I’ve heard a lot of people singing high praise for the main card of UFC Austin. While I think it’s a good card with a main event of Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett that seems very likely to deliver the goods, I’m of the opinion it’s getting a bit more praise than it deserves.
Maybe there’s some recency bias coming from me given UFC 275 delivered in just about every way imaginable, but I fear there’s some fights on the main card that could be major duds. Perhaps most exemplary is the co-main event between Donald Cerrone. Once upon a time, this is a fight fans would have salivated over. Now, there’s a great fear of fans developing a sad feeling at the end of the fight. Don’t get me wrong, if they’re going to continue to fight, I like the idea of them facing someone else as over-the-hill as they are. But it doesn’t make it any easier to see beloved favorites perform at levels that are a shell of their former selves. Here’s hoping they can both deliver one more time.
Calvin Kattar vs. Josh Emmett, Featherweight
Kattar is a perfect example of how much mental acuity counts for in the fighting game. Kattar has never been a special athlete. Nor does he possess heart-stopping power. Sure, he does have a long and lanky frame that he knows how to use to great extent, but it’s rare for someone who relies on being tall to climb to the heights Kattar has. It takes a high level of craft to use it as well as Kattar does. Perhaps most indicative is how Kattar endured an all-time beatdown at the hands of Max Holloway – going all five rounds in the process – and rebounded to give Giga Chikadze a hell of a beatdown himself. That takes a very strong mind to come back in that manner.
There isn’t an area that could be qualified as a major weakness for Kattar either. If an opponent gives him the opening, he can hit a takedown. Once the fight hits the mat, Kattar is about as fundamentally sound as it gets. Granted, Kattar hasn’t secured a submission win since 2009, but he’s always been more focused on position over submission and pounding out his opponents once the desired position is achieved. Good luck doing the same to him. If one were forced to identify a weakness on him, I suppose it would be his striking defense. After all, it’s hard to believe someone would absorb 445 significant strikes in a contest if they’re defensively sound, right?
Two things there: one doesn’t land that many strikes unless they are a truly special fighter. Holloway is. Secondly, Kattar was forced to open himself up in hopes of outdueling Holloway. He wasn’t going to win sitting on the outside trying to avoid Holloway’s offense. That isn’t to say Kattar is a defensive savant, but it would be incorrect to say it’s a gaping hole in his armor. Regardless, the question is whether it is porous enough for Emmett to make a clean connection to Kattar’s jaw with his fist.
That feels like the only way Emmett is going to win this. The longtime Team Alpha Male product does pack an exceptional amount of power in his fists – perhaps more than anyone else at featherweight – and has made noticeable leaps in his timing and technique since entering the UFC. In other words, he’s never truly out of a fight with the type of power he has. In one of the craziest statistics I can think of, Emmett has secured a knockdown in all seven of his fights at featherweight. We’re not talking about heavyweight; this is talking about guys cutting down to 145. That’s freaking nuts.
However, as Emmett has climbed the rankings, he has become more one-dimensional. Sure, he has gone the distance and won in his last two fights, but he was also outstruck in significant strikes in each contest. Not by much in either case, but he was reliant on his very noticeable power being the difference in the eyes of the judges. It used to be that he could fall back on his credentialed wrestling. The problem is he has barely utilized it since moving to featherweight. Emmett may not be tall, but he is THICK. I’m sure the weight cut for him is brutal. Given that he has faded down the stretch of his three round fights in which he barely utilizes traditional wrestling, it seems foolish to believe he might look to do that in a five-round contest, especially given Kattar tends build momentum as the fight goes.
Another phase that I feel is getting overlooked is the tendency of Emmett’s body to break down. The 37-year-old has had several long stretches between fights. Granted, he has shown the ability to tough it out and win as he did when his knee gave out against Shane Burgos. But fighters overcoming a severe injury in the course of a fight to win is the exception, not the rule.
Emmett only has one avenue to victory. Don’t get me wrong, that is a very wide avenue. But there are multiple paths to victory for Kattar. While Kattar doesn’t come to mind when talking about the heaviest-handed 145ers, it’s not like he’s lacking in that department. Just ask Jeremy Stephens. I could even see Kattar securing a GnP stoppage. Sure, Emmett has been traditionally tough to take down. But it comes back to the five rounds again. If Kattar operates at his typical high pace, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Emmett fade down the stretch, Kattar securing the available takedown, and pounding him out. After all, Kattar’s GnP may be the most underrated part of his game. A bet on Emmett to win via KO isn’t crazy, but any other bet on him would be unlikely to cash. Kattar’s volume and stamina should give him the victory. Kattar via TKO of RD5
- Throughout his UFC run, the book on Joe Lauzon never changed much, if it changed at all. One of the craftiest submission artists on the roster when he was in his prime, Lauzon made a habit of blitzing his opponents early, utilizing his controlled chaos to catch them off-guard. Given he himself is a limited athlete, it only worked to a certain point, but it sure as hell helped him win several fights he probably shouldn’t have. Nevertheless, after all the brutal battles he put his body through, the wear and tear began to catch up to him and he struggled to put away opponents he once would have walked over. It wasn’t just a loss in physical skills; it was declining durability. Lauzon did prove he was as good once as he ever was in winning his last fight, but that was back in 2019. Can he do the same to Donald Cerrone? Most would say the odds appear to be pretty good as Cerrone has always been a slow starter. Cerrone’s busy fight schedule appears to be getting the better of him as well, slowing considerably after a long career of taking as many fights as the UFC would give him. Cerrone’s chin doesn’t appear to be what it once was, but has it sunk to the level that Lauzon’s did? We won’t find out until fight time. If Cerrone can survive the inevitable early onslaught from Lauzon, the fight should be his. Being the larger fighter and far superior striker should make it easy for him to pick off a fading Lauzon. However, that’s a big if, especially given the fight is taking place at lightweight. There’s no guarantee Cerrone can make the weight comfortably as he edges up on his 40th birthday. There’s even more reason to worry given the day of cancellation of their fight. It very well may have been a case of food poisoning that sidelined Cerrone. That also could have been a cover…. Lauzon via submission of RD1
- I don’t know how Tim Means continues to win. Despite being 38, having spent several years in prison, and abusing his body with drugs before his fighting career took off, Means enters his contest with Kevin Holland on a three-fight win streak. Means is still most dangerous in the clinch, throwing slicing elbows and leveraging his knees into his opponent’s body. However, despite his recent success, it can’t be denied that his durability isn’t what it once was, meaning he can’t take the regular damage that would occur as he looked to cover the ground to get into the clinch. Means has adapted by staying on the outside with greater regularity and sharpening his jab. That’ll be a tough route with the incredibly lanky Holland. Possessing a long reach when he made his bones at middleweight, Holland’s 81” reach at welterweight is utterly insane. If given enough time to get a feel for his opponent’s movement and timing, Holland can land with pinpoint accuracy. What has always been the Achilles heel of Holland is his wrestling, but Means doesn’t have the pedigree or size that has troubled Holland in the past. Throw in Holland’s impressive durability and overall edge in athleticism and it’s hard to see how the experienced Means extends his win streak, even if he has defied the odds several times in his career. Holland via TKO of RD2
- Ever since his all-time great KO of Impa Kasanganay a few years ago, the UFC has been giving Joaquin Buckley every opportunity to develop into a star, pitting him against fellow strikers in hopes of bringing out the best of him. It looks like they might be running out of patience with him as the organization is pitting him against the first notable wrestler in his UFC run in Albert Duraev. Then again, Duraev’s wrestling disappointed in his UFC debut, securing a single takedown despite a plethora of attempts. It nearly cost him too, as Roman Kopylov came thisclose to putting him away on the feet. Duraev does have power, but it’s hard to believe his wide swinging ways wouldn’t be exposed by the explosive and more direct Buckley. However, Buckley struggled to stay upright against Abdul Razak Alhassan. If Alhassan can take Buckley down, it’s impossible to believe Duraev wouldn’t be able to do the same. I get the feeling Duraev can end the contest too if he gets the appropriate positioning on the mat. The question is whether it’s via GnP or a submission. Duraev via submission of RD1
- The consensus is both Damir Ismagulov and Guram Kutateladze are talented enough to enter the official UFC rankings someday. Hell, if their dominoes had fallen in a different way, it wouldn’t be a shock if they were there now. Ismagulov hasn’t gotten much of a shine due to his penchant for playing it safe. I’m not faulting him; he only has one career loss on his ledger. However, it has prevented him from building up much of a highlight reel, which makes it hard for the UFC to want to push him, much less actually make the issue to push him. Due to that, I get the feeling they’re silently rooting for Kutateladze to pull this one out. The native of Georgia employs an unorthodox style heavy on kicks that is difficult to prepare for. Just ask the studious Mateusz Gamrot. What Gamrot was most unprepared for was the tricky ground game employed by Kutateladze, his active guard making it difficult to capitalize on his spotty takedown defense, clambering back to his feet quickly to prevent the typically smothering Gamrot from exercising much control. Of course, Gamrot is much smaller than Ismagulov, meaning Kutateladze may not be able to find the same success against the native of Kazakhstan. If I didn’t have the concerns about Ismagulov’s ability to make weight – his last contest was cancelled due to him missing weight by eight pounds – I’d be confident in picking him. Instead, I don’t feel like I can count on him to be in fighting shape. It’s not like cutting weight gets easier as one gets older. Kutateladze via decision
- Julian Marquez is fortunate to have a granite chin. The heavy-handed brawler pays little attention to his opponent’s return fire, relying heavily on his impressive durability to carry him through the day. It’s worked out well for him so far, falling back on his impressive strength to produce an impressive squeeze in his chokes. However, at some point, Marquez’s defensive deficiencies and subpar athleticism is going to have him pay a price beyond just losing a fight; he’s going to end up going to sleep at some point. Is Gregory Rodrigues going to be the one to do the honors? There’s no doubt the lanky Brazilian has the skill set to do so. The Brazilian has proven himself to be in possession of plus power himself, not to mention a grappling pedigree that tends to get overlooked due to his preference for throwing fisticuffs. Given Marquez’s question marks extend to his abilities to stop takedowns, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rodrigues return to his grounded roots and completely forget about trying to crack Marquez’s chin. Given Rodrigues’ chin doesn’t have the reputation of Marquez’s, spamming takedowns might be the wise thing for him to do. Unfortunately, I don’t trust Rodrigues will do that, leaving a fair amount of doubt in my pick. I’m still going with Rodrigues as he has the deeper toolbox, but that isn’t always the difference maker at the end of the day. Rodrigues via decision