Merab Dvalishvili: Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg distracted him from choke at UFC 298: ‘I got too excited’

Merab Dvalishvili picked up the biggest win of his career at UFC 298. But it could have ended a lot sooner if it wasn’t for Mark Zuckerberg.

At Saturday’s post-event press conference, Dvalishvili was asked about the interaction he had with Zuckerberg, who was seated cageside at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., to witness Dvalishvili defeat Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision.

Dvalishvili actually noticed Zuckerberg during the fight, and while he was thrilled that the Facebook founder was so invested in his fight, it might have distracted him from locking in a finishing choke in Round 2.

“Mark Zuckerberg, we became friends on social media,” Dvalishvili said. “He’s been supporting me and we send positive messages to each other. He did text me a couple of days ago that he would be at the fights, but he told me don’t tell no one. I keep a secret, of course. I know he was there and as soon as I go there I saw him and I say ‘Hi’ and ‘Good to see you in person.’

“During the rounds, he was telling me times, ‘30 seconds left,’ he was coaching me. He was my fourth corner tonight. So it’s just conversation and then when I got [Cejudo] in the choke, the choke was tight, but I got too excited. I was looking at Mark Zuckerberg and I had too much fun. Maybe I should focus to finish. You know, I’m just a fighter, I’m free, that’s what you do, that was a fun, good, positive conversation.”

Zuckerberg has been no stranger to the MMA scene in recent years, rubbing shoulders with UFC CEO Dana White at several events, participating in grappling competitions, and even entertaining talk of a fight with fellow billionaire Elon Musk that eventually fizzled.

There probably wasn’t much advice Zuckerberg could give to Dvalishvili, one of the best bantamweights in the world, but his presence was appreciated anyway.

“He was giving me some tips,” Dvalishvili said. “But you know, over there when I was fighting, it’s like good music. Like when you’re really running and you hear good music. I don’t remember exactly now when I look, but at the time it was nice, he was coaching me.”

“Yeah, absolutely,” Dvalishvili added when asked if he would corner Zuckerberg for a fight with Musk. “I will be in his corner even if he fights my coach.”

Dvalishvili’s UFC 298 triumph likely makes him the No. 1 contender to face the winner of the March 9 UFC 299 main event between bantamweight champion Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera. Though Dvalishvili said he’d prefer to fight O’Malley—the man who defeated Dvalishvili’s close friend Aljamain Sterling to become champion—the Georgian star didn’t sound particularly concerned with who he puts his 10-fight win streak on the line against.

If anything, he was more focused on celebrating his countryman Ilia Topuria’s featherweight title win that close out Saturday’s show. Topuria knocked out longtime champion Alexander Volkanovski to become Georgia’s first UFC champion and Dvalishvili is poised to become the second before the end of 2024.

“Today’s a historical moment for the country of Georgia,” Dvalishvili said. “All the country was up, they wake up early, all the restaurants are booked, the people are watching in stadiums, everywhere, they’re in the streets now celebrating. As you guys see, so many Georgians came to the arena, the flag was everywhere. My country is proud. We have the first Georgian UFC champion, it means a lot.

“My country was always supporting me and I want to tell them thank you so much and I will just continue hard work, make them proud, and I will give a good example and motivation to young people. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you come from a farmer’s family like me, and if you work hard, hard work will pay off, and everything is possible.”

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