Calvin Kattar hasn’t looked better in his 25-fight professional career than he did on May 9, when he took apart Jeremy Stephens and stopped him in the second round of a stunningly one-sided victory.
Stephens is one of the UFC’s OGs, and has significant wins over the likes of Josh Emmett, Doo Ho Choi, Gilbert Melendez, Renan Barao and Darren Elkins, among others.
He was outclassed, out-struck and just beaten up by Kattar. Yet, Kattar isn’t ready to say that was his A-game on display that night.
“I wouldn’t say that was so much my peak, but it was a high-level, determined performance for me, coming off a loss and five, six months into a pandemic,” said Kattar, who returns to action on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) when he meets the streaking Dan Ige in the main event of a Fight Night card from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
“You saw what a hungry fighter does in that fight, and I’m looking to tap into that [on Wednesday]. I’m not thinking of myself coming off the Jeremy Stephens win. I think it’s better for me and my mindset to think of myself coming off of that Zabit loss.”
Kattar lost a close decision on Nov. 9 in Moscow to Zabit Magomedsharipov that earned a Fight of the Night bonus. But that was a hollow honor for him as it was a critical setback in arguably the UFC’s deepest division.
His greatest disappointment about that night is that he believes he was so close to a victory.
“Arguably, just a takedown would have won the first round for me,” he said. “I definitely won the third. Like I said, that first round was so close that one more takedown might have been enough. But you can’t beat yourself up over it. I just ran out of time and I just knew I needed to do better next time.”
He did that, and now faces a unique challenge in Ige, who has won six in a row and is coming off a split decision victory over Edson Barboza on May 16.
Kattar is ranked sixth in the division and Ige is 10th. Kattar said that while fighting someone lower than him in the rankings isn’t ideal, the fact that the division is so competitive and that Ige is on such a hot streak make it more palatable.
UFC president Dana White expects Ige to be hungry to prove the win over Barboza was no fluke.
“To me, this stylistically is an unbelievable fight,” White said. “These are two tough, nasty, hard-nosed guys who are just going to stand there and trade. And everyone has been looking past Ige, and now there is a little controversy about that Barboza fight, and some people are saying he didn’t win it. So this is his chance to erase those doubts and prove a point against a guy in Kattar, who is as legit as there is and is a big, mean, tough dude.”
Kattar will have a four-inch height advantage and, given that he expects to rehydrate to near 165 pounds, should have a weight advantage, too, by the time the bell rings.
Kattar is a -325 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book, with Ige is +255. Kattar isn’t going to let the odds or the opinions of anyone on the outside sway him. With so many legitimate contenders to Alex Volkanovski’s title, each featherweight fight is sort of like a playoff game; win, and you’re that much closer to the championship. Lose, and you are done for a while.
“To get those big-moment opportunities, you have to fight someone with clout on the other end,” Kattar said. “You have to fight guys on six-fight winning streaks. You want to keep moving up, you have to go out there and do something worth noticing, and for me, that’d be taking out a guy like Dan Ige. I think Dan Ige and I are similar in the fact that we’ve both been overlooked and counted out quite a bit. No one expected us to be here.
“But here we are, the main event on Fight Island and I can promise you this: I’m not going to be like those other guys who overlooked Dan Ige. He’s got my full attention and I’m going to look to put his winning streak to an end.”
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