Merab Dvalishvili (14-4, four finishes), who trains on Long Island with bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, has a big clash of his own at 135 pounds against former longtime featherweight champ Jose Aldo (31-7, 18 finishes) on the UFC 278 main card on Saturday in Salt Lake City. The native of the former Soviet republic of Georgia spoke recently via Zoom with The Post’s Scott Fontana for the latest Post Fight Interview.
Q: You’ve done mandatory military service in Georgia. Georgia, of course, has a lot of history with strife coming from Russia. You’ve tweeted this month about the 14th anniversary of the Russo-Georgian War. When you watch what’s going on, especially in Ukraine right now, like what do you observe? How are you watching that?
A: It’s so heartbroken, and nobody can stop Russia. They been killing people, like normal people, the Ukrainian people. They [are] not terrorists. … Because they want to be free like Georgia. We are friends with U.S. We are friends with European countries and civilization. We don’t want to go back in Soviet Union. Georgia left the Soviet Union, and they started war right away in 1991 [in the Georgia Civil War]. When I’m born, it was so bad [a] time. They do the same thing now to Ukraine, like they did two times with Georgia. And now, they’re killing. So heartbroken. I am posting sometimes, I’m sharing my things, but you can’t stop Russia because I know there is no sanction [that] works for them. They don’t care. They just throwing bombs in Ukraine, killing kids and normal people. I don’t understand. This is so heartbroken. We all have to try to stop war.
Q: It’s been almost a year since that wild fight and victory over Marlon Moraes. Why haven’t you been able to return sooner?
A: I wanted to come back to the octagon soon, but it was no fight for me. I was hoping [to] fight anybody, but it’s tough. Our weight class, a lot of good guys, like six former champions now, and everybody was booked. Sometimes, it’s hard to match up. But finally I get fight and it was worth the wait. And especially my brother, Aljamain Sterling, was getting ready for his title defense against Petr Yan. Before [that fight] I wasn’t [in ] rush. But after he [defended] the title, that time was really hard for me because I don’t have nothing to do. I want to just fight. I don’t have a fight. But finally, they give me [a] good fight.
Q: You’re about to face one of the greatest fighters of all time, Jose Aldo. What does it mean to you to have this opportunity against such an accomplished fighter?
A: This is just another fight for me. But when I think sometimes, this is crazy; this is unbelievable. I’m fighting Jose Aldo: legend. I’m watching him when I was watching on TV and how he was fighting, and he was always fighting high level, and he was champion so long. He only lost with champions, and he’s amazing.
Q: The takedown is a big part of your game, and taking Aldo down has been difficult even for other accomplished wrestlers in the past. What’s the key to imposing your will in this fight?
I will take him down again. He has a good defense, takedown defense. But my style and how I shoot and how I take people down, it’s hard to stop. If not, I’m gonna throw punches, and I’m gonna fight everywhere. But I’m gonna take him down. You guys will see because we’re gonna make him tired, take him down, and I’m gonna make sure I’m gonna win safe [in] this fight.
Q: Sterling is your division’s champion, and I understand you two prefer not to fight each other. What does that mean for you as you look to become a world champion?
A: He’s my brother. I learned so much from him. And where I am today, that’s because of him, the training with him, and he made me this good. Even my takedowns, everything. Because of all the training with him, and he’s such a strong and very technical [fighter], and he always teach us MMA class or technique. And we are just friends. Our team, that’s our tradition. We are not fighting each other, and the friendship and the brothership is more than belt and more than world championship. … I cannot explain. We love each other. We are best friends. We are good training partners. He always teach me. I’m trying to be with him all the time. Yeah, I don’t care. I’m just focused of this fight now, and I’m gonna win. There is so many other fights, and I’m just enjoying my life. This is the problem: Two friends, two good friends, two brothers from same gym. We are on top the world now. And it’s a good problem.
Q: Do you recall your first experience watching MMA?
A: When I watched first time, it was Fedor Emelianenko’s fight, and he was fighting like crazy (laughs). … When I put on YouTube MMA fights I see [at] the time, Fedor Emelianenko was very popular, and I see all his fights. He was fighting crazy, like punch, takedown, and I was copying his fight style. But he’s heavyweight, and I’m, like, a little guy (laughs). But it works for me. In Georgia, I [won] 10 fights, and I came [to the] U.S. I try [the] same but doesn’t work (laughs) because he had the jiu-jitsu. It’s like a game changer.
Q: Typical walkaround weight between fights?
A: When I’m good shape, I’m 155, 20 pounds over my weight class.
Q: Typical weight on fight night?
A: 153. I’m gaining, like, 17 pounds after weight cuts. That’s normal.
Q: Favorite post-weight cut meal?
A: Hey man, I eat everything after weigh-ins. Everything is delicious. After this, I just want to eat. Doesn’t matter what I eat, I’m happy (laughs). I’m hogging water, eating anything like protein bars or any chicken, pasta, anything. Whatever I have close, I eat everything.
Q: Favorite fight of yours from your regional days?
A: When I was champion of Ring of Combat, and Dana White came with his “Lookin’ for a Fight” show, and my opponent [current Bellator interim bantamweight champion Raufeon Stots] was undefeated. Very good fighter. I know that was my chance, if I win this fight. Dana White was there and he was watching. And he was supposed to sign my opponent because everybody was thinking that my opponent was supposed to win because he was undefeated; he was ready for UFC. But that was my chance to win that fight and go [to the] UFC. Otherwise, I had to keep fighting small shows and keep working construction. I was so motivated, and I finished the fight in 15 seconds. I knocked him out. And I was so happy because I knew that I would go [to] UFC, and my life changed.
Q: Who in MMA do you most admire?
A: My team: Aljamain Sterling, Al Iaquinta, Chris Weidman and Matt Serra. They are good examples to be like. Good human beings, good fighters, good family men, just good friends and good advice. But I like Georges St-Pierre. He’s also very good, disciplined.
Q: What’s the coolest technique in combat sports?
A: Maybe a choke because, let’s say, somebody is crazy or there is somebody in the street or somebody fights or somebody [is aggressive], maybe drunk, maybe I will just get him in a choke and maybe make him [unconscious]. … “Hey, calm down. I will make you sleep.” I’m not gonna hurt him. I can make him sleep.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: I used to watch movies before, but lately, I don’t watch. I do have a couple. I used to love like “Rockys.” … The movie “Titanic” makes me cry (laughs). … I used to love “Gladiator.”
Q: Favorite outdoor activity?
A: I love everything. I like running outside. Hiking. I like bicycle. If I go [to] some new places, let’s say different states, I like running outside. This way, I can feel and I can see new things. … When I was younger, I used to love hunting. But I don’t enjoy [it] anymore. I hate guns. I have knives. I don’t enjoy. I don’t love [to] kill even animals anymore. … I think mixed martial arts changed my life. I don’t want guns. I don’t know. I don’t enjoy it anymore.
Q: Do you play video games?
A: When I was 15 or 16, I was playing, like [for] six months, one game, like shooting. I was just training and just playing video games. And I realized that I was wasting of time because I was so [into it], and I was lost, you know?