UFC 238 was a stellar event loaded with high-caliber fights, exciting finishes, and momentous achievements. UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo joined the exclusive “champ champ” club with a win over Marlon Moraes for the vacant bantamweight title, Valentina Shevchenko landed a picture-perfect head kick to defend her flyweight title against Jessica Eye, and Tony Ferguson solidified his case as the sure-fire lightweight challenger by rearranging the face of Donald Cerrone.
Yet, despite all of those marquee names, accolades, and fights, not one ended up on SportsCenter’s famous “Top Ten”. No, that honor belonged to Calvin Kattar (20-3), the newly-instated top ten UFC featherweight from Methuen, Massachusetts, a city 30 miles northwest of Boston.
Calvin Kattar, 31, realized a childhood dream of appearing in SportCenter’s Top Ten, as his brutal knockout of perennial contender Ricardo Lamas (19-8) earned him the fifth spot on the night’s edition of the segment.
“Man, how cool was that!” Kattar exclaimed in an interview with The Body Lock. “I was just joking around with that, but I really did end up on SportsCenter. It was pretty wild. We weren’t expecting it – I get a phone call from my buddy, who was just casually
Though Kattar had faced incredibly talented opponents before, including the likes of Shane Burgos, Renato Moicano, Andre Fili, and others, his fight saw him face his most experienced, accomplished foe. In order to dispatch of Lamas, Kattar says he relied on his and his team’s carefully crafted gameplan.
“We just stuck to the game plan. I just went out; I started working a ton of feints, you know, the game plan was just plenty of feints and [reading] what he was thinking. When I started getting him working a little bit off of the jab and some of the feints, it started getting him on his heels, and I capitalized on an opening and caught him clean; didn’t really feel the shot,” said Kattar.
“He went down, I followed up with some strikes, and then they called the fight with about a minute left in the first, so, I was pumped.”
With the win, Calvin Kattar has now landed inside the UFC’s top ten featherweight rankings. While Kattar acknowledged how good that feels, he is quick to remind everyone that number nine is still a ways away from number one and that championship belt.
“Rankings are rankings. It’s still not the end – I’m not done yet. This isn’t where I want to be [forever]. It’s a good step in the right direction, and like I said, I’m here to fight the guys that call themselves the best in this division. That list is getting smaller and smaller, and I’m excited to test myself against these guys and show why I belong.”
As Kattar said, the list of names above him is getting shorter and shorter as he continues to walk through his UFC opposition. In post-fight interviews and scrums since his UFC 238 win, Kattar has yet to name a preferred next opponent, instead reiterating his willingness to take on anyone ranked higher than him.
“All of ‘em; all of ‘em, ‘cause they’re all above me. Some, like you said, make more sense than others as far as scheduling and things, without fights coming up,” said Kattar.
But, there is one thing that Calvin Kattar is adamant about: “The Boston Finisher” wants to headline on the UFC’s rumored return to Boston.
“I know that they’re trying to come back to Boston in the fall, the UFC, so my goal is to take whatever name will get me a headline spot on that Fight Night, and sign me up.”
Kattar has fought for the UFC in Boston before, competing on the UFC 220 card last year in a “Fight of the Year” candidate with Burgos. While he was then on the main card, Kattar says being the main event would really get the arena going.
“Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, from just before the co-main in the TD Garden fight last time to a headliner would be a great opportunity, and I feel like, in Boston, I feel like I can’t lose. Oh, man, I’m gonna have that place louder than I did the first time, I’ll tell you. And it’s going to be bright in there because everyone’s going to be wearing neon yellow ‘KattarMania’ shirts, so it’s gonna be great. I can see it now,” Kattar said.
Calvin Kattar’s case for a main event fight is a good one. A local Bostonian, he would have hometown appeal and impact, attracting friends, family, and fans to the famous TD Garden. Additionally, Kattar has won twelve of his last thirteen fights, only dropping a decision to top contender Renato Moicano last April.
If that wasn’t enough, Kattar has also been on a finishing tear of late, stopping his three most recently defeated opponents with strikes. A lot of that, Kattar says, has to do with his pronounced focus on boxing during his training camps.
“I think boxing, for me, personally, it helps prepare me for me being as comfortable as I am on the feet, and I think more guys should take advantage of it, but I don’t think they like to put themselves in uncomfortable positions like that where some guys are, you know, pretty good on their feet. If you want to get good at it, you’ve got to jump in and get the work where it is with the guys that are doing the best standup.”
Kattar believes he has some of the best boxing in the UFC, and he thinks other MMA fighters can, at times shy away from the uncomfortable nature of stepping outside of their comfort zone.
“I’d say that I’m up there, man, I just don’t see the guys I’m competing with [in the discussion]. I don’t think anybody likes to get hit – I think we can all agree on that,” Kattar said with a laugh, “but if you’re going to improve your striking, you need to go where the guys are the best at throwing their hands and know how to punch correctly, solid. If you’re working off that, there will be no surprises in the cage.”
Calvin Kattar hopes there is no surprise as to who will headline the UFC’s to Boston, and he’s willing to take on all comers to fight in front of his hometown crowd.
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.