Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Calvin Kattar's route to success in the UFC has been chock-full of difficulties and roadblocks. But after years of hard work, it appeared he was finally building momentum toward a shot at the featherweight title.
After getting demolished by Max Holloway on a UFC on ABC special in January of 2021, Kattar responded with a defining moment against rising star Giga Chikadze this past January. He thoroughly dominated the fight, then put himself right back in the mix for a title shot by executing a smart, effective game plan in June against the dangerous Josh Emmett.
Everything finally appeared to be going Kattar's way. Until, of course, the judges' decision was made official.
Emmett was ruled the winner, taking the victory via split decision. That was a devastating blow to Kattar, and it puts Emmett in a position to challenge for a potential interim featherweight title with Alexander Volkanovski moving up to lightweight to challenge Islam Makhachev.
Kattar has every right to believe that any interim title bout should include him. His performance against Emmett was pragmatic and powerful, and he landed more overall strikes and significant damage.
"It's frustrating," admits Kattar. "There is an inconsistency with the judges. It's tough any time you leave it to them, but when you leave it to them, they should be capable of doing their job. I've seen worse robberies, but at the end of the day, I feel like they got the decision wrong."
In addition to landing more strikes, Kattar opened up Emmett's eye in the first round. He followed a smart gameplan, avoiding the temptation to stand and trade with Emmett. Kattar kept landing sticking jabs that were popping Emmett's head back, and that jab was a constant in the final two rounds of the fight. That performance, naturally, left Kattar feeling victorious.
"I climbed the cage, I put my hands up, and I felt like I did enough to win the fight," Kattar says. "Two of the three judges had me winning three of the five rounds. It's tough. But at the end of the day, I have a new bout agreement and my focus is on the opponent at hand."
Kattar (23-6 MMA, 7-4 UFC) headlines this Saturday's UFC Fight Night 213 card against Arnold Allen (18-1 MMA, 9-0 UFC), who has been perfect in his nine UFC appearances. Allen is powerful and quick, and he is coming off a dismantling of Dan Hooker that ended by TKO this past March. Kattar is the better boxer, but he will have to be extremely mindful of Allen's arsenal of kicks that will undoubtedly disrupt any kind of forward advances.
"I'm not thinking about anyone but Arnold Allen," Kattar says. "You pay for it when you don't pay proper respect to the guy in front of you. All our attention is on Allen. I know we have a tough stretch in front of us, but so does he. He's my sole focus."
Kattar currently ranks fifth in the division, and Allen is sixth. This fight is Allen's opportunity to burst into the top five, as well as a chance to position himself in title contention with a win. Yet Kattar is going to use his striking, elbows, and determination to ensure he holds on to what is his.
If this fight goes Kattar's way, it is likely that he will seize control in the final two rounds– or potentially pounce if Allen gets wild.
"Allen is a tough up-and-comer, and we're both going to have our hands full come fight night," Kattar says. "My plan is to give him a hell of a fight on Saturday, and show why I belong at the top of the division."
Dariush should be next in line for title shot
The future of UFC's lightweight division is clear.
Makhachev defeated Charles Oliveira by submission in a convincing, dominant manner in the main event of UFC 280, taking control of the division and the previously vacant lightweight title. During his celebration, he was joined in the octagon by reigning featherweight Volkanovski. Currently ranked as UFC's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, Volkanovski will move up to lightweight for a chance to become a two-division champion.
That is an explosive fight. On paper, Makhachev should be victorious, but Volkanovski somehow finds a way to overcome every obstacle standing in his way. The worrisome part about the bout for Volkanovski is that he already struggled mightily against Brian Ortega, an elite submission artist – yet one who is smaller and less dominant than Makhachev. Chances are slim that Volkanovski can defend the takedown against Makhachev. It is also quite possible that the man who should be challenging for the belt – Beneil Dariush – was also on the 280 card.
Dariush looked absolutely dominant against Mateusz Gamrot, who had been steamrolling opponents. During his eight-fight win streak, Dariush has been on an absolute tear. He poses a legitimate set of problems for Makhachev, especially standing. But unless he is the backup for the Makhachev-Volkanovski fight, which is certainly a possibility, he is not next in line. The next best path for Dariush to get a title shot is to defeat Oliveira. That would equate to a No. 1 contender's fight, and could even take place on the same card as Makhachev defending his title against Volkanovski. It would also be a spectacular bout, either seeking to gain – or regain – what each believes is his fighting destiny.
There are so many appealing fights in the lightweight division, including Dustin Poirier against Michael Chandler next month at UFC 281. But it is the presence of Oliveira and Dariush that make the division a fascinating place. Even if he should be fighting for the title now, Dariush is only one win away from his breakout championship moment.
The Pick 'Em Section:
UFC Fight Night featherweight bout: Arnold Allen vs. Calvin Kattar
- Pick: Calvin Kattar
UFC Fight Night welterweight bout: Max Griffin vs. Tim Means
- Pick: Max Griffin
UFC Fight Night heavyweight bout: Jared Vanderaa vs. Waldo Cortes-Acosta
- Pick: Waldo Cortes-Acosta
UFC Fight Night middleweight bout: Josh Fremd vs. Tresean Gore
- Pick: Josh Fremd
UFC 280 welterweight bout: Dustin Jacoby vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
- Pick: Dustin Jacoby
Last week: 3-2
2022 record: 122-66
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.