Much can change in the span of a year for the life and career of a mixed martial artist, especially in a sport where fortune and opportunity so often favors the bold.
Very few have come to know that as well as Dan Ige (14-2) who, despite quietly building an impressive win streak, wasn't a name often mentioned 12 months ago within discussions about the top-10 featherweight fighters in the UFC. Entering Wednesday night's headlining role at UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi, the 28-year-old native of Hawaii is suddenly among the hottest fighters in the 145-pound division.
Ige, ranked the No. 10 featherweight by UFC, will get his close up against No. 7 Calvin Kattar inside the Flash Forum on Yas Island (a.k.a Fight Island) in a fight intended to shake things up within the overall title picture. Considering the recent inactivity of many top featherweights, it isn't lost on Ige how much his opportunistic attitude has helped him turn into a bit of an overnight sensation.
"It's pretty crazy how fast things have been moving over the past six months," Ige told CBS Sports' "State of Combat" podcast on Friday. "Coming off a big win over Mirsad Bektic in February, we come into the lockdown during the quarantine and then accept a short-notice fight versus Edson Barboza on two weeks' notice. Got the win there and here we are again in a main event. It's opportunity after opportunity, and things are going my way. All the hard work, sacrifices and dedication are paying off."
After Ige edged Bektic by split decision in February, his late-notice opportunity against Barboza three months later helped him extend his winning streak to an eye-opening six fights. Barboza, among the sport's most dangerous strikers throughout a lengthy run at lightweight, dropped Ige and inflicted damage early until a late rally secured Ige a second split decision.
"I didn't have a lot of time to think. I knew I just had to go out there and hit the gas pedal," Ige said. "Edson had been one of the top guys in the world for 10 years and is so dangerous. He caught me with a lot of nice punches and I think I showed a lot of perseverance and heart. I just kept coming and I just keep getting better in my career."
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Sustained success in the UFC will often get you a reward of exceedingly difficult challenges. The 32-year-old Kattar is just that for Ige, following a red-hot stretch of his own since 2018 which has included knockouts of Shane Burgos, Ricardo Lamas and, most recently, Jeremy Stephens.
Kattar (21-4) also pushed top contender Zabit Magomedsharipov to the limit in an exciting decision loss last November which saw Kattar pushing the pace as the aggressor in the final round. It's a major part of the reason the native of Massachusetts has been installed as a comfortable favorite to defeat Ige.
"This fight is going to tell a lot as far as the featherweight division," Ige said. "Calvin has been on a tear lately. I'm on a six-fight winning streak right now. To get a win over Kattar not only puts me at the top of the division, but with seven wins in a row, it could put me at the top. There is a lot on the line, but for me it's a win-win. I have nothing to lose and only to gain. He is taking a risk here and didn't have to fight me. He could've waited for someone ranked higher than me, but the division is kind of tied up right now."
Five of the fighters ranked ahead of Ige at featherweight -- Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung, Yair Rodriguez and Frankie Edgar -- have yet to make an appearance over the first half of 2020. Ige, meanwhile, will fight for the third time in the past four months alone.
Ige's level of activity is part of a calculated strategy to stay fresh and in shape should big opportunities present themselves. As Ige sees it, anyone in the top 10 is one to two wins away from a title shot at any point, which is why he believes an impressive upset of Kattar could catapult him to the very top given the uncertainty of the coronavirus quarantine.
Along with his willingness to test himself against the very best, the diminutive Ige believes it's his intangibles as a fighter which separate him from the others in the top 10 at 145 pounds.
"It's my mindset and mental endurance, the things I'm willing to go through to get what I want," Ige said. "I might not be the most talented guy but I am the grittiest and I'm willing to go deeper than anyone. I'm willing to dig deep in a dark room and go to a dark place. In order to drown your opponent, you have to be willing to drown too. I put everything on the line when I fight, I take big risks.
"You have a short window of time in this game. You are either all the way in or all the way out. I'm all in and I think that defines my fighting style."
In one of the featured bouts, Jimmie Rivera takes on Cody Stamann in an important test at bantamweight. Both fighters are looking to get into the top five of arguably the deepest division in the sport. Rivera has lost three of four, but all against elite opponents (Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling and Marlon Moraes). Stamann, meanwhile, has just one loss in seven UFC bouts since 2017.
Plus, Jared Gordon takes on John Phillips in a middleweight contest. This bout is notable because Gordon will not have any of his team in his corner after all tested positive for COVID-19 before arriving in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Paul Felder will step out of the announcer's booth and join Gordon in the corner for his fight -- the only time he will do so on the card.
Below you can have a look at the complete UFC Fight Night card set for Wednesday -- with odds provided via William Hill Sportsbook -- as well as how you can catch the action live.
Kattar vs. Ige fight card, odds
- Calvin Kattar -310 vs. Dan Ige +250 -- Featherweights
- Tim Elliott -125 vs. Ryan Benoit +105 -- Flyweights
- Jimmie Rivera -135 vs. Cody Stamann +115 -- Featherweights
- Molly McCann -115 vs. Taila Santos -105 -- Women's flyweights
- Abdul Razak Alhassan -330 vs. Mounir Lazzez +260 -- Welterweights
- Khamzat Chimaev -330 vs. John Phillips +260 -- Middleweights
- Jared Gordon -150 vs. Chris Fishgold + 125 -- Featherweights
- Ricardo Ramos -165 vs. Lerone Murphy +140 -- Featherweights
- Modestas Bukauskas -230 vs. Andreas Michailidis +190 -- Light heavyweights
- Diana Belbita -170 vs. Liana Jojua +145 -- Women's flyweights
- Jack Shore -625 vs. Aaron Phillips +450 -- Bantamweights
Watch UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs. Ige
Date: July 15 | Location: Flash Forum -- Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Time: 7 p.m. ET -- Prelims | 10 p.m. ET -- Main card
Live stream: ESPN+ | Channel: ESPN
Kattar vs. Ige prediction
Despite the impressive nature of Ige's current win streak, there's little question that Kattar is the more experienced fighter against elite competition. After finally making to the UFC in 2017, Kattar has taken his time in building himself into a formidable threat thanks, in large part, to his combination of will and finishing ability.
Although he's only two months removed from a hellacious two rounds with Stephens that ended via TKO, Kattar will bring a four-inch height advantage and knockouts in all four of his most recent wins against Ige, and he just might have the perfect style for Ige's brand of pressure. Ige can point to his toughness as a major part of why he's in this position, not to mention his gas tank and aggressiveness. But he has just one victory by TKO in his last 11 fights and could find himself accelerating the danger he will face the more he steps on the gas pedal.
Kattar's combination of grit and power seems too much to not side with him, although both will need to prove their gas tank is adequate for the five-round main event level should the fight go there. It's a distance Ige has never seen and Kattar hasn't visited since 2009. Pick: Kattar via TKO3
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