Calvin Kattar came into his first main event with a well-earned reputation as a knockout slugger.
He needed nimble feet to withstand the quick hands of Hawaii’s Dan Ige to pull away in the final rounds for a unanimous decision win on Wednesday night on Abu Dhabi’s “Fight Island.”
Kattar finished with 105 significant strikes to Ige’s 84. Judges scored the fight 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47.
Kattar (22-4) entered the card ranked No. 6 among UFC featherweights. Ige (14-3) is No. 10. Kattar was a heavy favorite at minus 290. Ige was a plus-240 underdog.
Ige, the Kahuku graduate, came into the matchup on a six-fight win streak. He bloodied Kattar in the second round with a left to the nose that reinjured what likely had been a broken nose suffered in a previous fight.
With the fight even after two rounds, the pace began to slow in the third. Ige relied on lateral footwork and Kattar didn’t cut the ring off at all, but the “Boston Finisher” took command in the final two rounds.
With Ige’s right eye beginning to close, Kattar controlled rounds 4 and 5 to potentially put himself in line for a title shot sooner rather than later. His power and height — 5 feet, 11 inches to Ige’s 5-7 — took a toll.
“Calvin’s one of the best in the world. He tested my will,” Ige said in an ESPN interview after losing for the first time since January 2018. “He’s super slick. His jab was killing me. That dictated the fight. We knew that, but I had fun testing myself against one of the best in the world.”
Kattar’s ability to step back rather than absorb Ige’s lightning-quick combinations was a major factor. In seven takedown attempts, Ige never brought Kattar to the mat, where Ige’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills could have leveled the fight.
“Dan’s a tough kid. I think I’m built better than all these guys mentally,” Kattar said. “I think it’s credit to Dan. It wasn’t going to be easy. Hawaiians are built different.”
Kattar came into the bout with little experience going five rounds but never tired. Ige’s lateral movement made it a thinker’s bout as Kattar didn’t try a punch for the first 90 seconds. Kattar got Ige down twice, and the former Kahuku wrestler escaped.
Ige switched between lefty and right stances in the second round and caught Kattar with a left after trying a body shot with the right. With Kattar’s nose flowing with blood, Ige landed a right hook before the bell.
Kattar’s corner had heady advice: “Land the jab. You can’t go to the body enough on this kid.”
That jab kept Ige from doing any extensive damage beyond the second round. Neither man got an edge in the third round, but the peppering of jabs opened a cut over Ige’s right eyebrow.
“I’m going to get better,” Ige promised. “I felt pretty good. My gas tank felt good all five rounds. Now I know I can push. It’s the little technical things, just like when I lost my debut. I’m going to get better and start winning again.”
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