As things stand, the UFC’s bantamweight division lies as one of the most competitive and complete ranks on show. Rivalling that pile closely is the featherweight string.
Alexander Volkanovski remains the pack leader at 145-pounds following UFC 251, but beneath the Aussie, we’ve still got former champion, Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway, as well as staples Chan Sung Jung, and Brian Ortega. Part of an up and coming class, it’s Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodríguez, and Josh Emmett. Looking to join that group of elitists – we’ve got boxing ace, Calvin Kattar, and well-rounded prospect, ‘Dynamite’ Dan Ige.
Tomorrow night in Abu Dhabi – these two top-ten contenders lock horns, as they look to improve not just on their respective ranks, but also move closer to their first title challenges under the promotion’s banner.
In somewhat of a timely turnaround, both Kattar and Ige last featured in March at UFC 249, and UFC Fight Night Jacksonville events, with the two launching the most high-profile victories of their careers. Boston native, Kattar dealt with the forward, aggressive pressure of promotion mainstay, Jeremy Stephens, to finish the power-puncher with a lethal second-round step-in elbow from a feint. Ige, took an aggressive boxing approach to take a close judging win over longtime lightweight mainstay, Edson Barboza.
If we analyse Kattar’s aforementioned stoppage of Stephens, the improvements made since his defeats to Renato Moicano, and Zabit are clear as day to see already. The New England Cartel staple faced an early-round barrage of leg kicks and winging hooks from veteran contender, Stephens, but managed to mitigate that forward pressure late, with some slick boxing combinations.
There are a couple of stand-out boxing-based strikers on the UFC’s books. We’ve got recent welterweight title challenger, Jorge Masvidal – who is widely considered the best natural boxer the promotion has to offer, as well as bantamweight and featherweight best, Amanda Nunes.
Where Kattar draws similarities to Nunes, is his ability to follow through completely with his strikes. Prior to the klaxon of the opening-frame, Kattar stung Stephens with a lengthy right-hand, forcing him backwards. It’s this ability to catch opponents right at the very end of his punches that makes Kattar arguably the most technical boxer at 145-pounds.
Against fellow contender, Shane Burgos at UFC 220, it was this long, rangy right-hand that set up the finish. Stinging Burgos with a jab and then straight, Kattar would then follow up with a stiff right uppercut, leading to the eventual stoppage.
In his most recent defeat, Kattar failed to get started early against Magomedsharipov in a three-round main event at UFC Fight Night Moscow last November. Making massive strides in the closing quarters of the final-frame, Kattar put severe pressure on a rapidly declining Magomedsharipov. If the promotion ever run this one back, it needs to take place over five rounds.
Hawaii upstart, Ige – like compatriot, Holloway has an incredibly durable ability in his arsenal. Against Barboza in March, the 28-year-old swarmed the Brazilian Muay Thai ace early, and despite an early knockdown, rallied to take a split decision. Attempting to score his third victory of this annum, Ige had bested Mirsad Bektić in another split judging triumph so far this year.
Riding an incredible six-fight win steak, Ige has lit up the featherweight ranks ever since his signing from Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series, back in 2018 to take the #10 status in an ever-evolving division.
The 28-year-old has garnered much attention for his well-rounded ability, but it’s his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Jeff Doner which stands out as a legitimate advantage against Kattar tomorrow night on Yas Island. Scoring a rear-naked choke victory over Danny Henry, Ige has stopped four other opponents with submission successes.
Kattar most certainly has the natural striking advantage in this matchup – and that most certainly isn’t a knock on Ige’s standup, more so a compliment to Kattar’s frontrunning ability. We can’t count Ige out on the feet, as he packs legitimate power, although a lot would agree that his best route to success against Kattar – would lie in his offensive grappling ability.