Heavy-handed boxer, Calvin Kattar, will duel with fellow knockout artist, Josh Emmett, this Saturday (June 18, 2022) at UFC Austin inside Texas’ Moody Center.
There was significant concern regarding Kattar after the Max Holloway loss. The Boston-native showcased a ton of toughness in that main event loss, but he was also battered for five full rounds, breaking punch counts with his face. That’s the type of loss that can completely derail a fighter’s health, let alone their career and confidence.
Fortunately, Kattar passed all tests with flying colors versus Giga Chikadze. Switching from boxer to elbow connoisseur, Kattar carved his opponent to pieces and retained his position in the Top 5 in great style. Now, he’ll face another dangerous striker, and perhaps another win here would allow him back into the title mix.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
As Kattar’s rebound win proved, getting speed-bagged by Holloway and being a tremendous mixed martial arts (MMA) striker are not mutually exclusive.
The jab is a primary weapon for Kattar. There’s just so much Kattar does correctly when talking about the jab. 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.
Perhaps Kattar’s best display of MMA boxing came opposite Shane Burgos, a skilled pugilist in his own right. 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 fires sharp counters.
In short, Burgos has made a career from drawing the jab out and then countering with an overhand across the jab or slip a hook. Because of 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 Andre 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 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).
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.
Often, when an MMA fighter takes on an opponent with a superior pure striking background, the oft-repeated advice is to “make it an MMA fight.” What the f—k does that even mean? Well, Kattar actually provided us an excellent example opposite Chikadze.
Kattar did a number of things well opposite the professional kickboxer. When Chikadze slipped on a kick, for example, Kattar urgently jumped on him and forced him to wrestle (GIF). That’s a very MMA tactic, where simple slips are far more costly than when a referee intervenes.
Momentary top control aside, Chikadze actually did quite well early. However, Kattar was smart, and he recognized that Chikadze has an energy intensive style. He punched a hole in that gas tank further by applying consistent pressure to the kickboxer, forcing him to fight from his back foot.
Five minute rounds are exhausting. So are wrestling exchanges, power kicks, and pressuring opponents! Kattar wore Chikadze down with all of the above, and suddenly, the distance between the two wasn’t quite so great. That’s when Kattar really opened up with his combinations, stringing together beautiful elbows and knees into his already formidable boxing (GIF).
Once the momentum shifted, Kattar ran with it.
Lastly, Kattar’s loss to Holloway did really highlight his preference for maintaining a high guard and covering up when his opponents attack. That sounds like a safe enough strategy on paper, but as the “Blessed” fight demonstrated, it does little to deter an offensive opponent. Plus, it’s hard to fully cover up in MMA gloves, meaning Holloway was consistently finding openings or at least partially landing.
Once Holloway gains an inch on the volume game, he takes a full mile. Kattar found out the hard way, but that doesn’t mean every other Featherweight will suddenly be able to easily box him up.
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.
Overall, 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.
Previous to the Chikadze bout, 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.
Finally, we saw a bit of Kattar’s grappling in the Chikadze bout.
It was only a small sample, but Kattar really transitioned well when Chikadze tried to explode out bottom position. Chikadze did well to buck his hips from bottom half-guard, and he successfully rolled Kattar over. However, as he was being swept, Kattar latched onto an arm-triangle choke. Immediately, he started scooting around Chikadze, working his way toward the back.
When it became clear that the choke itself wasn’t happening, Kattar let go and transitioned to seatbelt grip, securing the back mount (GIF).
As the Featherweight division awaits Volkanovski vs. Holloway 3, there is no clear-cut next contender in line, regardless of how that trilogy is resolved. If Kattar can turn away Emmett — a man few Featherweights are excited about fighting — it will put him in excellent position as the Featherweight title picture shakes out.
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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