Calvin Kattar felt devastated following his five-round war with Giga Chikadze on January 15.
The Methuen, Massachusetts native felt the thrill of a main event, unanimous decision victory just minutes beforehand, but when he pulled up a stream of the New England Patriots’ playoff game versus the Buffalo Bills, the agony of defeat came flooding in quickly.
“We were down like 30, 40 points,” Kattar told UFC.com. “It was devastating. There was only two minutes left. It was just a quick dagger. That sucked. The team worked hard, but hey, a lot can happen in a year. Look out for them next year. That’s that comeback mentality and mindset. Head down, go to work. The New England way. Expect them to bounce back strong.”
Kattar very much embodied that New England mindset in his bounce-back performance against Chikadze. A lot of the pre-fight chatter circulated around the streaking Chikadze and the question marks around Kattar after he spent a year out of the Octagon following his main event loss to Max Holloway in January 2021.
The doubts were swirling around Kattar heading into 2022’s year-opening bout. Chikadze, who rode a seven-fight winning streak in the UFC to that point, saw Kattar as his chance to jump into the division’s Top 5, and people were buying into that hype. Oddsmakers put Kattar as the 2-to-1 betting underdog. Before the fight, Chikadze lobbied for a chance to fight featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski after an injury forced Holloway out of their scheduled trilogy fight. Kattar, meanwhile, let all those doubts build a chip on his shoulder, and he let all the frustration build up in a positive way.
“I just took all that as motivation in the fight and didn’t really say much about it,” Kattar said. “It was really just about going out and proving it to everybody. Talk is cheap. I gotta go out and just show them. I had to go and show everybody and remind them. I was happy that it worked out the way it did. Hopefully the recency bias is coming off a big win and not the Max Holloway loss.
Calvin Kattar Octagon Interview | UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Chikadze
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Calvin Kattar Octagon Interview | UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Chikadze
“That loss was a little worse than others, obviously, but it is against a great fighter,” he continued. “So, as far as hanging my head, it wasn’t like that, but it was important for me to just go out and remind everybody and prove to myself that I do know why I belong at the top of the division with the best guys that the division has to offer.”
He and his New England Cartel team knew the dangers Chikadze presented, especially with his kickboxing. His famous “Giga kicks” helped dispatch Cub Swanson and Edson Barboza, so Kattar and crew expected a fast start from the Georgian.
About midway through the first round, Chikadze slipped after throwing a kick, and Kattar lunged in and secured a takedown, keeping Chikadze down for the better part of the round. Kattar said Chikadze felt “tense” while they were on the ground, exerting a lot of energy to keep Kattar from posturing up and landing ground-and-pound. In the ensuing rounds, Kattar knew he couldn’t let up on the pressure, and “the best defense is a good offense” when it came to negating Chiakdze’s striking.
Normally known for his boxing, Kattar started to pour on an elbow-heavy attack, including a clean spinning elbow that stunned Chikadze. He started throwing elbows with so much frequency that his team wondered whether Kattar had injured his hands. The hands were, in fact, fine, with the elbow onslaught an “ad-lib” he credited his Muay Thai coach Jake Mainini for, as they sharpened up that area of his game over the last couple years.
“There’s no padding on the elbows,” Kattar said. “I started seeing him get affected from the damage, and I felt like I was close to getting the finish, so I started to get a little elbow-happy, gun-happy. At the end of that fifth round, I almost got the finish, but I ran out of time. I started liking the feedback I was getting from them. He wasn’t wearing it well, so I just started getting a little elbow-happy, and I wanted to put it on, but we have drilled it. We’ve done drills where you just kind of put it on with elbows, just laying it down.
“If boxers could elbow, they would. When you’re in a fight like that, you might as well throw them.”
In total, Kattar landed a career-best 144 of 402 attempted significant strikes, including 127 to Chikadze’s head. The judges gave Kattar all five rounds, and moreover, he firmly asserted himself as a mainstay in the division’s Top 5.
Although there was animosity built up before the fight, Kattar said he respected Chikadze for staying on his feet for the better part of the fight in spite of his best efforts to get the finish. After the fight, Kattar shared some encouragement with Chikadze, and the two took a cordial post-fight photo together in the hospital. Chikadze later said on his social media he believes he would beat Kattar “9 out of 10 times,” which rubbed Kattar the wrong way.
“I grabbed him and said, ‘Hey, all you can do now is just make that next mother**ker pay,’” Kattar said. “I don’t know. I think he’s trying to figure it out and the process. For me, the real bonus – I know we got Fight of the Night – is just being healthy post-fight. That last one, started off in January, had the year layoff from it. Half that was due to the damage, half that was due to the timing, but regardless, I’m happy to be healthy, already back in the gym and ready for the next opportunity so fast after competing.”
As far as what’s next, Kattar hopes to fight upward after defending his spot in the rankings. He’s open to stepping in as a replacement should Volkanovski or The Korean Zombie fall out of their scheduled bout, but, as a whole, he just wants to get back to fighting.
Kattar made major strides up the ladder in 2020 after knocking out Jeremy Stephens at UFC 248. While much of the featherweight elite was inactive, Kattar announced himself as a new problem in the division, and he hopes to get back to a busy schedule in 2022.
“For me, you don’t get rewarded for being inactive,” Kattar said. “I think the champ agrees with that. I respect his mindset on that. He wants guys to go out and earn it, and I want to go out and earn it myself. I don’t want nothing given to me. I never wanted anything given to me my whole life. I’m not going to start now. I’m going to go out and earn it, and this way, once you get it, it feels that much better when that belt is around your waist knowing you put in the work and you earned it.”
That said, he does understand his standing in the division means he can’t just accept any and every fight. They have to make sense, so he credits his coach and manager Tyson Chartier for handling that side of things while Kattar focuses on improving his craft. Kattar doesn’t even have a real preference on who he wants to fight in the Top 5.
“They’re all the same to me,” he said. “They’re all tough. They all present problems. We’re gonna have to write up a blueprint on how to beat all of them. It’s just rinse-and-repeat. Whatever guy, they’re all tough. They’re all tougher than tough. It’s nice to have Tyson Chartier, my manager, to focus on what makes the most sense. That’s why I pay him his percent, to do that job, to do the thinking side for me because if it was up to me, I’d fight everybody every day. I’m a fighter. For me, it’s nice to just be able to focus on the training and focus on the day-to-day, the meat and potatoes, what got me here and let him focus on the next opportunity. It really is that simple.”
Winning continues to be the purest solution to answering questions and silencing doubters. A trait he and Cartel teammate Rob Font hang their hat on is responding well to adversity, and it shows in their record. Neither fighter has suffered back-to-back losses in their professional career.
Kattar kept that streak going with his dominant win over Chikadze, and he expects the same for Font after Font lost his main event bout to José Aldo in December 2021. It’s just in their DNA – that New England way.
“The comeback is always greater than the setback,” Kattar said. “Setbacks don’t demotivate me or demoralize me. If anything, they push me to go further, go harder in training. That’s always my mindset. I feel bad for whoever Rob Font is fighting next because he’s going to be coming ready. We had two tough tests. We fought two of the greatest fighters to step in there and do it, but these are the names we want to be competing against. You want to be great? You gotta go out and fight great fighters.
“It’s a great checkpoint for us as a team to go out and have these opportunities in front of us. We’ve worked our whole careers to be in the mix, and now, it’s time to just go out and earn that number one spot and just show why we’re the best in the world. We’re making our claim every day.”
Now if only those Patriots can do the same next NFL season…
UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Chikadze took place on Saturday, January 15, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.