Calvin Kattar's invasion of the top half of the UFC featherweight rankings just took another major step forward.
The 32-year-old slugger relied much more on his technique and takedown defense on Wednesday to convincingly defeat Dan Ige in a battle of top-10 fighters at 145 pounds. His victory by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47), which served as the main event to UFC's second trip to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in four nights, propelled Kattar (22-4) into legitimate title contention.
"I feel like I just went through a five-round fight," Kattar said. "Dan is a tough kid but I just think I'm built differently than these guys mentally."
Kattar went the five-round distance for the first time since 2009 and made a two-month turnaround from a violent TKO of Jeremy Stephens. He also snapped the six-fight winning streak of the red-hot Ige (14-3) by swelling his right eye closed and using his length to control the terms of the bout.
Ige, 28, was fresh off his own high-profile win over Edson Barboza by split decision in May and hoped to notch his third victory of 2020. Although he was plenty game early, the native of Hawaii seemed to never get any closer to making a huge impact of the fight than in Round 2 when an overhand right bloodied the nose of Kattar and visibly gave him trouble.
"I think it's tough not to get damage after how many fights to be in and my style but credit to Dan," Kattar said. "But credit to [Ige]. He's a tough kid and has a tough style."
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Along with repeatedly stuffing Ige's takedown attempts, Kattar did well to close each round with an extended flurry of hard strikes. In between, he established himself as the heavier striker and responded well to his corner's urging after Round 3 to pick up the pace.
"Calvin is one of the best in the world. He is super slick," Ige said. "He found his range early and his jab was killing me, but I had a lot of fun. I tested myself against some of the best in the world and proved I just need to get better.
"I felt pretty good. My gas tank felt good going through five rounds. That was a big test in itself. Now I know I can go five rounds but I just need to get better with the little technical things."
Considering how inactive the top 10 at featherweight has been this calendar year, Kattar believes he has made enough of a statement in recent memory, having won four of his last five, to open up the possibility of a title shot.
Defending champion Alexander Volkanovski edged former titleholder Max Holloway last Saturday by split decision and is looking for a top contender to close the year.
"It seems like everyone is calling out the champ right now but I'm out here fighting and earning it," Kattar said. "The champ said he wants some contenders and I'm fighting and I'm ready."
In the co-main event, Tim Elliott picked up a much-needed win over Ryan Benoit by split decision. Elliott had lost three straight and five of his last seven coming in and used his slick and awkward style to slow Benoit's attack. Benoit has lost three of his last four.
UFC Fight Night card and results
- Calvin Kattar def. Dan Ige via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47)
- Tim Elliott def. Ryan Benoit via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Jimmie Rivera def. Cody Stamann via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Molly McCann def. Taila Santos via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Mounir Lazzez def. Abdul Razak Alhassan via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Khamzat Chimaev def. John Phillips via second-round submission (D'Arce choke)
- Lerone Murphy def. Ricardo Ramos via first-round TKO (punches)
- Modestas Bukauskas def. Andreas Michailidis via first-round TKO (elbows)
- Jared Gordon def. Chris Fishgold via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
- Liana Jojua def. Diana Belbita via first-round submission (armbar)
- Jack Shore def. Aaron Phillips via second-round submission (rear-naked choke)