If Max Holloway leaves the Octagon after the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night, he could go three straight and four on five down. It would be a nice cliffhanger with one of the most prestigious sports careers on it.
Calvin Kattar, on the other hand, is trying to build his resume. He won four of the five, but with much less competition. This is his chance – on television – to prove he’s ready to take the next step to becoming an elite fighter.
The UFC opens its 2021 calendar with a main event that should impact the featherweight title. Former champion Max Holloway will face Calvin Cattar at Battle Island. Holloway fought only once in 2020, it was a narrow defeat to champion Alexander Volkanovski. Kattar, on the other hand, won 2-0 last year and won four of his five fights overall.
CFU Fighting Night: Holloway vs Kattar
– Saturday 16. January, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates- Main card: 15:00 ET on ABC/ESPN+- For now: noon on ESPN+-
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It’s a decisive fight between ESPN’s No. 2 featherweight Holloway, a former champion looking for a new title, and his No. 6 opponent. Holloway was a slight favorite at -160 Tuesday morning, while Kattar was at +140.
ESPN’s Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim explore who’s at stake the most and what fans can expect when they watch ESPN+ at noon. AND for the preliminary rounds and ABC at 3pm for the main card.
Raimondi: It’s a big fight, and it’s an important fight in the weight class. It could even be a stock eliminator. But it’s pretty clear to me that this is mostly about Kattar.
Holloway is already established. He is the most experienced fighter in UFC bantamweight history with multiple records. Whether he wins or loses, Holloway is a household name in the UFC, with first-class sponsors, and he will continue to be a factor in the featherweight or lightweight division for as long as he wants.
Error! The file name is not specified. Max Holloway (right) needs a win to give up his two fights as he tries to reclaim his place in the title race. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
But Kattar really needs this win to establish itself not only as a legitimate competitor, but also as someone the fans can invest in. Holloway has seen many of these fights, but for Kattar, this is the first…. and maybe the only time he’ll ever get one.
Wagenheim: I agree that this is a great opportunity for Kattar, but I’d say it’s a great opportunity with a great advantage for him, while Holloway is the one who has the most to lose.
Yes, Max was at the top of the featherweight mountain, and even now, after recovering from two consecutive losses, he’s still not far from the top. That’s because both defeats came against Alexander Volkanovski, the champion. And there would be no shame in blaming Kattar, but it would be his third defeat in a row, and it would be a loss for someone lower in rank than him. Once a fighter starts losing these fights, the fall can be abrupt.
The recent fall of Tony Ferguson comes to mind. He came into 2020 with a string of 12 wins and many thought he would be the one to bring down Khabib. Instead, he was brutalized by Justin Gatje and dominated by Charles Oliveira. Both were ranked lower than Ferguson. We now wonder if he will ever be a candidate again. Holloway doesn’t seem to be in danger of such a dramatic free fall, but it could get out of hand.
Can you imagine such a landing for Cuttar?
Raimondi: I agree with your arguments. But the difference is that while Holloway has already had a great race to the featherweight title, he is way off the mark. He’s only 29 years old, and Volkanovsky’s two fights, especially the last one, could have gone either way. Holloway will have ample opportunity to return.
When you have a reputation like Holloway’s, CFU always finds ways to get back on its feet. With all due respect to Kattar, he doesn’t have that kind of influence yet. A win here would push him in that direction.
That’s why I think this is a much bigger fight for Kattar. I could see a scenario where Holloway would move up if he lost and immediately become a lightweight competitor. We’ve seen this before, former champions moving on to other divisions. And even if Holloway stays at featherweight, the value of his name will earn him one or two wins from someone else for the title.
Wagenheim: The maximum is only 29, but look at the tread length of these tires. This will be his 28th. Kattar has fought almost as many fights, but Holloway is someone who does it at the highest level, seemingly forever.
He was 20 years old when he made his UFC debut – against a certain Dustin Poirier. A year and a half later, he was in the cage with Conor McGregor. Fights like this — plus two with Volkanovsky, two with Jose Aldo, and so on. — add up to one fighter and can have a crippling effect. Holloway is a 29-year-old man.
Kattar is 32 years old, but didn’t make his UFC debut until he was 29. He’s the one who has time on his side, win or lose. Which leads me to ask the question: Who do you think is going to win?
Raimondi: That’s a good question, and frankly I don’t have a good answer. I usually wait for the official weigh-in to predict the fights. In MMA, as we’ve seen time and time again, nothing is set in stone until they step on the scale and those weights hit the target. With that, I can see why Holloway is the favorite. He is a great offensive and defensive lineman. A strong argument could be that he was better than Volkanovsky in July, knocking him down once and shaking him down again.
Kattar has more power than Volkanovsky and is more boxing oriented. He’s dangerous. I could see him doing just fine, maybe even putting Holloway in danger. But in a five round fight, with Holloway’s experience and ability to come back with incredible cardio in the final rounds, I understand why the betting lines are the way they are. I’m sure you don’t agree with me either, Mr. Antagonist.
Wagenheim: Wrong again, Raimondi! It’s a tough choice, I don’t mind. And I don’t mind the betting line being where it belongs. But unlike you, Mr. Wait For Weighing, I no longer have to wait to weigh this pair. I’m leaning towards Kattar, and not just because if I didn’t pick Methuen, I’d be hounded by my fellow Massachusetts players like I’d pick the Lakers over the Celtics. No, I’ll take Kattar for his toughness and because this is the biggest fight of his life.
Holloway, on the other hand, already has eight UFC championship fights under his belt. For the first time since 2016, he will enter the Octagon without a leash. Well, he usually lets me run my levels for those rules and puts me in Camp Holloway. But I think Kattar will be sharper, more focused on this fight than the big championship, and that he’s up to the task.
Error! The file name is not specified. Cavlin Cattar, right, has strong boxing skills and could have more power than Max Holloway against Alexander Volkanovski. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Raimondi: Don’t get me wrong. I’m a bull for Kattar and his crew. The New England cartel is preparing something very good for you.
Find out what Rob Font did to Marlon Moraes last month – with a brilliant stop on the first lap. Kattar and Font are each other’s best friends and sparring partners. I expect a lot more from them and I coach Tyson Chartier in 2021.
But Holloway is still part of the elite, someone who could return to the pound-for-pound list in the near future.
Wagenheim: Despite two straight losses and three of his last four fights, Holloway still ranks second in our weight class, ahead of Brian Ortega, who is expected to be next in line for the title – which makes sense since Holloway has a knockout win over Ortega. It’s always a pleasure to watch Holloway work. He’s one of the greats. That’s why I call it the biggest fight of Kattar’s career.
The first time Kattar ventured into this big fight territory, he lost to Russia’s Zabit Magomedsjaripov at a big event in Moscow in 2019. But he’s won two in a row since then, and this time he’s ready for this moment. And if he wins, he’s about to enter a new battle, the most important yet, with the championship at stake.