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Dan Ige knows inactivity from top contenders – and a big win – could put him in title contention

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Dan Ige is a man who knows that when opportunity knocks, you better answer.

That’s been his philosophy throughout this entire year, and he’s already picked up two big wins. He’ll try for a third on Wednesday in the main event of UFC on ESPN 13 opposite Calvin Kattar.

After earning a split-decision win over Mirsad Bektic in February, Ige welcomed former lightweight contender Edson Barboza to the featherweight division three months later and picked up another win. When the UFC struggled to book a headliner for its July 15 event on Fight Island, they gave him a call.

“This is what the sport is all about,” Ige told MMA Fighting. “It’s not like I could have been like, ‘Let’s wait, I need eight weeks and we’ll do it later.’ No, they need a main event for Abu Dhabi, who’s willing to step up? No one was. Myself and Kattar were willing to step up. That’s what happens.

“The closed mouths don’t get fed, and the ones not willing to take an opportunity won’t get the reward.”

Ige believes that’s the necessary attitude for an eventual run at the UFC featherweight title. The Hawaiian-born fighter sees his willingness to step up as something that get propel him up the featherweight ladder even faster.

There are rumors that Zabit Magomedsharipov will return against Yair Rodriguez in August, and one-time title challengers Brian Ortega and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung have been engaged in a verbal war for months without getting a date to actually fight. Many of the top-ranked contenders in the division are sitting idle right now.

It’s frustrating for Ige, who wants the chance to advance his career by beating Kattar and then hopefully graduating to one of those fights to earn a title shot.

“Sometimes I don’t understand it,” Ige said. “You’ve got Brian Ortega – I feel like he retired after Max [Holloway] beat him up. He hasn’t fought in two years. I have a lot of respect for that guy, too, but he hasn’t fought for two years and he’s still ranked like No. 2 in the world or something.

“Then you’ve got Yair [Rodriguez] and Zabit [Magomedsharipov], a guy we manage, but then again same thing. I’m not talking bad about my guys, but they’re not active and they’re not fighting. Even if these guys are scheduled to fight or whatever in August, who even knows when they’ll fight again. I’m just focusing on me right now. I’m doing what I have to do to get a title shot.”

With the Kattar fight, Ige has a chance to face a higher-ranked opponent with a style made for exciting fights. Of his five wins in the UFC, Kattar has earned four by knockout.

Of course, Ige respects the kind of danger Kattar represents, but he also knows that’s exactly the kind of opponent that plays into what he does best.

“We both put ourselves into that fire fight,” Ige said. “We both take risks, and the ones who take risks, that’s why he’s getting these great knockouts and crazy finishes. I’m super honored to face a guy like Calvin. I have a lot of respect for what he’s done in the division.

“I have a lot of respect for his skill set, but when I’m in the cage, it will be my night. I will do everything possible to put it on him, and he will do the same and that will make an extremely fun fight for the fans.”

Assuming he can make a statement with a win in his first UFC main event, Ige knows the sky is the limit when it comes to the rest of the year.

With featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski already taking notice of him during a Twitter exchange, Ige knows anything is possible when it comes to his title aspirations — and he’s definitely not going to turn down that fight when the opportunity comes.

“It’s very, very possible,” Ige said about a potential title shot this year. “I truly believe I will be. I’ve wrote these goals down, I think since 2018, I have a note somewhere that says I will be a UFC champion in 2021. I tweeted something about it and I got Volkanovski’s attention. He wrote nope, and I told him no disrespect champ, but I’m coming.

“You never know what’s going to happen in this division. I could go out there and get a big win over Kattar and get a title shot. The guys in the top-five aren’t active. I’m active. I’m out there. I’m winning. This is my third fight this year. If I keep going out there and I keep winning, pretty soon you can’t deny.”

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