The post-UFC 244 hangover has arrived, but at least the Ultimate Fighting Championship will return on Saturday with a solid card in Moscow. The UFC has yet to stage the giant card in Russia everyone expected when the promotion announced it was making inroads into the country, but UFC Fight Night 163 is probably the best of the three cards since the Octagon made its debut there. Even if it is not a five-round affair, the headliner between Zabit Magomedsharipov and Calvin Kattar should provide plenty of fun between two of the featherweight division’s brightest talents. Everything else is the typical mix of well-matched fights that have marked the last few UFC cards but with an earlier start time than usual.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Magomedsharipov vs. Katttar” preview:
Featherweights#5 FW | Zabit Magomedsharipov (17-1) vs. #11 FW | Calvin Kattar (20-3)
ODDS: Magomedsharipov (-300), Kattar (+250)
The featherweight division is bursting at the seams with rising new talent, and Russia’s Magomedsharipov -- who gets a long-awaited headlining slot here -- might be the one leading the charge. Magomedsharipov rightfully earned much attention as he worked his way up the Russian scene. His Abraham Lincoln-esque appearance obviously catches the eye, but he worked his way through tough competition without much issue, not only scoring impressive wins but stringing together finishes, as well. Once he hit the Octagon, Magomedsharipov picked up right where he left off, dispatching some of the tougher outs dotting the bottom of the roster before getting a big test in Jeremy Stephens in March. It resulted in an impressive win for the rising Russian, but over the course of three rounds, a lot of Magomedsharipov’s strengths and weaknesses were laid bare. His striking rightfully gets some notice -- he does well to leverage his pipe-cleaner frame -- but the most effective part of the Russian’s arsenal has traditionally been his grappling, as he combines strong wrestling with some impressive creativity that works with his wiry body to wreak some unique havoc. That all was on display for the better part of two rounds before the main weakness in Magomedsharipov’s game, his cardio, started to make itself apparent and allowed Stephens to take over the third round but not win the entirety of the fight. That has led to some intrigue about Magomedsharipov’s next bout, and he dodges a bit of a bullet here. The decisions to add the fight to this card and bump it to a main event were made on short notice, so it will be three rounds instead of five. Still, Kattar should be a difficult opponent, no matter the duration.
Kattar took the complete opposite route to UFC renown. Unlike Magomedsharipov, who quickly gained notice as a prospect, Kattar quietly racked up wins on the Northeastern scene and even put his career on hold for three years before staging a comeback and getting the UFC call as a late replacement. That bout saw Kattar surprisingly pick apart Andre Fili, and after a hometown win in Boston over highly touted prospect Shane Burgos, he has been firmly on the featherweight radar ever since. Kattar’s style is built almost entirely around his fundamental boxing, nearly to a fault. It is remarkably impressive to watch Kattar pick apart high-level opponents simply by staying dedicated to his jab and remaining collected no matter what comes his way. However, it has also proven to be a bit difficult for him to get outside of that box. Within the realm of a boxing match, Kattar is perfectly capable -- even excellent -- at adjusting, as he did against Burgos, but in his lone UFC blemish against Renato Carneiro, he did not have much of an answer for the Brazilian’s leg kicks. Kattar may not have the athletic upside of some of his compatriots making their names at 145 pounds, but this is a huge opportunity for him to prove that his mental approach can outweigh his peers’ physicality.
This may not quite be a Magomedsharipov showcase bout, but this does seem like the Russian’s fight to lose. Kattar’s loss to Carneiro is particularly instructive, as the Brazilian remained patient and chewed up the American’s legs with kicks. Magomedsharipov should be able to follow that game plan. He has a strong kicking game, so he will not need to make much of an adjustment, and the Russian’s speed and length should allow him to get out of dodge whenever Kattar decides to counter. The interesting part of this fight is that Kattar can shut down many of Magomedsharipov’s best weapons, namely by disincentivizing his grappling. Kattar’s takedown defense alone may not be enough to keep things standing, but his boxing is dangerous enough that Magomedsharipov should not be able to get the best attempts. However, even if it is a tough fight, this should still be a winning fight for Magomedsharipov, though it would be much more of a mixed bag if it was going the typical 25 minutes. The pick is Magomedsharipov via decision.
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