The UFC’s debut on ABC this Saturday from Fight Island in Abu Dhabi marks its return to network television. The 3 p.m. ET main card broadcast comes a little over two years since the final Fox-aired event on Dec. 15, 2018.
Mixed martial arts doesn’t have a long history with the big four networks, with the first primetime-aired event coming not from the UFC, but the now-defunct EliteXC on May 31, 2008 and headlined by the former YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice.
Why the history lesson? It’s because Calvin Kattar, one half of Saturday’s main event in the octagon, was a 20-year-old prospect on the online-aired preliminary bouts the night Slice, who died at age 42 in 2016, drew a peak of 6.51 million viewers to CBS.
Kattar’s career truly has come full circle in the last 12 ½ years as he prepares to face Max Holloway in a five-round, non-title fight at featherweight. The Methuen, Massachusetts native appreciates participating in these historic events in the sport’s young history.
“It was a cool opportunity,” Kattar, now 32, told The Post in a phone interview last week. “… Lot of growing pains back then. [I] learned a lot, and since then it’s been a long road. But fast forward now [and] we’re fighting on ABC, it’s pretty wild to now be the first main event on live television. It’s a pretty cool checkpoint.”
It has been a steady ascent for Kattar (22-4, 13 finishes) from a prelim fighter suffering his first career loss to James Jones at that EliteXC event to the main stage of network television, competing for eyeballs with the first half of the Rams-Packers NFL Divisional Round playoff matchup. He bounced back from that submission defeat to go 13-1 at lightweight and featherweight in New England-based regional promotions. He sported a 16-2 record in 10 years of pro experience when he made a successful UFC debut in 2017 with a decision win over Andre Fili.
Despite a strong strength of schedule, Kattar has gone 6-2 in the octagon and won both of his fights in 2020, the most recent at Fight Island on July 16 over Dan Ige in a clear five-round unanimous decision, 49-46, 49-46, 48-47. The victory opened the door for the opportunity to take on former featherweight champion Holloway, who dropped a close split-decision victory to current champ Alexander Volkanovski in a rematch just four days before Kattar’s last bout.
Opinions in the MMA community are split on whether Holloway (21-6, 12 finishes) did enough to deserve the victory. Kattar believed Holloway did enough to win when he watched it live. With his opponent still considered the top-ranked contender at 145 pounds, he sees this as an opportunity to make himself a no-brainer choice to challenge Volkanovski next for the belt.
“And I had said prior to even getting this fight that, these guys [Volkanovski and Holloway fighting twice in a row], the division was at a standstill,” Kattar said. “I just need to think that the No. 5 guy beating the No. 4 guy or the [No.] 4 guy beating the [No.] 3 guy, I don’t think that yields a title fight.
“I think that anybody that wanted a title fight should have to go through Max Holloway, considering some people still think he’s the champ. And lucky for me, I have that opportunity in front of me, so I think it’s only right that, after beating the No. 1 guy, the champ is next, definitely.”
Kattar respects the 29-year-old Holloway as “a true champion, man, inside and outside the octagon” for both the way he fights and the way he carries himself. And especially for the caliber of fighter Holloway has proved to be over nearly nine years in the UFC, a victory over the former champ means more to him than sporting the belt because “gold’s nice, man, but we’re always in there to test our mettle.”
“Any time you get a win over Max, belt or not, it puts you [on] a small list of guys [who] are some of the best in the world,” Kattar said. “Max is one of the GOATs (greatest of all time) in the featherweight division. A win over him is almost sweeter than even going to get that belt.”