Calvin Kattar was in no mood to bang his own drum when asked about challenging featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. He’d just outpointed a game Dan Ige on Wednesday at UFC Fight Night in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and said: “Where I’m from, we don’t really talk about stuff too much. We go out and prove. We earn it. Here, (shot-calling) is not really the business model, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment for me. I go out. I fight and I try to earn every opportunity in front of me. The champ should see that. He’s saying he wants contenders and you’re not going to find one more ready than myself.”
The maturity with which Kattar spoke mirrored the cool head the Bostonian showed as he outlanded Ige in every round bar the second. The 32-year-old heeded his coach Tyson Chartier’s calls for volume and also exhibited excellent takedown defense, telegraphing nine shoots and landing straight punches once his rival was recovering back to his feet. He was fighting for over three rounds for just the fifth time in his career but he performed in the manner of a veteran, landing like a sniper as the shorter man mauled forward with potshots.
Still, it was refreshing that Kattar refused to goad Volkanovski at the post-fight press conference, and we should remember the American is a work in progress. We’ve already seen the way he was outboxed by the imperious striker Zabit Magomedsharipov, while it’s easy to forget how much trouble he encountered against Jeremy Stephens in May before a lead elbow put paid to “Lil Heathen.”
After all, the winner of #2 Magomedsharipov and #5 Yair Rodriguez on August 29 would be much more likely to snare a title shot. There’s no rush to match Kattar but the talk of Kattar and Volkanovski was still to be expected, such is the desperation of journalists to peer into the future and map out the title picture. Indeed, the MMA fraternity is a forgetful bunch and you could argue that #3 Brian Ortega and #4 Chan Sung Jung are in the mix too. The pair are slated to meet later in 2020, but their skills and smarts have perhaps been lost in the noise and splendor of Fight Island – after all, Ortega hasn’t competed since December 2018, nor “Korean Zombie” since December 2019.
Kattar should instead face the loser of either of those two bouts. To choose one example, a match with Rodriguez would provide plenty of thrills due to the Mexican’s ability to brawl on the inside, not to mention his kaleidoscopic range of strikes. Given how Kattar showed dexterity and poise in defending takedowns against Ige, how might he get on against Ortega? “T-City” has earned seven submissions from 14 career wins and generally pulls guard or takes the back, boasting a more varied jiu-jitsu skillset than Ige.
Wherever Kattar goes next he will be delighted with his 100% takedown defense on Wednesday night, plus the way in which he landed with the greater clout on those rare occasions in which Ige stayed in the trenches. The Massachusetts native edged the first stanza with lovely boxing attacks, particularly his thumps to the body, thrown in an arc to land under the elbow. He even overcame adversity as against Stephens, when a straight punch in round two landed with a crack and looked to have broken his nose.
With blood trickling from Kattar’s wound, Ige looked to potshot towards the middle of the fight by utilizing feints, shimmies, and two-piece salvos of hooks. His movement and speed flustered his rival but he did absorb plenty of low kicks. With “50k”’s team calling for a heightened fight IQ and calculated raids before round four, Kattar responded with a barrage of straight punches once Ige was grounded after miscuing a flying knee.
Ige appeared off the pace by round five and attacked with intent but without any semblance of disguise or malice. Kattar as such took his chances down the stretch, highlights of which being a counter hook which crashed into the point of the jaw and another dig to the body which left his man reeling. Scores of 49-46 (twice) and 48-47 ultimately justified Kattar’s accuracy, such was his ability to counter by using his four-inch height advantage.
“Calvin is one of the best in the world,” Ige said. “(I) just got out there and test myself and test my will. He’s super slick, man.”
There can be no doubting Ige’s will and if he is able to break his future opponents down with workrate, he can find inroads to the body and negate his undersized frame. There’s also no discounting Ige’s claim that Kattar is one of the best featherweights in the world. He looked assured, dangerous with his punches and dialed in to everything Chartier asked of him. He can challenge the champion within the next eighteen months, for sure, but only if he gets the right fights at the right time.
Alistair Hendrie is a freelance writer for The Body Lock MMA. He has previously written for Mirror.co.uk and Fighters Only. Check out his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, featuring interviews with Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more.