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The Ultimate Fighting Championship has put together a fun trifle of a card with UFC on ESPN 13 this Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This was initially a much stronger affair beyond an entertaining main event, but COVID-19 scrapped the No. 2 and No. 3 fights, leaving this as essentially a two-fight show. Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige are featherweight talents worth a main-event showcase, and the UFC did well to put together a strong bout between Jimmie Rivera and Cody Stamann on a week’s notice. From there, not much immediate relevance exists—a possible breakthrough for Molly McCann remains on the table—but like a lot of thrown-together shows in recent months, it should provide plenty of entertainment.
Now to the UFC on ESPN 13 “Kattar vs. Ige” preview:
FeatherweightsCalvin Kattar (21-4) vs. Dan Ige (14-2)
ODDS: Kattar (-300), Ige (+250)
When the UFC signed Kattar as a late replacement in 2017, it was a bit of an afterthought. The Bostonian had seemingly retired after 2013 to nurse some injuries and run his own promotion, then returned in 2016 to put together two solid but unspectacular wins. However, Kattar immediately announced himself with a clear win over the heavily favored Andre Fili, and after a war that saw him knock out Shane Burgos, it was clear that he was a prospect to watch. Kattar’s style may not seem like much on paper, but his career is an ode to the specialist, as he has been able to charge his way to the Top 10 thanks to his sharp boxing and little else; and Kattar only seems to be picking up steam from fight to fight. His “Boston Finisher” nickname was a misnomer after a string of decision victories on the regional scene, but his last four wins have all come via beautifully brutal knockouts. Kattar has now established himself as a talent worthy of headlining a UFC card, which should suit him just fine as a fighter who builds his success over the course of a fight. Consensus holds that he would have won his sole UFC main event to date against Zabit Magomedsharipov had it been the typical five-round affair. Now, the time has come to prove that hypothesis right against a fellow surging talent in Ige.
Hawaii’s Ige had a strong performance on the 2017 edition of Dana White’s Contender Series, but he was not offered a contract in what was considered one of the bigger snubs of the season. However, the UFC changed course and signed Ige by the end of the year with an eye towards a debut in early 2018. Unlike Kattar, Ige did not kick off his UFC career with a strong performance—he dropped a fun decision to Julio Arce—but from there, it was off to the races. Ige’s pressure style seemed fairly rudimentary during his first few UFC wins, but his 2019 victory over Kevin Aguilar proved he was a person of interest, as he applied his pressure smartly, drew out Aguilar’s heavy counters and found the right moments to strike. That set up Ige for a breakout 2020 campaign, even if he has moved forward by the skin of his teeth. Ige’s pace and pressure worked wonders against eternal prospect Mirsad Bektic, though the Hawaiian still had a terrible second round—a pattern that Ige himself has ridiculed. While Ige managed to get over that issue against Edson Barboza in May, most observers thought Barboza did enough damage to get a decision that went the Hawaiian’s way. Even if he has been charmed to get these wins, Ige has still rounded into the type of fighter worth featuring in a deep featherweight division, so it is difficult to argue with him getting this shot.
This appears to be a good-news-bad-news situation for Ige. The good? He has earned his first UFC main event slot. The bad? He has earned his way into a terrible style matchup on paper. Kattar has struggled when opponents simply are not there for him to box up and counter: Renato Carneiro managed to keep a safe distance and pick apart the Bostonian with leg kicks, while Magomedsharipov similarly used a range game until he tired in the later rounds. Ige certainly has the speed to frustrate Kattar—his win over Aguilar showed his ability to maneuver in and out of the pocket to throw off someone simply looking to counter—but his complete lack of long-distance offense will likely doom him here. Ige can probably avoid Kattar’s counters, but at some point, he will need to get in close and exchange if he wants to win this fight; and while “50K” may have some early success, Kattar has proven to be strong enough with his reads and adjustments that he should be able to take over by the end of a five-round fight. Ige’s wrestling could theoretically throw a wrench in things, but the Hawaiian is more willing than particularly strong in that department, and Kattar has shown solid enough takedown defense in the past. Plus, that requires Ige to get in a range where this fight becomes dangerous. Even beyond Kattar being the better fighter at adjusting between rounds, he also seems to have a stronger gas tank, so unless Ige can shock and spark him early, this looks like it will be a clearer and clearer Kattar win over time. The pick is Kattar via fourth-round stoppage.
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