If one needs any more convincing that Calvin Kattar is a top-tier UFC fighter, perhaps it’s that his bout Saturday in Austin, Texas, against Josh Emmett will be his fourth consecutive main event and his fifth main event in his last six outings.
The lanky featherweight from Methuen, Massachusetts, has delivered, winning Fight of the Night in three of those main event appearances.
He’s been in the UFC for nearly five full years at this point and has developed a reputation as a fighter who is as tough as they come, as well as one who will accept all challengers.
There’s little upside for him to face Emmett, who is ranked seventh, three slots below him at 4. But with everyone above him busy — champion Alexander Volkanovski is going to meet No. 1 Max Holloway next month as are Nos. 2 and 3 Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez — Kattar doesn’t see it that way.
He’d prefer to be in a fight against a higher-ranked opponent who would help push him toward a title opportunity, but he knows that winning will make up for everything. Keep winning and eventually, something will break.
“It’s not hard [to fight opponents ranked behind me] when you only focus on what you can control,” Kattar told Yahoo Sports. “I can’t control all that. For me, it’s always been about focusing on what I can control. That’s how I work every day in my [training] sessions, then recovering, getting the right foods, and being ready to be my best on Saturday night. A win over Josh Emmett puts me a step closer.”
Kattar is coming off an impressive January victory over Giga Chikadze, in which Kattar nearly scored a late finish in a fast-paced brawl. It was his first fight since the beating he had taken a year earlier at the hands of Holloway.
Someone took a picture of Kattar and Chikadze at the hospital after their fight and their faces looked like they’d survived a high-speed head-on collision. It was a reminder of Kattar’s toughness and his ability to keep going no matter what he faces.
Emmett, too, has been one of the UFC’s most difficult fighters to finish. Emmett blew his knee out early in a fight with Shane Burgos and still went the distance in an amazing battle.
“That’s definitely going to make for a hell of a fight,” Kattar said, grinning. “You have two guys who can take a shot and know how to give one so I think the Austin fans are in for a good one.”
Emmett has a wrestling background, but also has heavy hands, having scored six knockouts among his 17 victories. He’s won four in a row, including an impressive victory over Dan Ige, and six of his last seven.
He poses a lot of problems but Kattar doesn’t worry about how he’ll deal with Emmett’s style.
He will go out and try to impose his style upon Emmett.
“He’s got power start to finish in the fight,” Kattar said. “He brings some wrestling to the table, so we’ll see how things go on fight night and what he presents as a threat and how he responds to what I bring to the table. That’s what a fight is and [you have to] see how it shakes out. But as far as what he’s good at, I’m going to try to make him respond to me rather than me reacting to him.”
Kattar, at nearly 6 feet, is tall for the division and his length and reach are problems for all of his opponents. He makes it difficult for them to get at their preferred distance because he’s frequently able to keep them farther out than they’d prefer.
He’s got the frame of a lightweight which he’s squeezing into a featherweight’s body, but there is science that goes into that. He’ll make 146 on Friday but then by fight night, will rehydrate up to around 165 pounds.
“I like it,” he said of his reach and length advantages he has over most opponents. “But part of that is being able to do the weight cut properly, which I believe we’ve done great at this point. It’s just understanding how to do the weight cut and then using that to our advantage with the reach.
“A guy like Josh is a big, stocky guy but I have some reach on him. We’ll see how it plays out, but I’ll try to keep him at bay. But if he comes inside, we have something for that, too. There’s a lot of ways this one could go, but all of them I see ending with my hand raised.”