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UFC 220: Kattar v Burgos Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Island 7’s Calvin Kattar

Boxing specialist, Calvin Kattar, will battle former Featherweight strap-hanger, Max Holloway, this Saturday (Jan. 16, 2021) at UFC Fight Island 7 in “Fight Island” on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

For different reasons, both men are in difficult positions. Katter is that problematic mix of major talent and relatively low fame, which makes moving up the ladder difficult. He’s not an opponent elite Featherweights are rushing to call out, so instead Kattar finds himself facing foes just outside that group.

Holloway changes that. The former champion largely proved himself an equal to Alexander Volkanovski in their two fights, so putting the stamp on “Blessed” would really elevate Kattar’s notoriety and ranking.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


It has not taken long for Kattar to prove himself one of the sport’s finest boxers. His fundamentals are so clean: Kattar moves his feet smoothly while keeping his weight centered, manages range well, and ties together power punches with full extension better than the vast majority of his peers.

The jab is a primary weapon for Kattar. There’s just so much Kattar does correctly when talking about the jab. Once again, the mechanics are pretty perfect: Kattar tends to keep his hands tighter to his cheekbones than most MMA fighters, and his jab extends directly from his temple to his opponent’s nose without load or tell. It’s quick and punishing, both a weapon to prod opponents and set up future power shots.

UFC 220 At TD Garden Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In this section, I’m going to talk quite a bit about Kattar’s bout with Shane Burgos, an excellent fight that ranks highly among the best displays of MMA boxing. Despite both men excelling as punchers, their styles are very different: Kattar is fluid and rangy from the outside, whereas Burgos is a bruiser who stalks opponents, rips combinations, and counters brilliantly.

In short, Burgos has made a career from drawing the jab out and then ruthlessly countering with an overhand across the jab or slip a hook. Due to Kattar’s excellent mechanics, however, his jab landed frequently, and most of Burgos’ counters were intercepted by his shoulder touching his jawline or high defensive right hand.

Against both Burgos and Fili, Kattar found good success when exchanging jabs. When two men jab simultaneously, the man who squats down a bit lower and takes his head off the center line is almost definitely going to land the cleaner blow (GIF).

Aside from his mechanics, Kattar simply mixes it up well. He feints actively, will double up on the jab, and will occasionally stick a jab to the body. If his opponent starts parrying too much, Kattar will hook off the jab or fire a 3-2 to punish that trait and reopen the path for his jab to land.

Kattar is primarily a boxer, but he does kick. The right low kick and jab are a classic combination, and Kattar will occasionally mix a nice calf kick into his offense to off-balance an opponent. Against the stalking Burgos, Kattar also included some front kicks up the middle to make forward pressure with head movement more difficult (GIF).

Once Kattar has really established his range with the jab, he’ll build off it with the right hand. Like his jab, Kattar’s cross fires directly from his chin to target with little tell. As he grows more confident in the pocket, Kattar is more willing to slip his head off line and target the body as well (GIF).

Returning to the Burgos bout, “Hurricane” did not simply let Kattar jab him up. In the second round, Burgos stormed back into control by doubling down on his body shot counters and low kicks, which effectively slowed Kattar down. As a result, Burgos was more and more able to land combinations.

Fighting from the outside is exhausting, and Kattar realized between rounds that he could not continue trying to out-slick Burgos — who, again, is a very talented boxer himself. In the opening minute of the third round, Kattar shocked Burgos by taking the fight to him, really stepping deep into a right hand that wobbled Burgos. A pair of brilliantly timed uppercuts sealed the deal, but it was really a perfect adjustment from Kattar 10 minutes into a difficult fight (GIF).

UFC 223: Moicano v Kattar Photo by Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

It is not easy to rely so heavily on boxing fundamentals in MMA due to the threat of kicks and takedowns. In Kattar’s first UFC defeat, Moicano relentlessly ripped low kicks each and every time Kattar tried to step into the pocket. The low kick is a devastating counter to the jab, as a good jab exposes the lead leg. Before long, Kattar simply could not move well, and he was largely a sitting duck for future kicks and combinations.

It was a dominant performance from Moicano, but Kattar has since made adjustments. Ricardo Lamas has an excellent calf kick himself, and he tried to replicate Moicano’s success against Kattar. However, Kattar was ready for it, and he employed the smart strategy of showing punches to close distance before truly committing to his power shots (GIF). By refusing to initially commit his weight with a full step, Kattar was able to draw out kicks and counters. He still remained in position to fire, allowing him to then capitalize once the kick was less of a threat.

Jeremy Stephens also attempted to kick the crap out of Kattar’s leg and bomb him with punches. It worked well for most of the first round. By the second, however, Kattar felt more confident in his timing, and he was able to let loose combinations of kill shots. He stunned Stephens a bit with his right then read his advance, scoring a perfect counter elbow (GIF).


A talented high school wrestler, Kattar does most of his wrestling defensively. His biggest test in that realm has been Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Kattar really scrambled wonderfully. Whenever Zabit did time a shot or tricky trip well, Kattar was immediately turning away, fighting hands, and back pressuring his way back to his feet.

He spent very little time on his back opposite the smothering Dagestani.

UFC Fight Night 163 mixed martial arts event in Moscow Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

Defensively, Kattar really has a great striking game to deny takedowns. His high guard may make it a touch easy to get to his hips, but Kattar does not over-expose himself while punching at all. Plus, he does a nice job of switching directions and occasionally stances while moving, which increases the difficulty of timing a shot.

If Kattar is keeping his foe on the end of that ramrod jab, they’re unlikely to be able to setup a shot well.

Kattar’s only offensive takedowns inside the Octagon came in his debut opposite Fili, but they really don’t tell us a ton about his technique. In the first, Fili slipped while stepping along the cage, and Kattar smartly took advantage with a simply double-leg takedown along the fence. Later in the fight, a high kick from Fili partially connected with the foot, but Kattar was able to catch it on his shoulder and tip Fili over.

Opportunism is always a plus if nothing else!

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Kattar has spent almost no time grappling on the mat. He landed a few shots from within the guard of Fili before “Touchy” was able to stand. In their brief takedowns, neither Chris Fishgold nor Zabit were able to hold down Kattar long enough to force him to play guard or threaten a submission.


Kattar is a killer, a veteran with a well-defined strength that matches up well with just about anyone. This main event match up is an opportunity to step from fringe contender to immediate title threat; the semifinal rung of the ladder that has previously evaded Kattar’s grasp.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Island 7 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance at 3 p.m. ET on ABC (also on ESPN+).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Island 7: “Holloway vs. Kattar” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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