Travis Lizotte "Full Contact Writer"
It's been nearly a year to the day since New England MMA fans watched with baited breathe as New England Cartel Featherweight; Calvin "The Boston Finisher" Kattar (22-5, #5 Ranked UFC Featherweight) stood toe-to-toe with arguably the best Featherweight fighter in UFC history; Max "Blessed" Holloway (23-6) in their main event slot on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. After five of the most grueling rounds imaginable, Kattar absorbed an unheard of 445 significant strikes from the Former Champion but remained standing for the duration of their 25 minute, Fight of the Night performance. Saddled with a lop-sided result on the judges scorecards and a six month medical suspension that took Kattar well into the summer of 2021, his New England Cartel team, led by Head Coach Tyson Chartier wasted little time learning from their 25 minutes with Holloway and addressing holes the Former Champion was able to exploit.
Now at the tail end of an arduous thirteen week fight camp, Kattar and his Cartel teammates are in Las Vegas, ready to show the World that they are still very much in the running for a shot at the UFC Featherweight belt, currently held by Australian Alexander " The Great" Volkanovski (23-1).
Methuen's Kattar is set to headline the first UFC fight card of the New Year, for the second consecutive year, this Saturday night when he meets fast rising Georgian Kick Boxer; Giga "Ninja" Chikadze (14-2, #8 Ranked UFC Featherweight). Winner of his last 9 contests, and a perfect 7-0 inside the UFC Octagon. Kings MMA's (Huntington Beach, California) Chikadze is on a current streak that includes knockout finishes of Jamey Simmons, Cub Sawnson and Edson Barboza in succession to earn himself a spot inside the UFC's top ten Featherweight Contenders. The former GLORY kickboxer, Chikadze, has earned a reputation for unleashing what could be the most devastating arsenal of kicks currently employed on the UFC's roster.
The kicking game, which often disrupts the flow and gameplan of a pure MMA Boxer like Calvin Kattar, was undoubtedly a focal point in camp for head coach Tyson Chartier, who brought six-time Karate World Champion and 2021 Combat Karate "Rookie of the Season;" Ross "Turbo" Levine into the tight knit Cartel camp to emulate the heavy kicking offense of Giga Chikadze. Native of Brooklyn, New York; Levine has been a mainstay on the Northeast Combat Sports scene for years, making him an obvious addition to the Kattar fight camp, as the team formulated their gameplan to combat the kicking prowess of the streaking "Ninja" Chikadze.
Although Kattar comes into this matchup three spots above Chikadze in the UFC Featherweight rankings, Kattar remains between a +195-+200 betting underdog, depending on your sport bookie of choice, heading into the first UFC card of the year Saturday night. Now, I've never been a betting man but I get it; it's hard to not favor the guy who is a perfect seven for seven in Octagon appearances and seems to get better every time out. But what I believe will ultimately determine the outcome of this fight are the intangibles; as Kattar enters the Octagon for the 10th time Saturday night, his experience inside the cage should prove to be invaluable.
It's common lingo within the combat sports community that a fighter learns far more about his or herself in a losing effort, than from a winning performance, and no team seems to exemplify that sentiment more than Chartier's New England Cartel. Don't believe me? Take a look at their resumes; both Calvin Kattar (9 UFC fights) and Cartel teammate Rob Font (13 UFC fights) have enjoyed very successful runs with the UFC without ever suffering back to back losses. That is due in large part to an inward looking leader; Tyson Chartier, that has quickly become one of the sports most successful head coaches. Chartier holds his fighters accountable for being the best versions of themselves, Calvin and Rob are World Class fighters and athletes; if preparations allow them to enter the cage the best version of themselves, their abilities will allow them to compete with anyone on the planet.
A loss where you absorb the kind of damage Kattar suffered at the hands of one of the greatest to ever do it in Max Holloway, comes with its share of learning experiences and offers plenty to be critical of, but one thing you cannot be critical of is Kattar's ability to evolve as a fighter. There is no doubt in my mind, that another year of athletic maturity and constant effort to improve will have Kattar looking every bit the part of a Featherweight title contender when the pin drops Saturday night in the Vegas desert. And if for some reason Kattar's "intangibles" didn't make the flight to Vegas or are experiencing jet lag, there is always that jab to pair with some of the best boxing in the Featherweight division to help close the gap.
UFC Fight Night Kattar vs. Chikadze streams live worldwide on ESPN+ Saturday afternoon beginning at 4 pm Eastern from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada with eleven fights on the docket, culminating with the five round main event between New England Featherweight Calvin Kattar and Georgia's Giga Chikadze.
Some interesting late news to add to this story of New England MMA relevance...Wednesday afternoon via social media we learned that the Featherweight bout between "Downtown" TJ Brown (15-8, Cage Titans 36 Alum vs. Peter Barrett) and Garbiel "Moggly" Benitez (22-9) had been scratched as Benitez had tested positive for Covid. Later we learned that New England MMA veteran Charles "Boston Strong" Rosa (14-6, 5-6 UFC) had stepped up to take the fight against Brown on just three days notice. Due to the close proximity of the event, this fight will now be contested in the Lightweight division and don't worry Charles Rosa fans; Charles announced on his personal Facebook account that the Brown fight would be the first of a freshly inked four fight deal with his most recent employer; the UFC.
News continues to break surrounding this card and once again it involves another fighter with New England MMA ties. As I alluded to in a winter MMA forecast article in December; former CES MMA Bantamweight, New York native, Brian "Boom" Kelleher (23-12 defeated Andre Soukhamthath by Decision at CES 28 back in 2015) will make his thirteenth walk to the UFC's Octagon in search of his eighth promotional victory. Kelleher was set to throwdown with 26 year old Uzbekistan native, Siadyokub Kakhramonov (9-2, 1-0 UFC) this Saturday. News Wednesday night has Kakhramonov out of that matchup, stepping in; former CES Featherweight Title Challenger Kevin "Crash" Croom (21-13, challenged Matt Bessette at CES 41). Now back when I knew Croom, we called him "The Hard Hitting Hillbilly" and to this day I have paid witness to several thousand MMA fights within the region and not one did I enjoy more than Bessette vs. Croom at CES 41. Croom has had a lasting impression on me since that fight, so I for one am ecstatic about this late evolving matchup. For those New England MMA fans who have waited long enough for the UFC to return to action following the holidays, it's happening this Saturday at the UFC apex, and this card has become littered with New England MMA veterans!