The UFC returned with a spectacular main event in a rather disappointing ten-fight card at UFC Vegas 46 as Calvin Kattar returned to the win column with a bang.
Kattar returned after a year out of the octagon to take on Giga Chikadze in a featherweight main event that had fireworks written all over it.
It delivered too, in a superb five-round war that had everything except a finish going for it to set the bar high for the fight of the night in 2022.
Chikadze started the fight exceedingly well, landing hard body kicks and sharp right hands, before he threw a kick and slipped which allowed Kattar to step in and grapple with him.
After that though, Kattar was completely dominant for the next four rounds. He applied a crazy high pace and pressure to shut the distance down, not allowing Chikadze to throw kicks.
He landed heavy strikes, which later turned to elbows to cause further damage while also mixing in takedowns to keep Chikadze honest.
The Georgian gave it everything, landing some huge shots of his own but Kattar once again showed his chin and managed to secure a huge unanimous decision victory.
The win keeps him in the top five of the division and with three of the five guys above him getting title shots recently, and the other being Yair Rodriguez who is coming off a loss, Kattar has a real chance of title contention this year.
A fight against either Rodriguez or Brian Ortega seems like the fight to make going forward, if we don’t see Ortega vs Rodriguez instead, and a win could catapult him into the title contender position.
A bit earlier on the card was a women’s flyweight contender fight between Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia, that produced a fun, back-and-forth bout between two top five 125-pounders.
Chookagian picked up the unanimous decision win, just as she did back at UFC 244 in their first fight, but following the event she revealed in the press conference that that was the final fight of her contract.
Speaking to the media, Chookagian claimed that she wanted to renegotiate her deal with the organisation before the Maia fight but they told her that they wanted her to fight out her current deal instead before they spoke.
With the win, she tied champion Valentina Shevchenko for the most wins in the division’s history (8) and will likely move into the number one spot in the rankings, above Jessica Andrade, setting her up for a rematch against ‘Bullet’.
But the UFC don’t seem convinced that is the route they want to go in, and with Chookagian out of contract it doesn’t make sense to renew her deal if they don’t intend on giving her a title shot when she’s clearly the top contender.
It’s a dilemma, because at that weight class she is among the best there is but she’s still some way off the champion and that makes her dispensable in the organisations eyes.
TJ Brown def Charles Rosa via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast start from Brown as he lands his jab well and a hard calf kick too as he takes the centre. Rosa looking for some calf kicks of his own now, but Brown is landing his right hand really clean and crisp. Rosa lands a hard low kick that drops Brown, but Brown then catches the next kick, fires one of his own and then drags him to the ground. Rosa threatens with a guillotine but Brown scrambles back to his feet quickly and they go back to striking. Rosa’s low kicks having a big effect and forcing Brown to switch stances, but Brown’s strikes landing really well. Brown goes for a takedown again but Rosa is able to scramble with another guillotine attempt, but ends up on his back with Brown searching for a head-and-arm choke. Rosa defends well and then eats a few ground and pound shots to end the round. 10-9 Brown.
More of the same from both guys to start the second round as Brown takes the centre and applies pressure with his right hand, while Rosa throws out leg kicks and then gets taken down by Brown. Brown transitions to the back and looks to control the position but Rosa threatening with a guillotine again and then is able to scramble to top position. Rosa tries to take an arm but Brown is able to reverse and ends up on top himself again, then moves for a head-and-arm choke again. Rosa defends brilliantly then eats a big elbow from Brown after trying for a triangle. Rosa goes for an armbar and Brown manages to escape before going right back to top position. Rosa is looking for submissions constantly but Brown is a step ahead, defending and maintaining control. Brown takes the back and puts both hooks in but once again Rosa defends it and they see the round out exchanging strikes on the ground. 20-18 Brown.
Final round and Brown looking for more of the same, getting on the front foot and landing a big right hand before getting a takedown and slamming Rosa down early. Brown takes the back and starts working for a rear-naked choke but Rosa gets to his knees and gets back to his feet, before eventually being able to put Brown on his back and get top position. Brown works his way back to the feet and then forces Rosa down to the mat, before securing top position and landing some heavy elbows. Brown slides over into mount and looks for the head-and-arm choke again before Rosa gets to his knees and back to his feet. Brown goes for a takedown but Rosa works for a d’arce choke as we enter the final minute. Brown defends it well but Rosa isn’t giving up the neck. Brown gets to his feet and lands a one two before moving back into the same d’arce position to see the round out. Should be a Brown decision victory. 29-28.
Brian Kelleher def Kevin Croom via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
Very fast start to the fight from Croom, with lots of forward pressure and blitzes using his size advantage to get the best of Kelleher early. Kelleher takes the centre now and Croom being very active, before a big right hook from Kelleher drops him! He gets straight back up and Kelleher goes for another, but misses and then gets hit with an accidental low blow to pause the action. Croom using his big reach advantage well for now, just pawing out the jab to create distance. Kelleher trying to mix up his attacks and goes for a takedown but Croom defends it before landing a hard low kick. Front kick to the face lands from Kelleher but Croom keeps using his distance and just touching Kelleher up. Big spinning back fist lands from Kelleher before a left hook and a takedown to end the round on top. 10-9 Kelleher, just.
Croom opens up the round with a big one two that lands flush, but Kelleher eats it and keeps coming forward. Lots of volume from Croom in this round, but Kelleher is moving well and looking to counter. Nice body kick from Croom before a check-left hook from Kelleher lands too. Croom blitzes forward and gets Kelleher against the cage to clinch, using his size to wear Kelleher down. Big body shot from Kelleher, and then another, before he shoots for a takedown. Kelleher goes for a submission on the ground and looking to control the position, stopping Croom from getting back up. Big elbow lands from Kelleher, but he has a big cut above his eye after a knee landed from Croom as he went for the takedown. 19-19 for me, but could go either way.
Kelleher goes straight back to body work in the third round early on and then shoots in for a takedown to control early. Kelleher looking to take the back and secure a choke but Croom fights his way back up, only to be dragged back down immediately. Kelleher lands some ground and pound while transitioning ground positions, then lands a big knee and slams Croom back down as he tries to get back up. Kelleher completely dominating the grappling exchanges here and controlling the positions as we enter the final 90 seconds. Kelleher rolling with him and looking for a rear-naked choke but Croom fighting the hands. Heavy ground and pound from Kelleher to end the round in what could possibly be a 10-8 round, should seal him the fight. 29-28 for me.
Court McGee def Ramiz Brahimaj via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Great start to the fight for McGee, who is using his superior striking to his advantage to keep distance. Brahimaj clinches against the cage but McGee seems physically stronger and is able to turn him and get the fight down. Brahimaj defending a lot against the cage, but lands a strong knee to the gut of McGee before forcing a separation. Brahimaj takes th centre now and is striking well, but McGee keeping the pace high and landing the more significant strikes. McGee lands a huge right hand that drops Brahimaj just as the buzzer goes! Saved by the bell! 10-9 McGee.
McGee comes out early and lands a hard low kick and right hook that drops Brahimaj again, who gets up quickly and shoots for a takedown. Brahimaj gets it and starts looking to take his back, but McGee defends it and then is able to get a takedown of his own. Brahimaj gets back to the feet but McGee is just too physically strong for him right now and is wearing him down. McGee locks his hands and gets another takedown, but Brahimaj bounces back up quickly. McGee using his strength again to control, before shooting in for a takedown. Brahimaj defends and the two engage in a striking battle, but McGee is too strong again and clinches up to end the round again with another takedown. 20-18 McGee.
McGee steps over and goes immediately for another clinch and takedown situation, but Brahimaj is looking to defend it well and throws a nice knee to the body. He then drops down for a guillotine and it looks quite tight but McGee defends it and ends up dominant in top position. Brahimaj goes for another guillotine and wraps the neck up, but McGee stays calm and is able to pop his head out and push Brahimaj against the cage. Brahimaj tries to get back to his feet but McGee grinding him out and takes the back. McGee going for a rear-naked choke now, but Brahimaj turns to his back which allows McGee to move into mount. Brahimaj tries to scramble but gives up his back again and McGee dominantly rides him from position to position until the end of the round. Great win for McGee. 30-27.
Jamie Pickett def Joseph Holmes via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Good start to the fight as both men look to take the centre of the cage and trade strikes. Holmes starting with a bit more intent, just missing with a head kick but then landing a nice straight right. Pickett blitzes forward with an attack of his own, but Holmes clinches up and uses his strength well against the cage. Holmes lands a nice right hand and then just misses with a head kick again, but Pickett clinching well to stifle the attack. Hard low kick from Holmes but Pickett gets a takedown to end the round. 10-9 Holmes, just.
Aggressive start to the round from Pickett as he comes forward with a hard front kick to the body and then a big left hand, before looking to get a takedown. Holmes looks more tired already but gets back to his feet and lands a hard right hand, but Pickett responds with a takedown attempt again. Strong body kick from Pickett lands, and now his left hand is landing well too. Holmes goes for a single leg takedown but Pickett defends it well in a clinch position. Pickett being very aggressive and coming forward hard with Holmes looking tired, but he responds with a nice slip left hand before they clinch again. Pickett explodes again as the round ends and should take that. 19-19.
Pickett being aggressive once again in this final round as Holmes throws a hard right hand. Pickett using his better conditioning and strength right now to stop Holmes’ momentum, but eats a body kick for his troubles when they separate from the clinch. Pickett lands a nice side kick as Holmes is looking for a big shot. Another clinch situation initiated by Pickett before a nice elbow from Holmes lands. A left hand stumbles Pickett again but then he goes for another clinch and just avoids a big elbow. Big high kick from Pickett lands well and the round comes to an end, with what should be a Pickett victory. 29-28.
Bill Algeo def Joanderson Brito via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Quick start from Brito as he takes the centre, moves across the octagon and gets a body lock to look for a takedown. Algeo defends it well but eventually Brito gets it and takes the back while standing. Brito transitions around and picks Algeo up, then walks around the octagon for a few seconds before slamming him down and taking his back. Brito looking for a rear-naked choke but Algeo is defending well. Brito looking for the choke but Algeo turns into Brito and ends up reversing the position on top, looking for big ground and pound strikes. Brito looks to explode out and gets back to the feet quickly and goes back for another takedown. Brito lands a nice jab but then eats a big knee up the middle from Algeo, before shooting in for another takedown that gets defended to end the round. 10-9 Brito.
Brito coming forward with a blitz and walking Algeo down with big strikes, but then he eats a big right hand from Algeo that wobbles him. Brito immediately turns and goes back for the takedown, but Algeo defends it perfectly and lands a big knee from a front headlock position. Algeo lets him back up and lands a left hand on the break but Brito is just walking forward through the storm. Big one-twos from Brito snap Algeo’s head back and he looks hurt but once again Brito goes for a takedown and Algeo is able to stuff it and reverse position to end up on top. Algeo moves into side control but Brito gets back up. Algeo lands a big knee but then Brito fires back with a big right hand. Algeo clinches up to end the round, very close. 19-19.
Algeo opens the round with a nice one two, before Brito comes forward with a big blitz of strikes that land well. Brito continues to walk forward and do damage with big shots but Algeo timing him well with counters and clinching up to slow down the Brazilian’s momentum. Brito continues to walk forward constantly and goes for a spinning elbow, but Algeo slips it and showboats. Final minute and Brito is really pushing the pace but Algeo gets a big hip throw and ends up on top landing big elbows then takes the back. Algeo ends the round on the back and should take the victory in a great back and forth fight. 29-28 Algeo.
Viacheslav Borshchev def Dakota Bush via Knockout, Round 1 (3:47)
Fast start to the fight for Bush as he stays at distance and throws lots of kicks early on. Big overhand right lands but Borshchev eats it. Borshchev steps in and lands a nice little blitz with a left hook, but Bush moves in for a takedown and gets it. Borshchev defends himself well down there and is able to stand up, but gets wobbled by a strike. Bush moves in for a big finish but Borshchev avoids and lands a big left hook counter. Bush gets another takedown and tries to take the back but Borshchev escapes and goes into the guard, landing heavy body shots from top position. He gets back up and backs Bush against the cage, slips a shot and lands a huge body blow that drops him!! Borshchev lands a few follow up shots but that’s that! What a knockout!
Katlyn Chookagian def Jennifer Maia via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Chookagian starts the fight well with a big slip right hand that lands flush, while Maia looking to land some low kicks. Chookagian is really sitting down on her punches right now, landing well and maintaining distance well. Maia lands a big left hand and Chookagian gets a body lock and a takedown to sit in half guard on top position. Good shoulder pressure from Chookagian and she defends the sweep well before passing to side control, before laying down some shoulder strikes from the top. Chookagian tried to pass to mount but Maia bounces back up quickly, eats a knee and the round ends. 10-9 Chookagian.
Aggressive start to the round from Maia as she steps forward and lands a hard right hand, but Chookagian slips a second attempt and gets another body lock to look for a takedown. Maia defends it well this time though and then they break, with Chookagian looking to control distance again with her jab. Maia leading with a low kick and doing well, but Chookagian bouncing and lands a nice right hook. Maia looks for a body lock this time and rushes Chookagian against the cage, but she defends it well and reverses the position to look for a trip herself. Maia lands a couple of right hands in the pocket, before Chookagian lands a big head kick and then a nice knee too but Maia continues to be aggressive and walk forward. Maia looks for an arm drag but Chookagian defends and ends up on Maia’s back with both hooks in looking for a choke to end the round. 20-18 Chookagian.
Maia coming out strong again in this final round but Chookagian using her teep kick brilliantly to maintain distance and landing her right hand and jab. Maia lands a big right hand but she’s just a step behind right now. Nice head kick from Maia, but Chookagian responds with a low kick. Lovely overhand right from Chookagian, followed by a clean one-two but Maia is still there. Nice right from Maia on the break from a clinch lands clean but Chookagian starting to take over with counters and jabs. Big right hand from Maia lands and then they exchange right hooks. Final 30 seconds and Chookagian looks super comfortable, then lands a huge one-two and a third on her way back to claim a big win. 30-27 Chookagian.
Explosive start to this one with Royval taking the centre and using speed, but Bontorin lands a hard low kick that drops Royval early. Royval throwing a lot of kicks, but Bontorin looking to counter with his flush right hand. Royval goes for a body kick that Bontorin catches and then lands a right hand as Royval spins. Bontorin transitions to a takedown and gets side control but Royval very good with scrambles and looks to get to his feet. Bontorin holds him there briefly but Royval eventually gets back up and goes back to being very active. Slip left hand from Royval lands clean, before another takedown from Bontorin. Royval staying active from his back as he tries to roll through and starts throwing elbows, before both get back to the feet to end the round. 10-9 Royval.
Quick start again as Bontorin throws a right hand that drops Royval and he goes straight into his guard. Royval trying to scramble with submissions but Bontorin stays calm and takes the back. Royval defends it expertly but Bontorin retains the control from top position and lands a big elbow. Royval climbs back to his feet as Bontorin goes back to striking and then drops him with a nice left hook. Royval straight back up though and looking to overwhelm Bontorin but Bontorin staying calm and looking for control. Royval trying to up the pressure but Bontorin gets a body lock and trip in the final seconds to end the round on top. 19-19 for me.
Final round and Royval lands a big knee and hook combo. Bontorin fires back with a huge right hand, left hook combo that lands flush but Royval’s chin is holding up. Bontorin is loading up on his punches and Royval is able to land a few softer shots. Bontorin lands a leg kick and Royval goes down, but Royval defending with his submissions and looking for a gogoplata. He transitions to an armbar and it looks like Bontorin taps (?!) but the referee doesn’t see it and then Bontorin escapes and the fight continues. Royval transitions and is able to sweep Bontorin to get on top as we enter the final minute of the fight. Hard elbows from the top for Royval but Bontorin firing back from the bottom with elbows of his own. Royval landing some huge elbows and the buzzer goes. 29-28 Royval for me but could easily go the other way too! Great fight.
Collier comes forward very aggressively in the opening minute, walking Sherman down and throwing hard right hands. Sherman looking to counter with right hooks but Collier doing well to avoid too much damage early. Collier storms forward and pushes Sherman to the mat. He moves straight into full mount and lands some big nasty elbows from the top that cut Sherman open. Sherman tries to kick off the cage but just puts himself in an awful position. Sherman rolls over to his belly and Sherman synches up a rear-naked choke and gets the tap for the victory. Impressive performance.
Two very hard low kicks from Chikadze open the fight up before a nice right hand behind them. Kattar takes the centre of the octagon trying to pressure him, but Chikadze with great footwork around the outside to stay off the cage. Chikadze lands two hard body kicks and a right hand then goes for another kick but loses his balance and Kattar charges for a takedown and secures top position. Kattar working to pass Chikadze’s guard but he’s defending well. Chikadze tries to get back up but Kattar drags him back down. A scramble sees Chikadze end up on top but Kattar reverses it to an arm triangle from the bottom and then secures the back with a body triangle to see out the round. 10-9 Kattar.
Hard body kick from Chikadze early on and he starts blitzing Kattar with hard punches and a variation of kicks again. Kattar switching stances to take the kick away from Chikadze. Kattar pressuring forward and landing hard strikes that have Chikadze looking a bit more tired. Big jab from Chikadze though and then Kattar continues to come forward and Chikadze is tired! Kattar lands a big right hand then shoots for a takedown but Chikadze defends it. Big knee from Kattar lands, followed by a left hook. Huge step-in elbow from Kattar and Chikadze is struggling. Kattar lands a big left hook and follows it with a body shot. Four big left hands from Chikadze land but Kattar responds with a huge right hand and a knee, then he secures a takedown and heavy right hands to end the round. What a round! 20-18 Kattar.
Kattar comes out with forward motion once again and is putting a pace on Chikadze, who’s trying to recover his cardio still. Elbow from Kattar lands and then a flush one-two straight down the middle lands. Kattar steps forward with his jab and is teeing off on Chikadze, who can’t get his hands up to block his head. Two low kicks from Chikadze and a left hand, before a big right cross. Kattar goes for a takedown but Chikadze just about stays up with a little help from the fence. Both guys are tired, but Kattar pushing forward still. Huge right elbow lands from Kattar and then they trade hooks to the chin. Chikadze lands a right hand that gets Kattar to cover up, but Chikadze swings wildly and misses big. Kattar continues with forward pressure to close the distance but then just misses with two big shots. Big spinning elbow from Kattar right on the buzzer. What a fight. 30-27 Kattar.
Kattar crowding Chikadze with forward pressure as he looks to stop the kicks, and he’s just picking the jab well. Chikadze is looking for kill shots now but he’s too tired to land, while Kattar continues to come forward with his jab and picking him apart. Huge elbow again from Kattar and then he shoots for a takedown, but Chikadze defends it brilliantly and lands some big strikes of his own. Chikadze lands a big right hand but Kattar comes forward with his jab and elbows. Head kick attempt from Chikadze but Kattar just keeps coming forward. Massive elbow from Kattar and the buzzer goes again. 40-36, this is a beating now.
Chikadze comes forward early throwing bombs in the final round. Kattar continues to walk forward and just jab him to death, and Chikadze just has no answer for the pressure. Two huge elbows land back-to-back from Kattar, but Chikadze’s chin holds up again! Another nasty elbow from Kattar as he starts throwing them instead of hooks. Chikadze lands a nice one-two before Kattar lands a spinning elbow. Kattar just constantly coming forward with elbows and straights. Chikadze backing up and getting pieced up as Kattar looks for a finish. Huge right hand lands on the chin but Chikadze is still standing. Chikadze throws a one-two and Kattar responds with another flush spinning elbow. Both guys swinging for the fences with 30 seconds left. Kattar starts throwing elbows and drops Chikadze right on the buzzer!! He follows up with a couple of shots, but that is an exclamation point on a stunning performance. Wow! 50-44 Kattar for me.
Bill Algeo (14-6) vs Joanderson Brito (12-2-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A potential fight of the night contender in the featherweight division. Algeo is coming off a defeat to Ricardo Ramos at UFC Vegas 27 in May, while Brito makes his UFC debut on a ten-fight win streak with the most recent coming on Dana White’s Contender Series back in August.
Algeo is the type of fighter whose sole game-plan is simply to hit you harder than you can hit him. Brito on the other hand is a huge power puncher with both hands and has great speed too, but can often be quite reckless defensively. Algeo has a big size advantage in this fight and has never been knocked out and while his record isn’t great, he has fought much better competition throughout his career. Algeo’s defensive grappling is pretty poor, which opens up a big opportunity for Brito to land his big double-leg takedowns.
For Brito, this is a big opportunity to make a name for himself in the USA and in the UFC. Algeo will do his part to make this exciting too, which likely won’t help him, and I expect Brito to close the show early and make a big impression. PICK – Joanderson Brito via Knockout, Round 2
Dakota Bush (8-3) vs Viacheslav Borshchev (5-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Two exciting lightweight prospects in the UFC go head-to-head here. Bush is a stud who was beaten in his UFC debut at UFC Vegas 24 by Austin Hubbard via decision, while Borshchev makes his debut in this fight after an impressive KO win over Chris Duncan in Dana White’s Contender Series.
Bush is an athletic fighter who uses mobility and movement more than technique and power in his attacks, while Borshchev makes his debut as the head striking coach of Team Alpha Male which tells you exactly where his strengths lie. Bush is likely to try and use his four-inch reach advantage to his benefit by fighting on the outside and mixing in takedowns to test the defensive wrestling of Borshchev. That said though, ‘Slava Claus’ has worked with Team Alpha Male for long enough that I expect he’ll come good defensively.
The longer the fight goes, the harder it will be for Bush to get a takedown and even hold Borshchev down, who is very good at scrambling up to his feet. He will attack the body and eventually start to target the chin before claiming a highlight-reel knockout finish midway through the fight. PICK – Viacheslav Borshchev via Knockout, Round 2
Katlyn Chookagian (16-4) vs Jennifer Maia (19-7-1) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
The big women’s fight for the card is a flyweight bout between two former title contenders at 125-pounds. Chookagian bounced back from a KO defeat to Jessica Andrade at UFC Fight Island 6, before decision wins over Cynthia Calvillo and Viviane Araujo most recently. Maia on the other hand bounced back from her title fight defeat with a decision win over Jessica Eye at UFC 264. These two fought previously, with Chookagian winning at UFC 244 via decision.
Chookagian is a very mobile kicker, with good karate skills and great fight IQ where she’s able to fight from range and constantly move in-and-out of distance. Maia on the other hand looks to use her Muay-Thai game to get into clinch range before looking for takedowns to work her excellent jiu-jitsu skills. Chookagian has got some underrated grappling skills, but if Maia can get this fight down then you can safely make the assumption the round or fight will end there.
Unfortunately for Maia though, her takedown ability isn’t great and she won’t get close enough to Chookagian to be able to use her clinch game. Chookagian will bounce around on the outside, using her kicks and blitzes and once again claim a decision victory to put herself back into title contention in the division. PICK – Katlyn Chookagian via Decision
Brandon Royval (12-6) vs Rogerio Bontorin (17-3) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An absolute banger of a flyweight fight and another contender for fight of the night. Royval was on the verge of a title shot before he dislocated his shoulder and was beaten by Brandon Moreno at UFC 255, before getting submitted by Alexandre Pantoja at UFC Vegas 34 last time out too. Bontorin on the other hand bounced back from a KO defeat against Kai Kara-France at UFC 259 with a decision win over Matt Schnell last time out at UFC 262.
Royval is an excellent grappler with terrific scrambles and some lightning fast striking techniques too. Bontorin is more of a striker, who has good physical strength and some good grappling too despite his preference to trade punches. This is a very high level fight between two potential future title contenders.
Bontorin certainly has the striking edge on the feet and is a solid submission artist himself, but Royval is so active in all aspects of MMA. The issue with Royval though is that because he’s so unorthodox, it can somehow hurt him here. If Bontorin can get top position, he should use his strength to hold position. On the feet he is the more powerful, but Royval has great speed and his own grappling is great too so ultimately I think the activity of ‘Raw Dawg’ gets him a razor thin win. PICK – Brandon Royval via Decision
Jake Collier (12-6) vs Chase Sherman (15-8) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A heavyweight bout takes the co-main event slot between relatively different big guys. Collier has alternated wins and losses since a win in 2014, with a defeat to Carlos Felipe last time out at UFC 263 via split decision. Sherman on the other hand has lost each of his last two via decision, losing to Andrei Arlovski and Parker Porter.
Collier is a former middleweight who still tries to fight like one, just with an added 80-pounds of weight. He has good leg kicks and often attempts a few spinning techniques to catch his opponents off guard. Sherman is a similar fighter but is a much more natural heavyweight. He loves a strong leg kick, but isn’t the best when it comes the checking them.
Collier is the faster fighter and technically probably the better one, but naturally Sherman is the bigger fighter so the power lands in his favour. It’s probably not going to be a very exciting fight , but Collier is due another win on his run so I’m going with him.. PICK – Jake Collier via Decision
Calvin Kattar (22-5) vs Giga Chikadze (14-2) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A beauty of a main event in the featherweight division, with the winner potentially entering title contention territory. Kattar had won two-in-a-row against Jeremy Stephens and Dan Ige at UFC Fight Island 1 before getting absolutely destroyed by Max Holloway at UFC Fight Island 7. Chikadze on the other hand is now 7-0 in the UFC and has won each of his last three via knockout against Jamey Simons at UFC Vegas 13, Cub Swanson at UFC Vegas 25 and Edson Barboza at UFC Vegas 35.
Kattar is a terrific boxer, with a brilliant jab and brilliant power punches while trading from within a phone booth against his opponents. He likes to throw a few leg kicks here and there, but generally it’s to set up his power strikes. Chikadze on the other hand is a brilliant kickboxer with a trademark head kick and amazing power in his hands too. Both of these guys have got genuine knockout power and can hold a hard pace for a full fight. This is only Chikadze’s second five-round fight in the UFC, and he won the first in the third round.
Chikadze is riding an incredible wave of momentum right now and that is definitely affecting people’s perception of this fight. Kattar has got genuine skills and if he lands clean on Chikadze, I expect him to do a lot f damage. While his counter striking is better than Chikadze’s, he can’t get hit as much as he did by Holloway in this fight or he’s going to sleep. Chikadze is far more powerful and can use his kicks well to set everything up. This is due to be a magnificent fight of high level striking, and I lean ever so slightly towards Chikadze and I think he’ll get a stoppage. PICK – Giga Chikadze via Knockout, Round 4
As we enter 2022 and the first card of the year is upon us, there is a new contender on the horizon at 145-pounds and his name is Giga Chikadze.
The Georgian entered 2021 as a hot prospect, but someone who was struggling to really chop down the competition in the UFC.
Sitting at 5-0 in the organisation with four decision wins and one knockout against a super-short notice opponent, people were questioning the ceiling of this striking sensation.
Fast forward through the year though, and Chikadze can be questioned no more.
He started the year getting matched up against the grizzly veteran that is Cub Swanson at UFC Vegas 25 in May.
It was expected to be a close encounter, with many tipping the veteran to be just too much for Chikadze considering his struggles in previous fights with getting a finish.
It took all of 63 seconds for Chikadze to put himself on everyone’s radar though, as a fierce body kick cause Swanson to crumble and then he got the stoppage with some follow up ground and pound.
That set him up for a banger against Edson Barboza in a main event at UFC Vegas 35. Barboza had just come off back-to-back wins over Makwan Amirkhani and then a stoppage win over Shane Burgos at UFC 262.
It was two heavy kickers with fast hands going to war, but ultimately it was a step too far for the veteran Brazilian as Chikadze blitzed him.
Landing heavy body kicks and super fast left hands, Chikadze earned a stoppage victory in the third-round to make it three KO’s in-a-row and earn himself a fight this weekend with Calvin Kattar.
Kattar was arguably one win away from a title shot when he fought Max Holloway last year, but a defeat set him back. Now Chikadze is potentially in a similar situation in the division almost exactly one year later.
If Chikadze is able to earn a win at UFC Vegas 46, he will move into the top five of the division with everyone above him having already fought for the title against Volkanovski, except Yair Rodriguez who is coming off a loss.
While Holloway would still be owed his shot, there would be a solid case for Chikadze to get a go too considering Volkanovski has already beaten Holloway twice.
It will be kicks vs boxing in the Apex, but Chikadze has shown he is a lethal striker in all aspects and if he can continue his finishing streak then he will be able to claim something that even the great Holloway couldn’t.
It’s a huge opportunity for the featherweight division to claim a new top contender, and it’s Chikadze’s position and role to lose.
Cast your mind back to the first UFC main event of 2021, and you’ll remember that it was a featherweight contender fight involving Calvin Kattar.
Last year it was in Abu Dhabi on Fight Island and Kattar stood across the octagon from former champion Max Holloway, and what followed was a one-sided beating in which the Hawaiian broke several records on Kattar’s face.
The memorable moment of the night came as Holloway screamed at the commentators that he was the best boxer in the UFC, while stepping back and slipping Kattar’s punches without looking at him.
As the scorecards were read out at the end of the fight, they told a story. It was officially the most one-sided UFC main event in history, as Holloway took a 50-43, 50-43, 50-42 unanimous decision after 25 minutes.
Kattar applauded, then left the octagon for the final time of 2021.
Now he returns for his first outing since that fateful day, in the first main event of 2022 but this time at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas where he will take on Giga Chikadze.
Another main event to open the year, in another fight where a win pushes him closer to the title fight he dreams of.
The opponent is very different this time around. This will be the biggest fight of Chikadze’s career to date, and Kattar would be a scalp to add to his resume after he stopped Cub Swanson at UFC Vegas 25 and Edson Barboza in his first main event fight.
A heavy kicker, Chikadze won’t look to engage in the same way Holloway did and his gas tank has proven to not be as deep as ‘Blessed’s.
But this fight is more for Kattar than just a chance to get back on the horse. It’s an opportunity for him to show that he is still among the elite fighters in the world and has the capability to beat others in that conversation.
His most recent defeat prior to Holloway came against Zabit Magomedsharipov in a three-round main event on short notice, which had it gone a normal five rounds many believe he’d have won. But he didn’t, and that’s what matters.
Kattar must win this fight, not only to get his title aspirations back on track but more importantly to show he deserves to mentioned in the conversation at 145-pounds.
This is his chance to kick 2022 off in the best way possible, and wash away the demons of this exact opportunity that he had in 2021.
This was the ultimate Conor McGregor performance. If anyone ever asks you what all the hype was about, don’t bother showing the Jose Aldo knockout just show them this fight.
McGregor stepped up in a quest to become the first double champion in the companies history, after a gruesome double-header with Nate Diaz, to fight Eddie Alvarez in for the 155lbs lightweight title. McGregor turned in a masterful performance, knocking Alvarez down three times in the first round before a stoppage finish in the second.
But mid way through the second round, before the knockout, McGregor showed that he was levels clear of Alvarez on the feet by putting both hands behind his back and leaving his chin exposed as Alvarez stood in front of him. It was the ultimate show of disrespect and went unpunished as he claimed the belt just a few minutes later.
4. Dominick Cruz vs Cody Garbrandt (UFC 207)
Pre-injuries, it wasn’t a crazy opinion to have if you said Dominick Cruz was the greatest bantamweight of all time. So after coming out on top in his legendary rivalry with Urijah Faber, ‘No Love’ Cody Garbrandt emerged to avenge his mentors defeats.
In a bantamweight title fight at UFC 207, Gabrandt turned in a masterful five-round performance to claim the title from Cruz in a unanimous decision win but it was his antics during the fight that caught the eye most.
Garbrandt would slip shots and look in the opposite direction, started breakdancing mid-fight and just generally dominated the man who was considered the best ever in what still stands up as the best performance of his career to date. The fight was personal and ‘No Love’ rubbed salt in the wounds.
3. Max Holloway vs Brian Ortega (UFC 231)
This was supposed to be Max Holloway’s toughest test as UFC featherweight champion, with Brian Ortega the best jiu-jitsu technician he had ever come against.
Instead what we saw was a stand-up clinic from ‘Blessed’ as he beat the living hell out of Ortega for a full four rounds before the doctor stopped the fight. But what took place just minutes before was something never seen before.
Holloway stopped punching Ortega in the face for a few seconds, to help teach him how to block in the middle of the fight. He took his hands and moved them closer to face and threw a soft punch to show him the benefits, before touching gloves and getting back to it. Rude.
2. Anderson Silva vs Nick Diaz (UFC 183)
The Diaz brothers are known as two of the more… outspoken members of the UFC roster over the last 20 years. This is probably the defining moment of either of their careers though when it comes to disrespect.
During a grudge match against the legendary Anderson Silva, Diaz had repeatedly jabbed at him during press conferences and interviews but got no reaction. When they finally stepped into the octagon, he upped the gamesmanship by a level almost immediately after the fight began though.
With Silva not really pressing the action in the opening 90 seconds, Diaz started trying to antagonise him. He literally lay on the ground as if he was sunbathing, he backed himself against the cage and invited Silva to come and fight and then stood still as Silva circled.
It turned into a five round war and as of this writing, was the last time we saw Diaz in the octagon.
1. Max Holloway vs Calvin Kattar (UFC Fight Island 7)
The most recent display of disrespect but for me, the most disrespectful thing ever.
Holloway was paired up against Kattar for his first non-title fight since 2016, with Kattar stating that ‘Blessed’ was just a man in his way en route to a title shot. He claimed to be the best boxer in the UFC and said he’d be able to take Holloway’s record of never being knocked down before away from him.
The Hawaiian clearly took offence to the comments as he slaughtered Kattar to a 50-42, 50-42, 50-43 decision win at UFC Fight Island 7. But in the final round, after already battering Kattar to a pulp, he started talking to the commentators while still in the cage. He commented about the record breaking stats he’d put together, snapped a jab off and then slipped Kattar’s counter punches while walking backwards and not even looking at him.
It was incredible to watch, while being skilful and disrespectful at the same time. Max Holloway, take a bow.
Holloway was explosive from the jump, landing spin kicks, body shots, jabs and straight punches, all while mostly avoiding the power of Kattar to prove he was in fact the better boxer of the two.
He blew Kattar out of the water for the entire five rounds, landing an incredible 445 significant strikes throughout the night including a record 141 strikes in round four alone.
It was a reminder to fans who may have believed that Holloway was past it following three defeats in his last four bouts, but it was also a warning to the champion Alexander Volkanovski.
After back-to-back losses against Volkanovski, the Australian had hoped to have washed his hands of Holloway and the title picture. Many believed Holloway won their second encounter and this performance was evidence that despite not having gold wrapped around his waist right now, he is still the best 145lber in the world, maybe ever.
With Volkanovski set to defend his title against Brian Ortega at UFC 260 in March, it’s evident that the winner will be taking on Max Holloway once again in their following fight.
Elsewhere on the card, Joaquin Buckley’s hype train was brought to a screeching halt with a violent head kick knockout by Alessio Di Chirico. The middleweight division continues to build in strength and depth, and after his first win since 2018 he will now look to build some momentum and hopefully work his way into the rankings this year having once been seen as Italy’s best chance at a UFC belt.
Santiago Ponzinibbio found out the hard way that the welterweight division has moved on without him, as he was knocked unconscious by the left hand of Jingliang Li in the first round of their fight too.
Ponzinibbio looked gun shy and hesitant during the opening exchanges, throwing only 18 strikes in the opening round before being knocked out with 35 seconds remaining. Li now has seven stoppages in the UFC and with four wins in his last five he will be looking to break into the rankings with his next fight.
Ponzinibbio will need to re-evaluate after over two years out and then such a timid display, it’s possible that the division’s elite have left him behind.
Austin Lingo def Jacob Kilburn via Unanimous Decision (30-26 x2, 30-27)
A fast start to the night as Lingo steps forward and takes the centre of the cage early and lets his right hand fly. Some big shots land clean and Kilburn goes down hurt, but he gets back up quickly. Lingo lands some nice left hooks around the guard to keep Kilburn shaky on the feet. Kilburn shoots for a takedown against the cage and is able to recover his senses. The jab is landing clean and Lingo is in control of the round. 10-9 Lingo.
Lingo comes out hard again and lands a few nice shots early, but Kilburn changes levels early and lands a takedown for the first time in the fight. Lingo is able to create space and kick him off almost instantly though and the fight goes back to the feet. Lingo lands a nice left straight that snaps Kilburn’s head back but he is doing well to circle and threaten with takedowns in this round. Kilburn gets another takedown but Lingo once again escapes back to the feet immediately, then gets a takedown of his own against the cage before he allows Kilburn back up as the round ends. 20-18 Lingo.
Kilburn comes out for the final round and showing good energy, throwing nice combinations and attempting the takedown again. In the scramble Kilburn goes for a judo throw and gets it but ends up on the bottom with a kimura grip. Lingo stays patient on top and eventually escapes back to the feet and starts striking on the feet again, landing his jab well. Lingo counters a low-kick with a beautiful one-two as Kilburn goes for a lazy single leg takedown. Big right hand again from Lingo lands inside the final minute as the round comes to a close for what should be a comfortable Lingo decision win. 30-27 Lingo.
Vanessa Melo def Sarah Moras via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Slow start to this one as Melo takes the centre of the octagon and Moras continually circles, flicking out the jab. There’s more noise coming from the octagon than the stands right now as Moras channels her inner Maria Sharapova every time she throws a strike. Melo starts cutting her off instead of just following, but the pattern remains the same as Moras flicks the jab and Melo looks for a power right hand. Nice one-two lands from Moras but a bit of a non-event this round. 10-9 Moras, I guess?
Another slow start to the round but Melo lands the biggest shot of the round with a left hook that knocks Moras’ mouthpiece out. Moras bleeding from the mouth now and Melo continuing to stalk her around the octagon, and Moras’ circling has significantly slowed now. Moras shoots for a takedown inside the final 30 seconds but Melo defends it perfectly and the round ends. Probably even going into the final round, 19-19.
Pattern of the fight is established by now, but Moras has thrown some leg kicks early on. More circling, more jabs and more straight rights from Melo that are just missing. Nice leg kicks land again and more jabs from Moras but there is no urgency really from either fighter as we enter the final minute. Bit of a flurry from both ladies in the final ten seconds but that was a fight I won’t be watching back again. 29-28 Moras for me.
Ramazan Emeev def David Zawada via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29 x2)
Competitive start to this fight as Zawada looks to take the centre of the cage and keep Emeev on the back foot. Emeev throws a beautiful right hand that instantly causes some swelling under Zawada’s eye. Zawada starts throwing some nice leg kicks and Emeev then starts shooting for the takedown and gets it. Zawada gets back up quickly but Emeev puts him back down again quickly and starts to land some nice ground and pound. Zawada eventually gets back up towards the end of the round but Emeev lands some huge strikes on the way up that rocks him! Emeev round for me. 10-9.
Early leg kick from Zawada in the second round and Emeev wobbles instantly, which forces him straight into the takedown attempt. He gets the fight down early on and Zawada accepts the full guard position, with Emeev landing some nice strikes from the top before Emeev explodes back up. Big one-two from Emeev lands clean but Zawada responds with two leg kicks and Emeev is struggling now. Another two takedown attempts from Emeev denied by Zawada as the round comes to a close. Close but Zawada’s for me. 19-19
Final round opens up with a beautiful takedown immediately from Emeev, as he tries to push Zawada towards the cage. Zawada very aggressive off his back, landing strikes and attempting submissions but Emeev very confident and calm to avoid and land some strikes of his own. Zawada gets the fight back to the feet and then gets a single leg of his own and ends up in side control. Emeev tries to scramble up to his feet but Zawada is able to move into full mount! Emeev escapes by giving his back and then reversing before both men get back to the feet for the final 90 seconds. Left hook from Emeev lands and it staggers Zawada but they stay standing in the centre of the cage. Final punch of the fight is a big right hand from Emeev, in what should be a decision win for him. 29-28 Emeev.
Carlos Felipe def Justin Tafa via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)
Pretty slow fight early on with Felipe throwing jabs and feelers while Tafa looks to counter everything. A few leg kicks from Tafa land and then he rips a body kick too that lands clean. Felipe starts to load up his right hand but is missing a lot and Tafa looks very calm, firing a big left hand down the pipe. 10-9 Tafa after the first.
Big body kick lands to open the round from Tafa, but Felipe fires back with some big right hands to the body and follows up with some hooks. Felipe looks for a single leg but Tafa avoids it easily then lands a lovely left hook to the body before a left uppercut through the guard. Another big left body kick from Tafa and Felipe fires back with a right hook that misses wildly. Tafa throws a kick but Felipe comes forward and throws some big combinations that land clean and hurt Tafa! Shots to the body and Tafa is in pain and clinches to survive. Big right hand lands again and a big uppercut has Tafa wobbled but he fires back with a big shot of his own as the two engage when the round ends. 19-19, what a round!
A bit more of a tentative start to the final round as Felipe looks to up the pace once again. Both heavyweights are going forehead to forehead and swinging combinations to the head and body. Felipe misses with a straight right hand and Tafa changes levels to look for the takedown. They clinch against the cage, throwing body shots at each other before Felipe reverses the position and steps away from the cage. Tafa goes for a big trip and both men fall to the ground. Final 30 seconds and both men stand toe to toe and swing to bring the crowd to their feet! What a fight! 29-28 Felipe but could go either way.
Very intense and impressive first round as Wu Yanan looks to take the fight to the ground early but Edwards stays calm on her back. Suddenly Edwards switches her hips and looks for an armbar and Wu is in trouble! She defends well but the position is locked in for a good few minutes before Wu finally manages to escape before a scramble sees Edwards back on top for the end of the round. 10-9 Edwards.
Wu comes out in the second round more aggressive and lands lots of stabbing body kicks to keep Edwards away. Nice strikes land and Edwards looks hesitant now, but a big elbow lands and seemingly wakes her up. She starts charging forward and lands some big shots, forcing Wu to shoot for the takedown again but as they hit the floor Edwards reverses the position and starts landing big ground and pound. Edwards’ combos are causing problems for Wu and the round comes to an end. 20-18 Edwards in her debut.
Final round and it’s more of the same, as Edwards lands great kicks and powerful combinations but Wu keeps coming forward. Wu starting to pressure Edwards against the cage but Edwards staying very calm and responding with explosive power of her own. Final minute of the fight and Edwards still has gas in the tank and is coming forward now with aggression and speed. She fails with a takedown attempt at the buzzer but should have enough in the bank to get the win here. 30-27.
Punahele Soriano def Dusko Todorovic via Knockout, Round 1 (4:48)
Fun start to the main card as Todorovic and Soriano immediately trade bombs early on. Todorovic seems to be a bit quicker so far, landing nice jabs and using excellent head movement to evade the big shots of Soriano. Soriano throws a big head kick that Todorovic avoids by leaning back, before Soriano lands a big left hand. Soriano continues to march forward and lands a huge left hand that drops Todorovic! He looks to finish but Dusko tries to recover and grapple, but Soriano gets the referee to stand it up. Another big left hand against the cage and Todorovic is down again and without a mouth guard! The referee pauses the fight to get the mouth guard before Soriano steps forward and drops him again with a big left hand!! It’s all over! What a knockout!
Alessio Di Chirico def Joaquin Buckley via Knockout, Round 1 (2:12)
Buckley comes out quickly with lunging strikes and lots of power, as Di Chirico looks to use kicks to maintain distance. Buckley with some body attacks but Di Chirico is keeping his range well and lands a nice right hand of his own. The two clash in the centre and Di Chirico throws a big head kick that knocks Buckley out cold!! It’s over!! WOW!
Jingliang Li defSantiago Ponzinibbio via Knockout, Round 1 (4:25)
Cagey start to this one with both men respecting each other’s power and speed early on as they put out feelers together. Li is constantly moving, throwing some nice leg kicks but Ponzinibbio checks one or two of them. Lots of leg kicks from Li as Ponzinibbio is struggling to figure out the range right now. Li throws a right hand, left hook combo and Ponzinibbio IS OUT COLD!!! OH MY GOD!! WOW!!
Carlos Condit def Matt Brown via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Interesting start to the fight as Condit comes out with elbows and straight shots, while Brown parries and throws some leg kicks. Brown shoots for a takedown and gets it against the cage, but scrapes his head against the cage on the way down that cuts him open. Brown controls the position on the ground and lands some good strikes, but Condit keeps moving and eventually is able to switch the position and ends the round on top. 10-9 Brown.
Second round starts faster and Brown continues to step forward. Both charge at the same time and Brown lands a sharp elbow straight down the middle that rocks Condit! He gets his wits about him and lands a strong body kick that has Brown breathing heavy. Condit steps forward with a combo but Brown avoids and then Condit with a flying leg sweep takedown to end up on top. Nice ground and pound from Condit in the top position. He looks to pass into a crucifix position but Brown defending well and the round ends. 19-19 going into the final round.
Final round starts with a big cup shot from Condit that pauses the fight again. Nice combo attempts from Condit before Brown shoots for the takedown against the cage. Condit is able to reverse the position and ends up on Brown’s back landing nice ground and pound and looking for a rear-naked choke but Brown continues to defend. Both men get back to their feet and Condit looks to dump Brown down again but he reverses and ends the round in top position with both guys trading blows. Great fight, 29-28 Condit for me.
Max Holloway def Calvin Kattar via Unanimous Decision (50-43 x2, 50-42)
Holloway comes out busy in the opening round with jabs, low kicks, straights and body shots as he looks to ascertain his dominance early on. Holloway throws a nice combo as Kattar is still trying to adjust his range. Nice jab from Kattar immediately reddens the face of Holloway, and then another one lands for good measure. Significant speed difference right now between Holloway and Kattar, with ‘Blessed’ dominating the exchanges. Spinning back kick to the body lands followed by a straight right by Holloway. First round was a clinic. 10-9 Holloway.
Fast start to the second round from Holloway again as he just constantly throws strikes and keeps it moving. More combos from Holloway land flush but Kattar eats it and keeps walking forward. Nice straight right from Kattar lands flush on the chin but Holloway doesn’t flinch and keeps coming. Nice strike from Holloway drops Kattar, but he gets back up quickly before Holloway can react. Another nice right hand from Kattar but Holloway keeps coming forward. Kattar throws a body kick but Holloway catches it and drops Kattar with a right hand. Huge elbow from Holloway rocks Kattar but he stays on his feet. Holloway pouring it on looking for the finish and lands two more huge elbows. Big head kick wobbles Kattar again and as Holloway charges the buzzer goes. Wow. 20-17 Holloway.
‘Blessed’ comes out quickly again in the third with good strikes and combos. Another big combo from Holloway forces Kattar to clinch but Holloway steps away again. Holloway swings for the elbow again but misses and Kattar replies with a massive uppercut! Big right hand again from Kattar forces Holloway backwards but he steps forward again and lands more combos. Big one-twos land again, Kattar wobbling every time he gets hit clean. Holloway is reading Kattar’s shots, slipping them, showboating and then firing back with his own. This in an unbelievable performance. 30-26 Holloway.
More of the same in this fourth round as Holloway is showing no signs of slowing up. Nice body shots from Holloway are starting to hurt Kattar bad. Big elbow from Holloway again and Kattar is rocked against the cage. Holloway throwing body shots, knees, elbows, straights, uppercuts and all sorts as Kattar just refuses to hit the floor. Body kicks, head kicks, leg kicks and more violent elbows from Holloway but the round goes the full five minutes. Unbelievable performance from Holloway. 40-34.
Final round and Holloway is picking Kattar apart. More punches, more body shots, more kicks and now he’s talking to Kattar. He side steps a Kattar right hand and screams at the commentary desk that he’s the best boxer in the UFC then dodges another punch without even looking. More shots as he continues to showboat for the most one-sided main event I may have ever seen. 50-42 Holloway.
The UFC is finally back after a month away and kicks off on Fight Island with an absolute belter headlined by Max Holloway taking on Calvin Kattar in the featherweight division.
Both men are looking to make a case for the next title shot with a win, and are accompanied on the card by two legends in Carlos Condit and Matt Brown in the co-main event. Knockout of the year winner Joaquin Buckley also returns to action on the main card, taking on Alessio Di Chirico.
Punahele Soriano (7-0) vs Dusko Todorovic (10-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Two unbeaten studs go head to head in the middleweight division in the main card opener. Soriano won his UFC debut in December 2019 with a big knockout win, while Todorovic stopped Dequan Townsend in October in his own debut.
Soriano is a decent wrestler, who uses those skills to throw big shots with his hands and take people’s heads off. Todorovic is very similar, but better when it comes to the striking game. If his opponent looks to defend the strikes, he takes the opportunity to land a takedown and control from the top with ground and pound.
It’s a really well matched up fight and while neither have got huge wins in the UFC on their resumé, Todorovic seems to have a slight edge in the striking and a bigger edge in the overall grappling so I expect he’ll take the decision win. PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Decision
Joaquin Buckley (12-3) vs Alessio Di Chirico (12-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Arguably the fighter who made the biggest impression among MMA fans from the unknown in 2020, Joaquin Buckley returns to the octagon to take on a fighter on a three-fight losing streak at middleweight.
Buckley went 2-1 in the UFC last year, and showed a fantastic striking game that saw him walk opponents down and fire off heavy shots. His chin was tested and failed against Kevin Holland, but stood well against Impa Kasanganay and Jordan Wright. Di Chirico is well rounded and enjoys the clinch aspect of the fight, but he’s out-gunned everywhere for me here.
‘New Mansa’ wants to start the year with a bang and I think he does it early in this one. PICK – Joaquin Buckley via Knockout, Round 1
Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3) vs Jingliang Li (17-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A return to the octagon for one of the highest rated welterweights in the company, as he steps into the cage for the first time since November 2018 to take on Jingliang Li.
Ponzinibbio is on a seven fight win streak, beating Neil Magny most recently, while Li lost his last fight in March 2020 to none other than Neil Magny. Ponzinibbio is a stunning striker who’s had so many injuries to his hands that we don’t know how this fight goes anymore. Li is a striker himself and has eight knockout wins in his career, but he is not on the level of a 100% Ponzinibbio.
Overhand strikes and powerful calf kicks, partnered up with super fast combinations is a devastating spell for Li. He’s never been knocked out, but he was dropped twice by Jake Matthews and if Ponzinibbio lands flush it could be night night. PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Carlos Condit (31-13) vs Matt Brown (22-17) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Co-main event time between two legendary welterweights. Carlos Condit was at one point considered the uncrowned champion, but had lost five in a row prior to his most recent fight – a win over Court McGee back in October. Brown has lost three of his last five, including his most recent fight when he got knocked out by Miguel Baeza.
Condit prefers to strike but is more than confident when it comes to grappling, while Brown leans more the opposite way. Stylistically the fight etches towards Condit, who has double digit wins in both knockouts and submissions throughout his career.
Both men are at the end of their careers in reality and the fight could go either way, but considering Brown’s last four defeats have all come via stoppage I think Condit gets it done with a submission following a knockdown. PICK – Carlos Condit via Submission, Round 2
Max Holloway (21-6) vs Calvin Kattar (22-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Both men are exceptional boxers and this fight will almost certainly take place exclusively on the feet, with Holloway using his footwork, jab and speed while Kattar looks to use his excellent jab and powerful hooks. Kattar is without doubt the more powerful fighter, but ‘Blessed’ has never been knocked down in his UFC career. He has out-struck every opponent he’s fought in recent memory barring Dustin Poirier during his brief stint at lightweight.
This is my pick for fight of the night and I think Holloway will be able to get it done. Kattar has never fought anyone as good as Holloway and won, while ‘Blessed’ has dispatched of fighters better than Kattar in the past with relative ease. Holloway will pick Kattar off as we go through five rounds and ease to a decision win. PICK – Max Holloway via Decision
As the UFC gear up for the first event of the calendar year, Max Holloway is preparing for his first non-title fight since 2016.
After winning the interim featherweight title against Anthony Pettis at UFC 206, ‘Blessed’ went on to defeat Jose Aldo twice and Brian Ortega in featherweight title fights too. Then came a brief move up to lightweight, where he fought Dustin Poirier in an interim title fight at 155lbs.
That fight seemingly started the end of the ‘Blessed’ era, with his cloak of invincibility pierced. He was well beaten in that fight by unanimous decision, with the power and size of Poirier proving too much to overcome.
He then returned to his natural featherweight division to defend his crown against Frankie Edgar, which he did in expert fashion. The performance was so good, it made it look like the previous defeat was simply down to the fact it wasn’t his natural weight class.
Then came fights against Alexander Volkanovski.
Holloway had established a catchphrase by this point that rung true in everyone’s ears; “to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and the best is Blessed.”
But when he came up against the Australian, that went out of the window. In their first fight he was comfortably beaten once more, with Volkanovski too powerful and too fast, chopping away at his lead leg and staying away from the striking war that Holloway wanted.
It means now that the Hawaiian, who was once seen as the greatest featherweight of all time, has lost three of his last four bouts.
Now as he prepares to enter the octagon againt Calvin Kattar at UFC Fight Island 7, he needs to get it back. That cloak of invincibility is pierced, but it’s not destroyed. He is still one of the very best mixed martial artists in the world and can beat anyone on his day.
It hasn’t been his day much recently, but the level of performance has still been there for the most part. Against Kattar though, he will be facing similar challenges as he did as a champion.
A hungry contender looking to make the step up, knowing that a win over the great Max Holloway puts them into title contention no matter how it comes.
Holloway is now among that chasing back, but with consecutive losses to his name he needs this win more than ever before. Another defeat will see him slump down the rankings and to many he will become just an after-thought.
At just 29-years-old, he is still in the absolute prime years but having been around for so long it’s possible that the mileage is catching him up.
To shut those haters down and end those thought processes, Holloway needs a win. Not just to prove to himself and others that he’s still one of the best, but to stay relevant in the conversation at the top of the featherweight division.