcoming bout on...

UFC fighter Merab Dvalishvili trains for his upcoming bout on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, at LAW MMA in Garden City. Credit: Newsday / Ryan Gerbosi

“He's a Sambo guy but his wrestling was not good when he started here,” Longo said, giving a nod to the language barrier that existed when Dvalishvili, from the Republic of Georgia, came to his gym. “That's one of the adjustments he made.

“I think the loss to Ricky Bandejas [in 2014], that’s what really made him work on his wrestling. He didn’t fight again until he corrected that. That’s what Merab does. That’s the beauty of the guy. He understands what he has to do to get better and he puts the time in like nobody else.”

Dvalishvili (10-4), who lives in New Hyde Park, has corrected enough things along the way to put together a three-fight win streak heading into Saturday’s bout, originally scheduled against Ray Borg. Personal reasons, however, have forced Borg to withdraw from the card. In his place will be Gustavo Lopez, a Combate Americas bantamweight champion with a 90 percent career finishing rate making his UFC debut after three consecutive first-round stoppage victories

The 140-pound catchweight bout still will be on the main card of UFC Fight Night at the promotion’s Apex facility in Las Vegas. 

In Dvalishvili’s last fight in February, he took down Casey Kenney 12 times en route to the unanimous decision victory.

“He's going to put you down if you overcommit. Right now that's his style, just to wear you out and grind on you. It doesn't look like anybody's been able to stop it yet,” Longo said. “A lot of guys don't use their wrestling because they don't want to burn out. They don't believe in their cardio and they play it safe. He's not going to play it safe. He's just going to go until his heart explodes.”

How Dvalishvili wound up on this fight card may also fall under those same adjectives used by Longo.

Dvalishvili was in Las Vegas at the end of May to help Sterling prepare for his title-eliminator bout last Saturday at UFC 250 (Sterling won). While that was going on, the fight was presented to him. He accepted on 10 days’ notice.

“As soon as this pandemic started and the UFC was going, I was like, ‘I want to fight,’ but you know, it wasn't coming soon,” Dvalishvili said. “UFC makes this fight on 10 days’ notice, so I just jump in and I'm happy.”

The Serra-Longo squad stayed out there after Sterling’s fight to get Dvalishvili ready, a nod to the tight bond they have as teammates, one strengthened as they all trained together in Sterling’s and Al Iaquinta’s garages during the COVID-19 pandemic when their gyms were closed.

“This is everything to me. Everything to me,” Dvalishvili said. “They motivate me, and this is really family thing. And we all help each other and support each other. By myself I cannot do anything.”

Now that’s phenomenal.

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