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Ingrained with Grit: Calvin Kattar Ready For What Lies Ahead

Calvin Kattar believes what sets him apart in the UFC is simply in his DNA. He'll put his grit to the test on January 16 at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Kattar.

Calvin Kattar hasn’t changed that much since his wrestling days. Some would say he hasn’t changed at all since his lone loss by pin as a freshman at Methuen High School.

“I was only pinned one time in high school wrestling and the ref called it standing up,” Kattar recalls. “I was a freshman. I'll never forget it. That lazy ref didn't get on his hands and knees to check for the pin. I'm telling you, I had my shoulder up and that was such bulls**t.” 

Kattar, the sixth-ranked featherweight in the world, laughs, knowing how it sounds for him to refer to something that happened nearly 20 years ago before he headlines the UFC’s first event on ABC this weekend against former world champion Max Holloway. But it reinforces the belief that what you are and who you become doesn’t often happen when you’re an adult; usually it’s something in your DNA. And Kattar certainly saw those who didn’t want it as much as he did not just in college, but in the ensuing years.

Watch UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Kattar For Free On ABC At 3pm/12pm ETPT

Holloway vs Kattar: Main Event Preview
Holloway vs Kattar: Main Event Preview
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“I remember at the start of my career I'd see these names that were on the top of the ranks in local New England MMA and I'd see them out like two weeks before a title fight and they're having drinks,” he said.

“Man, I don't get that mindset. I could have enjoyed Thanksgiving a little bit before this fight, it was far enough away but I don't do it because I don't want to do this guy no favors for the fight. It's a weird thing. It's about you versus you every day, and I only face Max Holloway one day, and through that, there's growth, you overcome a lot each camp. I don't want to lose more than I want to win. I go in there and I hold myself to a certain level that I expect of myself. And I feel like these people don't hold themselves accountable to that same level.”

It’s why a New Year’s Day post on Instagram by Kattar’s coach and manager, Tyson Chartier, is so telling when it comes to the 32-year-old contender. The last time the Methuen native lost, it was by way of a close decision to Zabit Magomedsharipov in November 2019. The bout won Fight of the Night honors, and most believed that if it was scheduled for five rounds instead of three, Kattar would have secured the victory. Regardless, it was a tough loss, but one that didn’t dull the shine on Kattar’s star and even earned him an extra $50,000 for his bank account. Yet as Chartier pointed out, that wasn’t enough. 

“I’d rather have the win,” Kattar told Chartier when informed that he received a bonus for his efforts in Moscow.

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Calvin Kattar punches Zabit Magomedsharipov of Russia in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at CSKA Arena on November 09, 2019 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Calvin Kattar punches Zabit Magomedsharipov of Russia in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at CSKA Arena on November 09, 2019 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“That was the feeling right there,” said Kattar about that night in Russia. 

He hasn’t had that feeling since, beating Jeremy Stephens and Dan Ige to move to 6-2 in the Octagon and earn his third main event slot against Holloway. It’s the latest “biggest fight ever” for Kattar, but this one really can be the biggest, because a win over the Hawaiian star could put him smack dab in the title picture at 145 pounds.

“Yeah, and then you know what?” he chuckles. “At that point, it will always be the next one. Like Tom Brady says, your favorite one's the next one and the next one's always the biggest one. So after this one, it's always gonna be the next one. Right now, Max Holloway's got my full attention, he's next, and then once that's over, my focus shifts.” 

Seems like a lot to bear in terms of hard work and sacrifice for one night of glory, and Kattar isn’t shy about admitting that’s often the case.

“It sounds horrible, but honestly, it gets you right through the pandemic for sure,” he said. “You're focused and dialed in.”

Calvin Kattar prepares for his main event face off against Max Holloway at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Kattar on January 16, 2021 on UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)
Calvin Kattar prepares for his main event face off against Max Holloway at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Kattar on January 16, 2021 on UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

So if Kattar defeats Holloway in Abu Dhabi, far away from home, the joy will be fleeting.

“I might hit that cutlets spot (laughs), but after that one meal, they all start tasting the same again,” he said. “And you miss that thrill. That thrill is what we're after; it's something unattainable almost. And every time you try to catch it, it gets pulled out of reach again and you're tasting it again after every fight. It's an unbelievable thing because you're chasing that greatness, but you can never hold it and sit down with it. You always gotta just chase it.”

The crazy part is, Kattar doesn’t dread the chase. He embraces it because he knows that if he battles and wins long enough, he will get to where he wants to go. And it’s not just about titles and big paydays. He’s after more than that.

“Right now, I'm just not satisfied,” he said. “I've got too many things I want and, like I always tell these guys, it's not how I fight that makes me a problem for these guys; it's why I fight and what I fight for. I think a fighter fighting with a sense of purpose is the most dangerous fighter you can be across from in the Octagon and I bring that every time I step in there.”

UFC Fight Island 7: Calvin Kattar Lives For The Big Moment
UFC Fight Island 7: Calvin Kattar Lives For The Big Moment
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After a breakout 2020 campaign, featherweight contender Calvin Kattar is eager to establish himself as the next in line for a title shot when he fights Max Holloway on Fight Island.


So what is the why for the proud New Englander?

“For my family, for better days ahead, for what I've been through and where I see myself going,” he said. “I understand that the journey is the destination, so I try to find enjoyment in the journey and I genuinely do. I look across from me and there will be brief moments where I know I'm on the right path, chasing down goals ambitiously with my team and I look around me and I'm just grateful for the team and people that I have around me.

"In those brief moments, I find fulfillment, but I'm not completely satisfied until hopefully I get that job done and then every time I get that job done, that feeling's gone. It fades so fast and you need more of it. I think it's just that adrenalin, that thrill and that moment where hard work pays off and how brief it is. It's tough to describe, but the reason why is for the things that I want for those around me - my team, my family - and so that we can enjoy it while we're still alive and healthy enough to enjoy it. I want the things I never had. I've experienced that side of life all too much and I want nicer things for everybody around me. I also want what that affords me to make more of a difference and impact more lives. I think I'll be more influential with the things that I want to do and the people that I want to help. So it's not in a selfish way; I think I'll have more influence to give back to the things that matter to me most.”

All of a sudden, it all makes sense, and it explains why Kattar isn’t interested in having the largest social media following or doing interviews more than training. Those are all distractions from the task at hand. 

“I don't need the bells and whistles,” he said. “Every fight, I chase the life on the other side of a win.”

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Calvin Kattar celebrates after his knockout victory over Shane Burgos in their featherweight bout during the UFC 220 event at TD Garden on January 20, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Calvin Kattar celebrates after his knockout victory over Shane Burgos in their featherweight bout during the UFC 220 event at TD Garden on January 20, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

In a lot of ways, it’s the Rocky story. Only in the Kattar example, he’s Clubber Lang chasing down Rocky Balboa in the third installment of the beloved film series. And while it’s obvious that Kattar is the hungry up and comer with the eye of the tiger, is Holloway the fighter who has been there and done that, focused on another shot at regaining his crown and not the Boston banger willing to do whatever it takes to get the win?

Kattar has his answer already.

“I'm the hungrier fighter,” he said. “He (Holloway) has had the accolades. I'm after what he's already accomplished. A lot of people think he's still the champ, that he won that last fight (against Alexander Volkanovski). I'm sure he feels that way. But to be focusing on the champ right now, the current champ, and not the future champ, is a mistake.”

If that’s true, Kattar is right, because he’s bringing an army to Fight Island.

“I don't fight for me, I fight for us,” he said. “And when I succeed, they succeed, and we get to the top together. They've been with me in the valleys and I just want to show them the peaks. This is too important to me and I don't want to lose because I can't let those people down.” 

 

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