It isn’t difficult to see why MMA fandom is excited about the main event of this card. Former featherweight kingpin Max Holloway appears in his first non-title contest since 2016 against an opponent with a similar style in Calvin Kattar. Given Holloway has seven Performance Bonuses on his ledger, it’s hard to see this contest being anything other than a barnburner. There are some other nice contests on the undercard, but nothing that fans have been demanding… unless you count Carlos Condit and Matt Brown. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances to that, but we’ll get to that. I already said this on the prelims preview, but it’s worth saying again: It’s good to have the UFC back in action.
UFC FIGHT ISLAND 7 airs on ABC and ESPN+ at 3 PM ET/12 PM PT.
Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar, Featherweight
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there are a lot of similarities between Holloway and Kattar. Both are volume strikers who tend to start slow, building momentum as they go. Both are durable. Both are tall for the division. Both are technically sound. Neither are known for their ground games, but both are functional enough on the mat that outgrappling them is one hell of a chore. So what is it that is going to separate them?
Given his championship pedigree, most casual fans are automatically side with Holloway as Kattar is still a little-known entity to most fans who don’t closely follow the sport. His wins over Dan Ige, Jeremy Stephens, and Ricardo Lamas don’t quite compare to Holloway’s wins over Jose Aldo, Brian Ortega, and Frankie Edgar. Throw in the fact Holloway has wins over Stephens and Lamas as well and the discrepancy in their quality of competition is that much more obvious. Did I mention Kattar is also three years older than Holloway? It makes sense why fans who don’t have the time to do a deep dive themselves are leaning towards Holloway.
Despite the lack of recognition, Kattar is a legit threat to take this contest. He didn’t have a reputation as a finisher when he entered the UFC – his last six wins prior to entering the UFC were decisions – but he has successfully refined his killer instinct, securing four finishes in his six UFC wins, most of them against opponents known for their durability. Much of that has to do with Kattar paying more attention to his own career. That may sound like a weird thing to say about a UFC fighter, but Kattar put his career on hold for a couple of years to focus on coaching. In the long run, it may have been the best thing for him. Kattar’s fight IQ is amongst the highest in the sport and it saved his body some wear and tear.
On the flip side, Holloway has shown signs of wearing down physically. He was forced to pull out of a couple of contests for a variety of reasons, including for concussion like symptoms. He does appear to have remedied those issues, turning in several fights without any of those effects seeming to come into play. However, it is concerning they popped up in his mid-to-late 20’s, leaving the question that they might pop up again as his body ages. Of course, I could be barking up an empty tree by mentioning this, but only time will tell.
Despite all those reasons, I’m still siding with the masses and picking Holloway. The Hawaiian is the better athlete – not by a wide margin, but still better – and doesn’t get enough credit for being an exemplary student of the game. He looked far better in his rematch against Alexander Volkanovski, showing he did his homework to address the issues that plagued him the first time around. It may not have awarded him the victory, but there are a lot of people who believed he deserved it. But the biggest separator is Holloway’s footwork and defense. As the fight goes, few work their way in and out of the pocket as well as Holloway. Kattar is good at that himself, but he’s not on the same level as Holloway. Unlike Volkanovski, Kattar doesn’t have the wrestling to give Holloway pause either. There’s no doubt Kattar will have his moments and is very deserving of this opportunity, but I still favor the former champion to get the job done. Holloway via decision
Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown, Welterweight
If only we could have seen this fight the first time it was scheduled… all the way back in 2013. Both were at or near their primes and along with Robbie Lawler, were the most violent forces in the welterweight division at the time. Age and injuries have taken their toll and while this contest still looks like it could be fun, a lot of luster has been lost from what was once a dream fight for fans.
Based on their recent showings, both still have something left in the tank. Brown looked like his old self in the early goings of his contest with Miguel Baeza, delivering his customary clinch brutality with his trademark elbows and slick punching combinations from a distance. A single punch from Baeza changed the trajectory, Brown’s formerly legendary durability betraying him. To be fair, Baeza is far from being pillow-fisted, but it took 35 fights into his career before someone stopped Brown via strikes. Since that point, every one of Brown’s losses has come via strikes.
Condit’s durability still appears to be intact, but he’s lost the killer instinct and fire that once garnered a cult like following when he was still in the WEC. It has been said the physical punishment he endured in his legendary contest with Robbie Lawler is what has led to his downfall, but I’d argue it was the controversial decision of the judges to award the win to Lawler that did more damage, as the spirit that earned him the moniker of The Natural Born Killer has been absent.
Condit did snap a five-fight losing streak against Court McGee in his latest contest, racking up volume at a rate that hadn’t been seen since the Lawler fight. However, he was able to do so since McGee opted not to pursue any takedowns, long the Achilles heel of Condit. Brown isn’t known to pursue takedowns himself, but has taken that route before, finding success against Stephen Thompson, Tim Means, and Ben Saunders with that course of action. Condit has traditionally been a sound grappler, but three of his four most recent losses saw him submitted.
The path for victory is there for Brown. Condit does have several sudden KO’s on his record, but his power has been absent recently, utilizing a death by a thousand cuts strategy. If this contest were fought in a manner that saw both playing to their strengths and attacking the weaknesses of the other, I would be picking Brown as I don’t trust Condit’s psyche at this stage. However, Brown has wanted this fight for a long time due to his admiration of Condit. The smart money says Brown wants a classic slugfest with Condit more than he wants a victory. Brown might be able to match the volume, but I don’t trust his chin will hold up if he gets the fight he wants. Regardless, Brown wants a slugfest and I’m sure he’ll get what he wants in this case. Condit via TKO of RD2
Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Li Jingliang, Welterweight
It’s easy to forget Ponzinibbio was just outside the title picture following his most recent victory in November 2018. Of course, he’s never been exceedingly vocal – in part due to English not being his native language – and the UFC has never pushed him in a manner indicative of a major player. Unfortunately, due to his long layoff – brought on by a series of injuries – Ponzinibbio is being forced to take a step back just to maintain his position. I’m not saying it isn’t understandable – a LOT can change in two years – but it sucks for the native of Argentina.
It’s worth noting that while Jingliang is a step back from Ponzinibbio’s previous level, it isn’t a major step backwards. Both exceedingly durable and tough – there is a difference – Jingliang strung together seven wins over eight fights before having his momentum stalled by Neil Magny earlier this year. More impressive was the five finishes that led the charge of his winning stretch. Maybe even more impressive was the five Performance Bonuses that came in that time.
It was a lengthy process for Jingliang to become the fighter he is today. The best indication of that is his nickname, The Leech, as he sucked his opponents dry over the course of his contests with a boring lay-and-prey style. Though he can still resort to takedowns if he needs to, he’s become far more comfortable engaging in a bloody brawl. While Jingliang’s aforementioned toughness and durability have allowed him to find success in that endeavor, his development as a striker has been just as key. He’s picked up a jab that sets up his flurries of violence, often leading to finishes. Of course, none of that showed up in his most recent outing against Neil Magny, the performance being the worst of Jingliang’s career. If that version shows up again, he has no chance to win against the far more violent brand offered by Ponzinibbio.
Ponzinibbio assuredly won’t be counting on that version either. One of the most technical kickboxers on the roster, Ponzinibbio is a pressure fighter who fights longer than he actually is, one of the advantages to engaging in the sport from a young age. Though he might throw some of his jabs with a little less mustard, almost everything else is with full power and there’s plenty of it to spare. He has enough oomph in his low kicks that it’s a bit of a surprise he doesn’t have a stoppage by debilitating his opponent’s base. However, it is his boxing that has been most effective, putting together slick combinations.
It’s hard to judge this contest on recent showings; Ponzinibbio because there isn’t anything recent and Jingliang because his most recent fight was uncharacteristic of his prior work. It leaves all sorts of uncertainty with a prognosis. Here it goes anyway: Ponzinibbio starts out slow as Jingliang returns to form. Ponzinibbio picks it up after the rough first round and takes a clear decision. Ponzinibbio via decision
- While it wasn’t as impressive as his KO of the Year – maybe even KO of the Decade – over Impa Kasanganay, Joaquin Buckley’s win over Jordan Wright gave the impression that Buckley is trending in a positive direction. He’s also taken the approach of Neil Magny and Kevin Holland in taking as many fights as possible, this being his fourth contest since joining the organization in August. Buckley has fast hands, works them to all levels, and is a creative striker. He does struggle with consistency, his success coming in spurts, similar to his attacking style. The UFC recognizes he still needs more seasoning as they’re pitting him with Alessio Di Chirico, an Italian talent who struggles to put everything together on a regular basis. It’s enough of an issue that he enters this contest on a three-fight losing streak, though it should be noted those losses have come against opponents far superior to those Buckley has defeated. A counter puncher by trade, Di Chirico doesn’t have a single glaring weakness, but he also doesn’t possess an obvious strength either. What might be the separator between him and Buckley’s past opponents is Di Chirico is tighter on defense and has proven to be durable against proven competition. Buckley also struggled with the counter game of Holland. This isn’t an impossible step for Buckley to make, but I favor Di Chirico to inch out a close decision. Di Chirico via decision
- After a somewhat disappointing showing on DWCS, Dusko Todorovic got a call to the UFC anyway, largely based on reputation. In his UFC debut, Todorovic proved he deserved his call, pushing a ridiculous pace against Dequan Townsend before finishing him off with heavy artillery from the mount. A plus athlete with a deep gas tank and power, early indications are that Todorovic has all the tools to be a major player in the near future. There are some rough ends that need to be smoothed over as his wrestling has been a disappointment and his defense leaves a lot to be desired, but those should both improve with more experience. Fortunately for Punahele Soriano, both of those traits appear to be more refined in his case despite having fewer fights under his belt. Then again, Soriano is a couple years older and the maturity shows in his performance. His gas tank hasn’t been tested – he’s only left the first round once in his career – but it’s also a credit to his killer instinct and power. It’s difficult to pick between the two undefeated prospects, but I like the maturity of Soriano in this case. Soriano via TKO of RD2