The last time it was this easy for Calvin Kattar was in 2008, when mixed martial arts made its debut on network television with a card headlined by the late Kimbo Slice on CBS.
Kattar suffered his first professional defeat on that card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, getting submitted by James Jones at 4:49 of the first round.
Now, more than a dozen years later, it’s a very different Kattar who is now headlining the first UFC bout on network television in more than two years when he meets Max Holloway on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC) in Abu Dhabi.
The fight, which UFC president Dana White said will give the winner a shot at the featherweight title, will air on ABC. It’s the first UFC card on network television since the final UFC on Fox show on Dec. 15, 2018, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“I’m excited about this one, mainly because anytime I tell my family that’s over the age of 30, tell them how to tune in to watch the fight on ESPN+ streaming it, it’s been tough,” Kattar told Yahoo Sports, grinning. “But ABC, they all understand.”
And they also can understand the significance of his bout with Holloway, a former featherweight champion who is widely regarded as the greatest fighter in the division’s history.
Holloway lost back-to-back close title fights to Alexander Volkanovski, whom White said will defend his title against Brian Ortega sometime in the first quarter of this year. White told Yahoo Sports that the Holloway-Kattar winner would become the next challenger for the Volkanovski-Ortega winner.
This is clearly the biggest fight of Kattar’s life. He knows the significance of a win over Holloway, who has lost his last two and three of his last four.
Those losses, though, mean little to Kattar.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve seen a decline,” Kattar said. “He’s fighting the best guys in the world. [Expletive] happens. They were closely contested fights and he was in a lot of them definitely until the ending bell. He wasn’t finished.
“It’s Max Holloway. You know what you’re going to get. It’s going to be an exciting fight. Being the first fight on ABC, I think this one is definitely going to deliver for the fans.”
Kattar is ranked sixth in the deep featherweight division and is 22-4 overall and 6-2 in the UFC. He has wins over Dan Ige, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas, Chris Fishgold, Shane Burgos and Andre Fili, so he’s been in tough matches throughout his time in the UFC.
Despite everything he’s done, this fight is potentially a life-changer for him. Beating Holloway will put him into the top five and will get him into the championship mix, which is where the real money is in the UFC.
He knows that, so he fights with the pressure of knowing that his personal fortunes will change dramatically with a victory. He called himself “a broke fighter” for most of his career and said he’s trying to earn back pay by defeating Holloway.
“I’m just chasing the life on the other side of a win over Max Holloway,” Kattar said. “[A win] would afford myself, my family, my team better living conditions, more money, more influence, more everything. We joke and say that the same bottle of water tastes better off a win than a loss, so I just want the finer things that come with a win over Max Holloway.
“I also get the opportunity to prove I am one of the best in the division and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Kattar turned pro in 2007 and has withstood the rigors of one of the most difficult lives an athlete can imagine fairly well. While fighting the elite fighters he has faced is a tough task, he said he believes he’s just coming into his own.
It couldn’t happen at a better time for him.
“Now more than ever, I’ve been trained smarter, and it’s been about longevity,” Kattar said. “I’m training the right way with the right people, so if anything, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface [of my abilities]. I can go longer than I thought possible because of the people around me. I’ve got a great team and I’m confident stepping in there with the best guys in the world knowing that I have the right team around me.”
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