UFC 249 is a fight buildup Calvin Kattar won’t soon forget.
Arriving in the midst of a global pandemic to the equation that’s shut the sports world down, Kattar doesn’t know where he’s fighting. On Monday, UFC President Dana White said the event will take place as scheduled, but the location has yet to be revealed.
Kattar hopes to get back in the win column when he faces wily veteran Jeremy Stephens. And according to his manager and coach, Tyson Chartier, preparing for the upcoming fight hasn’t slowed down “The Boston Finisher” despite the uncertainty in the air.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle,” Chartier told MMA Fighting. “Obviously, there’s some obstacles and hurdles we have to avoid and jump over, but Calvin is mentally strong. He’s got a small circle around him that’s really chipping in to make sure he’s ready. He’s been in good shape, his weight’s good, he’s mentally strong.
“It’s really more just dialing into a schedule that’s ever changing. This week you’re at this gym and now, all of a sudden, they can’t open, so you have to shift gears and go to another gym. We’re getting moved around a lot, but a lot of people are chipping in and putting in the hours.
“We’re ready to go. Who knows where (the event is) going to be April 18, what country we’re going to land in, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we make weight and that we’re in shape. That’s really the only two things we can control.”
In his most recent appearance, Kattar had a two-fight winning streak snapped when he faced Zabit Magomedsharipov in the main event of UFC on ESPN Moscow this past November. Originally, he was supposed to fight on home turf at UFC Boston, but the fight was instead moved Magomedsharipov’s backyard one month later. The rare three-round main event saw Magomedsharipov pick up a unanimous decision win, though Kattar was able to finish the fight with a lot of momentum.
Kattar is no stranger to competing under less than ideal circumstances, and that’s why Chartier believes his client’s head is in the right place.
“He’s got the good mindset, focusing on the task at hand, which is getting ready to fight April 18 regardless of where it is,” Chartier explained. “He gets little updates here and there from us with the news and what’s going on with the card.
“At the end of the day, he’s just focusing on the training and he’s doing a great job with that. He’s not really stressing the what-ifs. He’s putting a lot of trust in the process and the team that’s around him and, obviously, the UFC as well.”
With the coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down, it’s hard to imagine that a major sporting event — especially one headlined by a must-see lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson — will take place in the near future. But the UFC and its president are determined to make it happen.
Many journalists and industry veterans have criticized White and the UFC for potentially putting athletes, teams and UFC employees at risk. The UFC president has clapped back at members of the media in response, insisting “everything will go on” despite the negative feedback.
From Chartier’s perspective as a coach and a manager, if the UFC believes they can make it happen, he believes the groundwork has already been laid to make this event a reality, regardless of where it takes place.
“All of us are going to be taking a bit of a risk for our families,” Chartier stated. “The rumors we’re hearing are Russia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia. When you hear those things, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, why would you leave the country? You’re putting yourself at risk.’
“I’ve got to assume that the UFC (and) the smart, intelligent people who run that, they’re probably consulting with some of the smartest doctors about how they can pull this off and not get anyone infected. They don’t want to come off with any egg on their face, and they don’t want anybody getting sick. No amount of money is worth anybody dying. From a logistical standpoint, I’ve got to put my faith in the system that they have in place. If they think they can do this, they’re obviously consulting with smart doctors and, probably, attorneys to figure out how to make this work.”
Chartier is well aware there are arguments for and against the UFC moving forward with its schedule. Some think promoting UFC 249 is an outrageous thought that could put a lot of people in danger. Others say there’s nothing going on, and a big combat sports event could provide a temporary state of normalcy.
In the case of his client, Chartier isn’t taking a side.
“I don’t have any influence on that,” Chartier said. “All we have right now is how excited we will be for the fans on that day. There’s not much going on right now for people back home to watch. It’s a big opportunity for anyone who does fight on that card to build their stock, both internally with the UFC and the fanbase as well. There’s definitely going to be a captive audience there. I’ve got to imagine that the pay-per-view will be bigger and more popular than it would’ve been had it been business as usual.”
In the end, Kattar and Chartier aren’t too concerned about where they travel. If the event moves forward, the UFC featherweight will step into the octagon against Stephens.
“At the end of the day, wondering where it’s going to be is wasted energy,” Chartier said. “All we have to worry about now is making sure Calvin is ready to get his hand raised on April 18, which is obviously easier said than done.
“After Monday, I was a lot more confident than I was Monday morning [that the event will happen]. They’re saying they’ve secured a venue, and I’ve heard people say that there’s multiple venues. I’m pretty confident that I’m going to be flying out somewhere. I’m gonna be on a plane landing somewhere in three weeks. It will be us landing somewhere, and 20 years from now, we’ll have a really cool story to tell.”