Wednesday night was dominated, for the most part, by UFC newcomers. Khamzat Chimaev decimated John Phillips and lived up to the pre-fight talk that he was Khabib 2.0.
Mounir Lazzez defeated Abdul Razak Alhassan in a wild battle that won fight of the night and established Lazzez as a name to watch at welterweight.
The night was capped by a pair of veterans in a bout with high stakes, and just as UFC president Dana White promised they would, Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige delivered at Flash Forum on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
Their featherweight main event was a must-win for both men, but particularly for Ige, who entered the night on a six-fight winning streak but ranked 10th, four spots behind Kattar.
The bout was high-paced and intense, but Kattar was a little bit better in nearly every round and pulled out a critical victory. Judges had it 49-46 twice and 48-47 for Kattar. Yahoo Sports scored it 49-46 for Kattar, giving him all but the second round.
With the top five in the division — Max Holloway, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung and Yair Rodriguez — firmly established, Kattar needed to win to hold his spot behind that Fab Five.
He did what he needed to do.
“Credit to Dan, he’s a tough kid,” Kattar said. “It wasn’t easy, but we got the job done.”
Kattar’s range and takedown defense played a big role in the victory. He was able to keep Ige on the outside for the most part and battered his face whenever Ige tried to close the distance. Ige’s right eye was all but closed when the fight ended and his face was covered in welts.
Ige knew he’d have to mix things up and try to get Kattar off his feet. But Kattar defended all of his takedown attempts. In the fifth round, with the fight on the line, Kattar went out and landed slightly better than half of his strikes, connecting on 28 of 55 significant strikes.
He was hitting hard and his volume wore Ige down and slowed his attack.
“Calvin’s one of the best in the world,” Ige said. “Just to go out there and test myself and test my will, [it was an honor]. He’s super quick, man. He found his range against me early. His jab was killing me and I think that was what was dictating the fight.”
The next move will be up to White and matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard. White told Yahoo Sports earlier in the day he was close to having fights for Magomedsharipov, Ortega, Jung and Rodriguez finished, but he wouldn’t say who was going to fight who or who would get the next shot at champion Alexander Volkanovski.
The plan has long been to match Magomedsharipov and Rodriguez as well as Jung and Ortega. Whether that is what happens remains to be seen, but Kattar threw his hat into the ring for a shot against Volkanovski.
“It seems everyone is calling out the champs right now and they’re doing it from the comfort of their own homes,” Kattar said. “I’m going out and fighting and earning it. The champion wants a contender? Well, he’s got one in me.”
Whether White, Shelby and Maynard give him that opportunity now or make him fight another contender next, the one sure thing is that the loaded featherweight division is going to continue to produce fireworks.
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