Max Holloway delivered a “ya’ll must’ve forgot” type of performance on Saturday night. The former UFC featherweight champ, coming off back-to-back decision defeats to current 145-pound titleholder Alexander Volkanovski, styled and profiled on Calvin Kattar for 25 minutes before hearing his name declared the victor of their matchup at the top of the UFC Fight Night 7 fight card.
How lopsided was the fight? The scorecards had the ex-champ winning 50-43, 50-43, 50-42. If Holloway wanted to make a statement, and it seemed as if he did when he pointed to the UFC commentators in the fifth round and informed them, “I’m the best boxer in the UFC,” well, mission accomplished.
The fight ended with Holloway breaking several UFC records and Kattar heading to the hospital.
Holloway set a torrid pace from the start of the fight and never took his foot off the gas pedal. He fought with a chip on his shoulder. His performance informed the rest of the featherweight division that even though he might not have a belt around his waist, he will not let someone else take his spot as the No. 1 ranked fighter in the division without a fight.
Here are the winners and losers from UFC FIGHT ISLAND 7: ‘HOLLOWAY VS KATTAR’, which took place on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. The main card aired on ABC following prelims on ESPN+.
Max Holloway: Holloway was a man on a mission in his main event bout against Calvin Kattar. He put his two losses to Alexander Volkanovski behind him in a big way and made a case that he should be next in line for the next featherweight title fight.
The former champ, at 29, delivered what might have been the best performance of his career. It was certainly the most dominant as he upped his already jaw-dropping output to even higher levels.
Holloway was confident and cocky during the 25-minute shellacking and it’s going to take a really special performance from someone in the next two Fight Island cards to get fans to stop talking about what Holloway did to Kattar. If I was a a bettor, my money would be on Holloway walking away from Abu Dhabi as the competitor who upped his worth the most during the UFC’s first three events of 2021.
Carlos Condit: With a decision win over Matt Brown, Condit is on his first winning streak since he went 5-0 between September 2009 and February 2012. After that run, Condit was 2-8 before he defeated Court McGee in October.
This matchup was one that could have taken place 10 years ago and it would have had fans champing at the bit. Neither Condit or Brown is the fighter they were in their heyday, but neither of the veteran scrappers looked bad in this contest.
Condit was the better technical fighter in this outing. He was constantly active and even when he was in a defensive position on the mat he never quit working. It was that activity that earned him the unanimous decision win.
After the fight, Condit said he would face anyone the UFC offered him, but first he and the UFC have to work out a new contract as the Brown matchup was the last fight on his current deal.
Li Jingliang: Ahead of his matchup against Santiago Ponzinibbio, Jingliang said his most recent outing, a loss to Neil Magny, was not a good representation of his skills. Jingliang backed up that talk on Saturday.
Jingliang was very active during the first round of the welterweight scrap. He used movement and feints to keep his opponent guessing while at the same time throwing out a good mixture of strikes. That movement might have been responsible for how the fight ended. Ponzinibbio had a hard time getting a bead on Jingliang and when he missed with a right, Jingliang was quick to counter with a left to the exposed chin of his opponent. The first-round knockout win should give Jingliang a lot of momentum entering his next bout and could land him a spot in the official welterweight rankings. Perhaps he could unseat (checks rankings) Conor McGregor at No. 15.
Alessio Di Chirico: Di Chirico was the second biggest underdog on Saturday’s fight card. He was coming off three straight decision losses. His opponent, Joaquin Buckley, was coming off two big knockout wins and had much more name recognition thanks to those victories.
Buckley looked more confident in this matchup, but that confidence did not help keep Buckley on his feet when Di Chirico delivered a perfectly placed and timed head kick that ended the fight at the 2:12 mark of the first stanza.
After the win, Di Chirico refused to speak to the media. He said he took that stance because he did not like the fact that the UFC only interviews the winners in a sport where it takes two individuals to make a fight. Di Chirico’s position was questionable after he scored a bonus winning knockout victory on the UFC’s first card on ABC.
Punahele Soriano: Soriano was stiff in his striking at the start of his fight opposite Dusko Todorovic and he was throwing every punch as if he wanted to score a knockout blow. Early on it seemed as if his style would be costly. It wasn’t. When Soriano closed space his punches were more compact, but just as powerful as they were when he was in the open and they found their mark. Soriano did a great job of pushing Todorovic to the fence and giving him no room to use his lean back defense and when his powerful and compact strikes made contact, they put Todorovic in deep trouble. Soriano won the fight after he scored two knockdowns in the first round and referee Herb Dean has seen enough.
Soriano could struggle with someone with better defense, but he remains unbeaten.
Joselyne Edwards: The 25-year-old Edwards looked excellent in her UFC debut. She had a solid submission attempt in the first round and did a great job with her striking, especially when she closed distance against her opponent, Wu Yanan. Edwards also looked very comfortable on the mat with some nice scrambles. Edwards is someone to watch as she took this fight on short notice.
Carlos Felipe and Justin Tafa: Seconds after the heavyweight bout between Carlos Felipe and Justin Tafa, referee Herb Dean made eye contact with Felipe and said “good fight.” It was.
The two “big biscuits,” to quote UFC commentator Daniel Cormier, had an exciting slugfest that was more kickboxing matchup than MMA fight. Tafa did a nice job of controlling the pace for the first half of the fight with his heavy kicks, but when Felipe hurt him in the second round, business picked up and the two worked in close, making the scrap more of a toe-to-toe boxing fight.
The bout was a fun one and drew loud applause from the sparse crowd when it came to an end.
Ramazan Emeev: Emeev’s wrestling was the difference in his welterweight bout against David Zawada. That’s not to say Emeev had bad striking, he didn’t, but his ability to get the fight to the mat and keep it there was likely what gave him the split decision. Even when Emeev found himself mounted in the third round by his opponent, he didn’t stay in that position for very long as he was able to reverse position against Zawada.
Emeev moved to 5-1 with the win.
Austin Lingo: The first UFC of 2021 did not start well for UFC commentator Daniel Cormier. Cormier opened the broadcast singing the praises of the striking of Jacob Kilburn. Before Cormier could complete his statement, Lingo dropped Kilburn with a quick and strong punch of his own. From that moment, the commentators were justifiably on the Lingo bandwagon.
Lingo handled the Kilburn with ease. His corner could be heard saying that each time Lingo touched Kilburn he hurt him. That was 100 percent true. Lingo seemed to slow a bit in the third round, but that might have been intentional as Kilburn seemed as if he was not going to go out no matter what Lingo threw his way.
Calvin Kattar: Kattar could not deal with the volume Max Holloway put on him. Kattar showed a great chin and an ability to take an inhumane amount of abuse on the way to losing one of the most lopsided main events in UFC history. Kattar did not quit and he was delivering powerful strikes throughout the fight, but he was simply not on the level of the former featherweight champion on Saturday night.
Matt Brown: Brown’s record since July 2014 dropped to 3-7 when Carlos Condit beat him by decision on Saturday. Brown continues to be a fighter’s fighter, but at 40, but he couldn’t do much with the positions he found himself in against Condit. With a lot of the fight spent on the mat, Condit was just too active for Brown to find openings for strikes or submission attempts.
Brown is one of those fighters who will probably have a spot on the UFC roster until he decides he’s done, but with little left to prove and with one retirement already on his resume, it’s going to be interesting to see what Brown does after this, his 18th career setback in 40 pro fights.
Santiago Ponzinibbio: Ponzinibbio had not fought since he scored a knockout win over Neil Magny in 2018. Injuries kept him away from the octagon since that victory.
The oddsmakers did not forget that Ponzinibbio was entering his matchup opposite Li Jingliang on a seven-fight winning streak. Ponzinibbio entered the contest as a -310 favorite. Ponzinibbio struggled to find his range in the early going as Jingliang used movement and output to keep Ponzinibbio guessing. When Ponzinibbio committed, he missed with a right and he left himself open for a powerful counter that ended the fight with under a minute left in the first round.
Ponzinibbio did not seem happy with how things went for him on Saturday. He just couldn’t get going. I’m unsure if that had to do with ring rust, Jingliang’s style or a combination of the two. Ponzinibbio will be under a lot of pressure the next time he steps into the octagon.
Joaquin Buckley: Buckley went viral in October with a spectacular knockout win over Impa Kasanganay. He followed that with another “Performance of the Night” bonus winning knockout win with a stoppage of Jordan Wright. On Saturday he found out how fickle MMA can be when he was on the wrong end of a “Performance of the Night” bonus winning knockout loss when Alessio Di Chirico stopped him via head kick.
The loss dropped Buckley to 2-2 in the UFC. His previous defeat was a knockout setback to Kevin Holland. Like Di Chirico, earned a bonus for his stoppage win.
Dusko Todorovic: Todorovic looked very relaxed and confident, nice combos, with accuracy the focus more than power, however his defensive strategy of leaning away from his opponent’s strikes did not work so well once that foe, Punahele Soriano, backed him into the fence. Perhaps Todorovic’s unbeaten record entering this contest had him overconfident in his abilities. Todorovic learned a lesson
Wu Yanan: Yanan did a nice job fighting off an early armbar against Joselyne Edwards, but outside of that and some weird movement that allowed her to score with her strikes from the outside, Yanan was no match for Edwards in a woman’s bantamweight contest.
David Zawada: Zawada’s striking looked good against Ramazan Emeev, but his takedown defense was lacking as was his ability to take advantage of securing mount on the mat. Not a bad performance from Zawada, but his lack of wrestling skills gives him something to work on ahead of his next scrap.
Sarah Moras: Moras spent the majority of her 15-minute fight opposite Vanessa Melo circling on the outside and failing to land her strikes. She seemed far too reluctant to close distance on Melo and the result was a loss for Moras.
Jacob Kilburn: Kilburn survived his bout opposite Austin Lingo. Kilburn showed his toughness, but other than that, he did not have many good moments during the first UFC fight of 2021.
MMA fans who waited for “the announcement”: The UFC teased an announcement from UFC president Dana White concerning the career of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. That announcement came at 3:30 and it was nothing.
According to White, Nurmagomedov could come back if someone (Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, Dan Hooker) impresses him on next week’s UFC 257 fight card.
White’s body language and his tone were far too subdued to make me think he wasn’t stretching the truth a bit with that claim.
Calvin Kattar’s corner: The main event could have been stopped at any point after the end of the second round. Instead, Kattar’s corner let their fighter take an unthinkable amount of abuse for 15 additional minutes. Yes, Kattar could have knocked out Holloway during that time, but he didn’t. The chance of a surprise finish is no reason to let MMA fighters carry on longer than they should, but we see it all the time. A real culture change is needed in this sport.
Vanessa Melo: Melo controlled the center of the octagon for almost the entire 15 minutes of her bout against Sarah Moras. She did not close distance well in the first round, but when she found her range, she was able to hurt Moras with her punches. As Moras slowed, Melo was able to make more contact. However, this was not a good fight.