Calvin Kattar started off 2021 in defeat.
After he was decimated by Max Holloway in a nationally televised bout on ABC in the opening weeks of 2021, Kattar vowed to be better. He backed up those words in a vehement manner, obliterating Giga Chikadze to open 2022. Chikadze entered that bout on a tear, but Kattar was stronger in all facets. He dominated on his feet, controlled the pace with his physicality, and even showcased an underrated brand of wrestling, emphatically ending Chikadze's nine-fight win streak.
Now the redemption tour continues. Next up for Kattar (23-5 MMA, 7-3 UFC) is fellow top-10 contender Josh Emmett.
Kattar headlines Saturday's UFC on ESPN 37 card against Emmett (17-2 MMA, 8-2 UFC), a well-rounded fighter currently seventh in the featherweight division. That is a step beneath the fourth-ranked Kattar, but racking up victories against top-tier talent is his sole priority.
"Josh Emmett is going to do everything in his power to show up and put on a hell of a fight for the fans," Kattar says. "He's showed that time and time again. And he's definitely dangerous, but who in the top 15 isn't?"
The 34-year-old Kattar has never been better than he was during three of his past four bouts – with the Holloway loss serving as the lone exception. He knocked out Jeremy Stephens, defeated Dan Ige by unanimous decision, and did all sorts of damage to Chikadze. That type of performance will be necessary to outlast Emmett, a hungry mixed martial artist who desperately needs this victory to keep himself in the main event mix.
"I'm not overlooking Emmett, he's too dangerous for that," Kattar says. "In order to get these main event opportunities, you have to fight killers. That's what I'm up against here."
A proud son of Methuen, Mass., Kattar carries that unmistakable Merrimack Valley edge into every competitive aspect of his life. And he has a long memory. Kattar continues to bristle when asked about the loss to Holloway, though he is undoubtedly aware that it will remain a discussion point until he finally solves that puzzle in a rematch.
"People still ask about Max," Kattar says. "That was two fights ago. People still want to talk about Giga. I don't want to talk about either of those guys. My only focus is Josh Emmett. Every fight drives me, and those other guys were part of getting me to this moment."
Kattar enters this fight as the Vegas favorite, and for good reason. His slicing elbows should be a major factor, a key part of his explosiveness that elevates him to another level in the cage. Emmett will have to make adjustments during the fight, an incredibly tough task against Kattar.
"Maybe you'll see the elbows on Saturday," Kattar says. "If boxers could use their elbows, I bet they would, too. Those shots make me the best version of myself in the cage. And I'm going to make the best of it on Saturday night."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.