One of the lovable – or maybe crazy – facts about MMA is that there is no set path to a UFC championship. Some trails are very traditional and basically follow a straight line in the ranking. Others are unpredictable and at the mercy of a billion factors beyond the control of a fighter.
However, when things are moving in a relatively straight line it is pretty easy to see the effect of slides and ladders on every win and loss. Take UFC featherweight Calvin Kattar, for example.
Kattar (22-4) will face former champion Max Holloway (21-6) at the UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Saturday. It’s the first UFC event to air on ABC with an unusually early start time (main card at 3 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN +, preliminary round at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN +). And it’s a tremendous opportunity for Kattar as a win over Holloway would cement his place near the top of the division.
It’s no different than the opportunity Kattar had in late 2019 when he battled an aspiring Zabit Magomedsharipov at the main UFC Fight Night event in Moscow. Kattar lost that fight by unanimous decision, but the overwhelming feeling afterwards was that if the fight had been scheduled for five rounds instead of being a rare main event with three rounds, he would have won.
In a way, since that defeat, Kattar has basically spent every day getting back to the position he was in: a matchup against a top 5 opponent that could get him a title shot if he wins. That could easily lead to too much pressure. A victory puts Kattar in the middle of the title fight. A loss could mean another year of work before taking this opportunity again.
At least that’s one point of view. Kattar says regaining his position in the division last year actually eases the pressure because he knows he can. He suffered a disappointing setback against Magomedshapirov 14 months ago and went 2-0 in 2020, a year full of logistical challenges.
The stakes in this fight are intriguing in that it feels like the story goes that Holloway has more to lose. He’s the higher tier of the two, and while he’s still considered one of the best in the world, his record in his last four fights is 1-3. But I would argue that Kattar has just as much, if not more, to lose. He has never reached the heights Holloway has and this is such a special opportunity for him to change that. And there is no guarantee of when another opportunity like this will arise if it falls short.
It is probably safe to speculate that the style of this matchup played a big part in the UFC’s decision to place it on ABC, but what is at stake for every fighter certainly goes a long way in contributing to this.
By the numbers
1,688: Days it will have been fight night since Holloway last competed in an untitled fight. Since defeating Ricardo Lamas on June 4, 2016, a belt has been on the line in all eight fights.
4: Kattar UFC knockdowns, each of which resulted in a finish.
16: UFC featherweight wins for Holloway, the largest of all 145 pounders. He is also the front runner in the areas of finish (10), KO / TKO wins (8) and fight time (4 hours, 57 minutes).
2,173: Holloway landed significant hits in the UFC, the most of all fighters in any weight class.
5.01: Significant hits landed per minute in the Kattar UFC, the seventh highest rate among active 145 pounders.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five against five
The latest results from Max Holloway
Loss: Alexander Volkanovski (SD, July 12, 2020; see ESPN +)
Loss: Alexander Volkanovski (UD, December 14, 2019; see ESPN +)
Prize: Frankie Edgar (UD, July 27, 2019; see ESPN +)
Loss: Dustin Poirier (UD, April 13, 2019; see ESPN +)
Winner: Brian Ortega (TKO, December 8, 2018)
Calvin Kattar’s recent results
Prize: Dan Ige (UD, July 16, 2020; see ESPN +)
Prize: Jeremy Stephens (KO2, May 9, 2020; see ESPN +)
Loss: Zabit Magomedsharipov (UD, November 9, 2019; see ESPN +)
Victory: Ricardo Lamas (TKO1, June 8, 2019; see ESPN +)
Prize: Chris Fishgold (TKO1, October 27, 2018)
And the winner is …
You definitely get the feeling that Kattar’s game plan is to lay Holloway on his back and win this fight on his feet. And Holloway will likely take up this challenge. I don’t see this thing go down It’s Holloway’s performance and offensive variety against Kattar’s pressure box and strength. There are two types that tend to get stronger as the fight progresses. It has to go back and forth, it has to be competitive. Coin toss fight for me. If I have to make a choice, which I do, I’ll reject Holloway for the championship experience (and this fight has a championship feel to it) but this is far from a confident choice. Holloway by decision.
How to watch the fights
Look at the main map on ABC. available via cable / satellite as well via streaming.
Watch the fighting on ESPN +. If you don’t have ESPN +, Get it here.
There is also FightCenter, Here you can find live updates for every UFC card.
Battle card from Saturday
ABC / ESPN +, 3 pm. ET
Max Holloway versus Calvin Kattar | Men’s featherweight
Carlos Condit versus Matt Brown | Welterweight
Santiago Ponzinibbio versus Li Jingliang | Welterweight
Joaquin Buckley versus Alessio Di Chirico | medium weight
Punahele Soriano versus Dusko Todorovic | medium weight
ESPN +, Noon ET
Phil Hawes versus Nassourdine Imavov | medium weight
Wu Yanan versus Joselyne Edwards | Women bantamweight
Carlos Felipe versus Justin Tafa | Heavyweight
David Zawada versus Ramazan Emeev | Welterweight
Sarah Moras versus Vanessa Melo | Women bantamweight
Jacob Kilburn versus Austin Lingo | Men’s featherweight
Five More Things to Know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Matt Brown can make history in his co-main event against former UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit. Brown has played 11 knockout games in his UFC career, one less than Vitor Belfort’s record. A Brown win would also get him 16 in his UFC career, tying him with Matt Hughes for the third highest in division history.
2. Condit suffered a career-long loss in five bouts when he defeated Court McGee in October. Condit will now seek to win consecutive bouts for the first time since 2012 when he won five straight bouts, leading to his title shot against Georges St-Pierre.
3. Argentine welterweight candidate Santiago Ponzinibbio returns to the Octagon after more than two years of absence against Li Jingliang. Ponzinibbio is one of nine fighters with a current UFC winning streak of seven or more fights.
4th Joaquin Buckley returns to where he faced Alessio Di Chirico. Buckley’s KO of Impa Kasanganay in October, only the fourth spinning knockout in UFC history, was named Helwani Nose Award Knockout of the Year.
5. At the start of the main map you see two undefeated fighters, each trying to keep his “0” when Punahele Soriano takes on Dusko Todorovic 10-0 with 7-0. Both men have shown they are finishers and have played 15 of 17 career fights.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this bout preview.