After Calvin Kattar disposed of Jeremy Stephens with an impressive second-round victory by technical knockout at UFC 249 on May 9, two things seemed certain. The first was Kattar had earned a shot at a Top 3 opponent, and the second was Kattar might be out of the cage for a bit after breaking his nose in the win.
Yet less than 10 weeks later, the 32-year-old Methuen native, who moved up to No. 6 in the featherweight division after his win over Stephens, will return to the octagon Wednesday against Dan Ige, who climbed up to No. 10 after a close split decision win over Edson Barboza on May 16.
While Ige (14-2) may not be the opponent he desired, Kattar (21-4), who wrestled at Methuen High and is known among UFC fans as “The Boston Finisher,” will have plenty incentive after signing a new six-fight deal. He will also be fighting in the main event of the second card to be held on Fight Island, the brainchild of UFC president Dana White.
Located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Fight Island will allow international fighters to participate without complications due to traveling restrictions. The previous eight UFC events held in the coronavirus era were all in the United States.
There will be four events on Yas Island in two weeks, which began with UFC 251 on Saturday, followed by Wednesday’s Fight Night headlined by Kattar. That will be followed by two more Fight Nights on the next two Saturdays.
“That’s a historic event in itself. Yas Island is crazy. I’ve seen the layout of the place. I can’t wait to get out there,” Kattar said while spending the Fourth of July holiday with family at Salisbury beach. “I’m not really excited to get tested for coronavirus four times while I’m out there, but at least they’re taking the protective measures that they can, and really trying to ensure fighters’ safety while we’re out there.”
Kattar has been through this before. His fight with Stephens in Jacksonville, Fla., was on the first card the UFC held since the start of the pandemic, so he endured the nasal swabs leading up to the fight and has an idea of what to expect.
“Fortunately I’ve been doing the things I can control — wearing the mask, using the hand sanitizer — just trying to take all of the precautionary measures that you’re supposed to,” said Kattar. “We’re doing the right things, focusing on what we can control, trying to put in the work while also being as smart as we can with everything kind of existing from the last one.”
The fight with Stephens was agreed upon on Jan. 3, but was postponed three times in the early days of the pandemic. Because of the fight’s uncertain status, Kattar was forced to stay sharp during what essentially became a four-month training camp before the two finally squared off. He has yet to ease off the gas pedal, despite the broken nose.
“Wearing a face mask, trying to fly home the next day, my nose didn’t stop bleeding for 24 hours,” said Kattar. “It’s tough to get that thing to stop once it’s broke. I was bleeding inside my mask all the way home.”
He resumed training, wearing a protective mask, and says the nose will be just fine when fight night rolls around. No detail has been overlooked, with Kattar conducting training sessions late at night and again early in the morning to prepare for the eight-hour time difference. The fight will be broadcast on ESPN, with the preliminary bouts starting at 7 p.m. EDT, followed by the main card at 10 p.m. As the last fight of the night, Kattar will enter the cage around midnight, 8 a.m. in Abu Dhabi.
Training during a pandemic has presented Kattar with some challenges. Some workouts were held in his brother’s garage, working the heavy bag, followed by sprints up and down the street, listening to the “Rocky” soundtrack. Others involved working out in small groups and getting some sparring in.
“It’s not the big gym workouts, but you don’t necessarily need those. The devil’s in the details,” said Kattar. “It’s paying dividends.”
At 5 feet, 11 inches, Kattar typically enjoys a size advantage in the 145-pound featherweight division. That again will be the case on Wednesday when he squares off with Ige, who is listed at 5-7. Kattar tries to spend as little time at that weight as possible, shedding the pounds before the weigh-in and then hydrating immediately after to restore his lost weight. By the time he entered the octagon to face Stephens, he was 165 pounds.
“If you do it right, it can be a huge advantage, but not everybody has the discipline to do what it takes to cut that amount of weight correctly,” said Kattar. “You have to start early, it takes a lot of sacrifice, but I’m willing to trade everything for this fight.”
He is facing a fighter four years younger who has won six in a row. It would seem Kattar has little to gain and much to lose by agreeing to the fight with Ige (14-2), but he doesn’t see it that way.
“Some people would definitely say this is a dangerous fight to take, but I’m not just going to sit on the sidelines when all my dreams are right in front of me,” said Kattar. “I’m going to go out and compete against all these guys that claim to be the best in the world. Whether it’s now or later, whoever is next in line is going to get it on my way to the top.”
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