Slick boxer, Calvin Kattar, and ground specialist, Dan Ige, will go to war this Wednesday (July 15, 2020) at UFC on ESPN 13 inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Man, this fight is going to be fun. Both of these men could easily be considered dark horse contenders, largely because they’re relatively new faces to UFC’s roster. For example, Kattar dove straight into the deep end of the Featherweight division in 2017, but he’s consistently impressed against some of the best fighters in the world. At almost the exact same time as Kattar’s debut, Ige picked up a win on “Contender Series.” He has since surged into the official ranks, having won six straight bouts against increasingly tough opposition.
Both of these men have aggression, skill, and real finishing instinct. Let’s take a closer look at their skill sets:
In just seven UFC fights, Kattar has built a real case for himself as the division’s best boxer. His punching mechanics are simply better than the vast majority of his peers. Kattar spends a lot of time picking off his opponents with the jab and rangy counters, but when “The Boston Finisher” does step forward with a fully committed one-two combination or hook-cross, he’s able to throw with real power thanks to his excellent form.
Let’s first take it back to the jab, however, which is a signature weapon of 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 mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, and his jab extends directly from his temple to his opponent’s nose with no load or tell. It’s quick and punishing, both a weapon to prod opponents and set up future power shots.
Against Shane Burgos, Kattar put on an incredible display of MMA boxing. 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 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).
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).
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).
Dan Ige is no technical sniper like Kattar. However, the Hawaiian is very much a scrapper, capable of throwing hard punches and kicks to help set up his takedowns.
Ige’s kickboxing really isn’t overly complicated. He’s able to trade well in the pocket with tight hooks, and he’ll go body-head with his combinations. In the pocket, Ige does a nice job of keeping his weight low, which definitely helps him transfer power during his combinations. Between the left hook, left uppercut, and cross/overhand, Ige can put together some real dangerous combos.
Perhaps Ige’s best kickboxing performance came against Kevin Aguilar, a solid counter puncher/brawler. Ige ripped the body often, both with punches and by firing a hard left switch kick after his cross. If Aguilar stayed in range after the punching exchanges, “50k” would latch onto the double-collar tie and start throwing knees.
Against an opponent less willing to trade in the pocket like Edson Barboza, Ige is plenty willing to grit his teeth and lunge forward. It wasn’t necessarily technical, but Ige did land some solid shots by rushing Barboza with extended combinations. It wasn’t purely athleticism either, as Ige did mix in some stance shifts and double up on punches to help cover that extended distance.
A Division II wrestler with a Judo brown belt, Ige has proven himself very the talented MMA wrestler.
As explained just a moment ago, Ige is either trading in the pocket or lunging forward with threatening power shots. Either way, those are excellent setups for the double leg! Ige is a fairly short Featherweight whose stance keeps him low to the ground, two factors which further make driving through a shot on the hips more effective.
Ige is willing to duck under a punch and knock his foe clean off his feet, but he tends to like to wrestle along the fence. From that position, he’s quite good at connecting his hands and finishing the shot with a lift. Alternatively, if his opponent manages to pull him up to the waist, Ige’s Judo experience seems quite handy for yanking his foe over the knee or switching directions with a trip.
Kattar, meanwhile, 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.
The Dagestani athlete was never able to control Kattar for long.
Ige is a jiu-jitsu black belt with five victories via tapout. At the UFC level, all of Ige’s stoppages have come from the back mount position.
Ige’s dominance from the back mount position can be credited to both his jiu-jitsu and wrestling experience. When Ige does manage to sink in the hooks, he really excels at flattening his opponents out. There’s a bit of an art to switching off to wrist control and applying hip pressure to break an opponent’s posture.
Once an opponent is fully flattened out, it still takes a bit of know-how to maintain that hip pressure while attacking with hands, regardless of whether it’s a choke or punches. Ige has all these elements mastered, as he’s quick to flatten his foes then really locks in the position.
It’s really a worst-case scenario in MMA, and Ige makes a habit of capitalizing on that position.
Meanwhile, Kattar has spent almost no time grappling inside the Octagon, and his most recently submission came in 2009. If anyone actually holds him down, perhaps we’ll learn something about his jiu-jitsu skill?
After Max Holloway’s near-miss at recapturing the title, the Featherweight division is in a confusing state. Will there be a rubber match? Contenders like “Korean Zombie,” Zabit and Josh Emmett are all in the title mix. There’s no clear next move, so each of these contenders could make a huge leap forward with an impressive win.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 13 fight card this week, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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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.