He didn’t realize it at the time, but Calvin Kattar was walking into a perfect storm when he entered the octagon to face Max Holloway one year ago. The fight, broadcast on a Saturday afternoon on ABC, was the culmination of years of sacrifice and hard work, and a victory over the No. 1 featherweight contender and former champion would almost certainly land Kattar a coveted title shot.
Many liked the Methuen-native’s chances, with Holloway having lost three of his previous four fights (all five-round decisions). That, and Holloway’s announcement he was no longer sparring during training was seen as an indication that the wear and tear of competing in the UFC was catching up to him.
But once the two squared off on Jan. 16, 2021, it soon became clear that Holloway had plenty left in the tank. Things went sideways in a hurry for Kattar, who managed to stay on his feet to the final bell, but took the loss in a lopsided decision on all three judges’ scoring cards.
Nearly one year to the day of that loss, Kattar will make his return to the octagon when he headlines Saturday night’s UFC’s card to face Giga Chikadze. It’s been a long time out for Kattar (22-5), who made the most of his opportunities during the pandemic, twice headlining cards on Fight Island, located on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.
“It’s a test man, mentally, just developing that patience. understanding that it’s the right move,” Kattar said of going a year in between fights. “Trusting the process, and that even means sometimes dialing back, listening to your body. Harder is not always better, tougher is not always smarter.”
His opponent has won nine in a row to improve to 14-2 and move up to No. 8 in the division. Chikadze, a native of Tbilisi, Georgia, was a world champion kickboxer before moving over to mixed martial arts. He is the favorite, despite Kattar entering ranked fifth in the division. A second consecutive loss would knock Kattar out of the top five, not that he needs any added incentive.
“Your next fight is always the biggest, no matter what fight it is,” said Kattar. “If I won that Max fight, my next fight was going to be the biggest. If I lose that fight, my next fight’s going to be the biggest. It’s what you can control.”
This marks Kattar’s first fight in Las Vegas, at the UFC Apex. Not having to travel to Abu Dhabi also means this will be the first time friends and family can travel to one of his fights since the pandemic began. A convincing performance would land the winner on the shortlist of potential challengers for a title shot against champion Alexander Volkanovski.
“I just have to go out, listen to my coaches and make this kid react to me,” said Kattar. “Get in his face, stay in his face until he takes a knee or I get my hand raised.”
The main card is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN. Kattar and Chikadze are expected to enter the cage around 9:15 p.m.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.