When a potential matchup of former UFC featherweight champion, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway and the streaking contender, Calvin Kattar was initially floated in July — fans and pundits alike began clamouring for the promotion to book the fight.
On paper, it’s one of the most intriguing battles the UFC could put together at featherweight today. Holloway, a former dominant champion with some of the best volume striking when on his ‘A’ game. Kattar, an emerging top-contender at 145-pounds with some of the most technical boxing and movement at featherweight today. Holloway vs. Kattar is simply a striking fan’s delight.
The added intrigue for Holloway ahead of this Saturday is his quest back to the featherweight summit. Kicking off the promotion’s 2021 schedule on the newly installed UFC on ACB partnership and becoming the first main event at the Etihad Arena, Holloway features for the first time in a non-title bout since his unanimous decision win over common-foe, Ricardo ‘The Bully’ Lamas at UFC 199 all the way in the summer of 2016.
In the time since Holloway has competed eight times in four years, even testing lightweight waters in an interim title rematch against two-time foe, Dustin Poirier. His unsuccessful title challenge loss to Alexander Volkanovski in July last, albeit contentious, came as the Hawaiian’s third defeat in four outings.
I noted a change of pace needed for Holloway off the back of his loss to Volkanovski. This weekend’s pairing with Kattar offers just that, however, as noted by the Boston native, Holloway can’t afford to overlook him with eyes fixed on that title again.
Despite a recent drop in results, it’s certainly not as if Holloway’s dropped a yard of pace at all. Recently turning 29-years-old, the Waianae native looked sharp as a tack against Volkanovski. Although he failed to deal with the heavy leg kick approach from the City Kickboxing mainstay at their first UFC 245 clash in December 2019, he rallied well against the above mentioned, Poirier on his way to a judging loss.
While Holloway looked at his sparkling best against the then-undefeated, Brian ‘T-City’ Ortega back at UFC 231 at the end of 2018 — it feels like it’ll prove a fruitless pursuit in search of a better performance from the former in the past or even the future. Everything clicked for Holloway that night in Toronto, while Ortega, then a well-hyped contender, and even a favourite on some bookies charts — failed to ever deal with the immense striking from the onset and throughout.
Holloway’s crowning achievement came against former kingpin, Jose Aldo after initial interim title success against a drained featherweight version of Anthony Pettis. And New England Cartel staple, Kattar seems to be in the midst of a similar breakout of his own following a splendid 2020 inside the Octagon.
Normally poised with a piston straight hand as seen in stoppages of Burgos and Lamas, Kattar stepped in with a massive right elbow, dropping Jeremey Stephens before swarming with damaging ground strikes — arriving on the featherweight scene most definitely.
When pitted with Holloway, Kattar will have to demonstrate the patience which saw him eventually dispatch Burgos, but not as much patience that saw him drop a decision to Zabit Magomedshairpov despite a rallying effort in the final of a three-round Moscow main event.
The Methuen native may have only featured seven times in the Octagon — but some of the names already stamped on his winning résumé are all too eye-catching. Debuting against the steely, Andre Fili, Kattar emerged with a unanimous decision win, before he was pitted with fellow sure to be future top-contender, Shane Burgos in a UFC 220 Massachusetts homecoming.
Announcing himself to the division’s ranks, Kattar timed a beautiful counter right uppercut, dropping the incredibly durable Burgos in the opening minute of the third round, after an exciting battle for two prior frames. As shown in his subsequent stoppages of both Chris Fishgold and Jeremy Stephens — Kattar swarmed on Burgos with precise ground-and-pound, bookending his work on the feet with aplomb.
Last May, Kattar firmly announced himself to the masses, or at least he should have. Remaining part of a tie with the above mentioned Stephens after the latter had botched a weight-cut by almost five pounds, Kattar displayed his comfort in the pocket with a damaging striker such as the Des Moines native. Even against the pace-pushing Burgos, Kattar remained hugely-composed despite working backwards for most of the opening round.
One aspect of Holloway’s performance against Volkanovsk in their July rematch was his incredible poise and ability to more often than not select the right shot. Dropping the Aussie with a late first-round high-kick which clipped the champion just behind the ear, Holloway then repeated the fate in the second frame, this time via a short right uppercut. Shot selection against Ortega was impeccable again from Holloway, and if afforded adequate time by Kattar, I don’t see how he doesn’t find the target time and time again.
While Kattar has yet to score championship experience, this is his second straight five-round outing, and a victory over Holloway would most definitely come as his most high-profile win.
As mentioned earlier, one thing Kattar brings to the Octagon which could be a telling factor in this one, is his lateral movement when backed against the fence, with both volume and heavier handed strikers bearing down on him.
For instance, fellow featherweight, Edson Barboza is like Kattar, a masterful technician with his hands improving each time he enters the Octagon, however, back the Brazilian up against the fence with pressure and he’s more often than not flat-footed on exit awaiting winging counters.
Against the aforenoted, Stephens, Kattar simply wasn’t there for the counter shots of the veteran, and when eventually cornered, caught the heavier efforts on his shoulders and gloves.
While Holloway hasn’t got the shot-stopping power of Stephens in a single strike, potentially backing Kattar up to the fence and controlling the Octagon could be a route to success for the Hawaiian. That approach would, however, be easier floated than achieved given Kattar’s technical movement and composure.
Kattar has stuck expertly behind a jab and straight in the past, feinting with the former before landing the latter against Lamas — scoring a first-round knockout. Against Burgos, prior to the uppercut which ultimately spelt the end of the night before some ground strikes, the New England Cartel standout fired a beautifully timed straight right down the pipe.
It’s a clash of two of the most masterful striking technicians the featherweight limit has had in recent memory, and after much thought, I’m completely torn between the two in my bid to land on a predicted victor.