MAX HOLLOWAY VS. CALVIN KATTAR
Why not close out the first fight card of the new year with a certified banger?
For the first time in more than five years, Max Holloway will step into the Octagon without UFC gold on the line as the former featherweight champion squares off with hard-charging contender Calvin Kattar in a bout that could determine the next title challenger in the 145-pound weight class.
“Blessed” won the interim featherweight belt at the end of 2016, unified the titles in the summer of 2017, and reigned over the division until the close of 2019, when he was unseated by Alexander Volkanovski. The two ran things back last summer on Fight Island and the sequel was even closer than the original, with the champ edging out the challenger by split decision and sending Holloway into 2021 on his first two-fight slide since 2013.
Kattar returns to Abu Dhabi trending in the opposite direction after rebounding from his decision loss to Zabit Magomedsharipov in November 2019 with a pair of impressive victories last year. First up, the New England Cartel member picked apart Jeremy Stephens, laying out the long-time divisional stalwart with a nasty step-in elbow midway through the second round before following up that effort with a technical, polished, unanimous decision triumph over Dan Ige in July.
There are obvious title ramifications to this fight, as well as an opportunity to get answers to the questions that linger as they ready to make the walk to the Octagon for the first time this year.
Are the years of battles at the highest level starting to wear on Holloway? Can Kattar secure the marquee win he needs to cement himself as a title contender? And will the 2021 fight calendar commence with a Fight of the Year contender?
Tune in Saturday on ABC to get your answers.
Holloway vs Kattar: Main Event Preview
Holloway vs Kattar: Main Event Preview
A bout between veteran welterweights that has been booked twice before and never materialized is finally going to happen as “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit and Matt “The Immortal” Brown will throw down this weekend.
Condit ended a nearly two-year hiatus in October, returning to the Octagon and the win column with a unanimous decision victory over Court McGee, snapping a five-fight losing streak that stretched all the way back to his UFC 195 title fight loss to Robbie Lawler. The former interim champion and WEC titleholder looked sharp and engaged, taking the best McGee had to offer and responding in kind en route to a sweep of the scorecards.
Brown ended a two-year hiatus the previous year, returning at UFC 245 to collect a second-round stoppage win over Ben Saunders, but wasn’t as fortunate in 2020. After rocking youngster Miguel Baeza early in their May clash in Jacksonville, the former Ultimate Fighter contestant landed on the wrong side of a rally, as the promising newcomer regained his wits, turned the tables in the second half of the first round, and earned the finish 18 seconds into the middle stanza.
While their days as title contenders are certainly behind them, both of these veterans have made a career of delivering entertaining fights each and every time they grace the Octagon, and no one should expect any different this weekend.
A returning contender looks to re-establish his place in the welterweight pecking order on Saturday as Santiago Ponzinibbio makes his first appearance since the end of 2018 in a clash with Chinese stalwart Li Jingliang.
The 34-year-old Ponzinibbio hasn’t fought since earning a fourth-round stoppage win over Neil Magny on November 17, 2018, a victory that pushed his winning streak to seven. The Argentinian has faced numerous medical hurdles since then but is finally healthy and eager to continue his march towards the top of the division.
Li also hasn’t fought since facing Neil Magny, but that came last March at UFC 248, when the veteran landed on the wrong side of the cards against the durable Elevation Fight Team member. The loss snapped a three-fight winning streak for “The Leech,” who has won seven of his last nine bouts and is beginning his eighth year on the UFC roster.
This is an incredibly compelling and critical fight in the 170-pound weight class as Ponzinibbio was in the thick of the title chase before encountering his various medical issues and could be an immediate dark horse contender in the division if he adds an eighth consecutive victory to his resume this weekend.
That said, Li has made considerable strides over the last couple years and entered his UFC 248 bout with Magny as the betting favorite, so a return to the win column and an impressive outing against the “Argentine Dagger” could quickly get him moving in the right direction again.
Joaquin Buckley: The Kick Heard Around The World
Joaquin Buckley: The Kick Heard Around The World
Following a breakout rookie year, Joaquin Buckley looks to kick off his sophomore campaign inside the Octagon with a third straight victory as he takes on Italian tough out Alessio Di Chirico.
Buckley made his promotional debut on short notice last August, stepping in against Kevin Holland nine days after registering a second-round finish under the LFA banner, eventually getting stopped early in the third round. But the 26-year-old showed what he’s really capable of in his next two outings, delivering the Knockout of the Year in a win over Impa Kasanganay and following it up with another devastating finish against Jordan Wright six weeks later.
Where Buckley comes in riding high, Di Chirico enters from the opposite side of things, having dropped three straight, all by decision. The 31-year-old from Rome has continually shown improvements each time out and each of his recent setbacks have been closer, more competitive fights than the words “unanimous decision” conjures up.
Can Buckley continue his rise up the middleweight ranks, or will Di Chirico halt his momentum while breaking out of his slump?
It’s a battle of undefeated members of the Contender Series graduating class of 2019 as Punahele Soriano and Dusko Todorovic go toe-to-toe to see who’s “0” will go.
The 28-year-old Soriano, who trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, punched his ticket to the UFC with a hard-fought win over Jamie Pickett on the first episode of the third season of the summer talent search, then followed it up with an emphatic first-round stoppage win over Oskar Piechota in his promotional debut at UFC 245. He was forced to withdraw from a pair of bookings last year but is now ready to make the walk to the Octagon in search of his eighth straight victory.
While Soriano was part of the first Contender Series event of 2019, Todorovic earned the final victory and final contract on Season 3, out-hustling Canadian veteran Teddy Ash to secure his spot on the UFC roster. After missing out on the chance to face John Phillips last summer, opening the door for the arrival of Khamzat Chimaev, the 26-year-old Serbian pushed his record to 10-0 with a second-round stoppage win over Dequan Townsend in October.
Both of these middleweights have shown flashes of potential, impressive power, and sound finishing instincts early in their UFC careers, and it will be interesting to see which of them takes another step forward with a victory on Saturday.
Emerging middleweights with identical 9-2 records and each coming off impressive performances in their respective debuts collide as Contender Series grad Phillip Hawes squares off with Nassourdine Imavov in a compelling preliminary card clash.
The 31-year-old Hawes made good on his second appearance on the Contender Series last summer, collecting a contract with a first-round stoppage win over Khadzi Bestaev to push his winning streak to four. Seven weeks later, the former prospect announced his presence as one to watch in the UFC middleweight ranks with an 18-second knockout win over Jacob Malkoun in his promotional debut.
Imavov was scheduled to appear on the last season of the Contender Series but was forced to withdraw from his bout against Gregory Rodrigues. He was replaced by Jordan Williams, who blasted his way through the Brazilian to earn a contract, then ventured to Abu Dhabi to face — you guessed it — Imavov in their joint debuts. The 24-year-old rallied from a slow start to outwork Williams and earn a clean sweep of the scorecards.
Middleweight has been undergoing major renovations for the last couple years and while that work continues, there are opportunities for upstarts like Hawes and Imavov to quickly work their way up the divisional ranks. Another strong performance from either man will further elevate their profile and set them up for another step up in competition later this year.
Bantamweight Wu Yanan looks to establish herself as the latest emerging talent from China to make waves in the UFC as she gets an early start to her 2021 campaign in this clash with Panamanian newcomer Joselyne Edwards.
“Mulan” has made the trek into the Octagon three times in her career, competing once in each of 2017, 2018, and 2019, sandwiching a victory over Lauren Mueller between losses to Gina Mazany and Mizuki. This weekend’s engagement marks a return to the bantamweight division after a two-fight departure to flyweight, and it will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments and improvements the young Chinese fighter has made after a year away from competition.
Edwards replaces Brazilian veteran Bethe Correia, who was forced from the pairing due to an emergency appendectomy last week. The 25-year-old battled recent Contender Series graduate and UFC newcomer Sarah Alpar to a split decision loss in late 2018 and returned for the first time since then to register a first-round stoppage victory in her most recent appearance during the summer.
Can Wu kick off her fourth year on the UFC roster with an emphatic victory or will Edwards make the most of this short-notice opportunity and secure a win in her promotional debut?
The first of four intriguing middleweight contests to hit the Octagon on Saturday features veteran stalwart Omari Akhmedov facing off British up-and-comer Tom Breese.
Akhmedov parlayed a six-fight unbeaten streak into the biggest opportunity of his career in 2020 — a showdown with former middleweight champ Chris Weidman. Though he landed on the wrong side of the results, it was the kind of performance that solidified the 33-year-old as a tough out in the lower third of the Top 15 and a dangerous potential foe for anyone looking to work their way into the middleweight rankings.
Breese made his first appearance in nearly two years in February, but ran into a driven Brendan Allen, resulting in the first stoppage loss of his career. But the Birmingham native returned to the Octagon in October and showed why he was once considered one of the top prospects in the sport, bouncing KB Bhullar from the ranks of the unbeaten with swift, powerful strikes in less than two minutes.
As previously mentioned, the 185-pound weight class has been a sea of constant change over the last couple years and Breese has a chance to take a major step forward with a second consecutive victory this weekend. But Akhmedov is a savvy, seasoned hand with designs on getting back into the win column and restarting his own climb towards contention.
Heavyweight neophytes with identical 1-1 records inside the Octagon and a shared opponent meet in this potential slugfest as Carlos Felipe takes on Justin Tafa.
After serving a two-year suspension for a USADA violation, Felipe finally made his promotional debut in July, landing on the wrong side of a majority decision loss against Serghei Spivac. He returned to action less than three months later and looked much better, registering a unanimous decision win over Yorgan De Castro to push his record to 9-1 heading into 2021.
Tafa made his promotional debut at UFC 243 in Melbourne, eating a counter right hand from De Castro as he raced forward early in the opening round that put him on the deck. The 27-year-old “Bad Man” returned for his sophomore appearance in the Octagon in February, dispatching Juan Adams with a torrent of punches in a tick under two minutes to collect his first UFC triumph.
Both men throw everything with vicious intent and neither man is particularly fond of taking a backwards step, so Saturday night’s lone heavyweight contest has the potential to be an explosive affair that ends with a bang.
Veteran welterweights kick off their 2021 campaign inside the Octagon as David Zawada and Ramazan Emeev face off in the first UFC bout of the new year.
The 30-year-old German gave a very strong accounting for himself in his short-notice promotional debut against Danny Roberts in the summer of 2017, only to get folded over by a fierce body kick from Li Jingliang in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon four months later. He rebounded nicely with a slick first-round submission win over Abubakar Nurmagomedov in November 2019 before an event cancellation and an opponent withdrawal left him on the sidelines for the whole of last year.
Emeev had his lengthy winning streak snapped at the tail end of 2019 by Anthony Rocco Martin, but made an expedient return to the win column last summer, out-hustling Niklas Stolze on Fight Island at the end of July to pick up his 19th career victory. Now 4-1 in the UFC, the 33-year-old can push closer to the Top 15 with another victory on Saturday night.
The welterweight division has always been one of the deepest in the sport and remains so this year, with Zawada and Emeev currently residing in the vast middle tier in the talent-rich weight class. Both are skilled, well-rounded fighters, so the opening bout of 2021 should get this event and the year ahead off to a quality start.
Canadian Sarah Moras looks to make her second trip to Abu Dhabi as she squares off with Brazilian Vanessa Melo in this bantamweight matchup.
“Cheesecake” snapped a three-fight slide in the fall of 2019 when she tapped out Liana Jojua in the third round of their clash at UFC 242. She returned to the Octagon last May in Jacksonville, Florida, dropping a decision to Sijara Eubanks, and hopes a return to the Middle East will bring a return to the win column on Saturday.
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After arriving in the UFC on a five-fight winning streak, it has been tough sledding inside the Octagon for Melo, who enters weekend’s clash with bout with Moras having dropped three straight decisions. She’s back at bantamweight after a two-fight departure to flyweight, where she failed to make weight each time, and will look to regain the form that produced seven victories in eight starts, including a unanimous decision win over Molly McCann, prior to reaching the UFC.
This is a crucial bout for both women and should be a spirited affair from the outset as they each work to start the new year with a much-needed victory.
Featherweights angling to start 2021 by rebounding from losses in their UFC debuts clash in Abu Dhabi, as Jacob Kilburn faces off with Austin Lingo in preliminary card action.
A 6-1 run on the regional circuit landed Kilburn a look on Season 2 of the Contender Series, where he was submitted in the second round by Bobby Moffett. Twin stoppage wins made him a candidate for a short notice call up at the end of 2019, but once again, Kilburn suffered a submission loss. Now back for the first time in more than a year and benefitting from a full training camp, the 25-year-old “Killer” hopes to come away with his first UFC victory.
Posting a series of first-round stoppage wins under the LFA banner and representing Fortis MMA earned Lingo a call-up to the UFC last February, where he squared off with fellow newcomer and prospect Youssef Zalal. Lingo never found a rhythm and had little to offer “The Moroccan Devil,” resulting in the 26-year-old collecting the first loss of his career, but after nearly a year in the lab with head coach Sayif Saud, “Lights Out” is seeking to get back into the win column this weekend.
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