Just four days removed from the UFC’s first Fight Island pay-per-view, the promotion keeps rolling with its first Fight Night event in Abu Dhabi.
The UFC on ESPN 13 lineup may pale in comparison to the stacked card that took place on Saturday, but the main event promises to have an immediate impact on the featherweight title picture as Calvin Kattar, winner of four of his past six with all four of those wins coming by way of knockouts, meets Dan Ige, winner of six straight.
Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski needs a new challenger after defeating Max Holloway a second time, and with several other 145-pound contenders standouts waiting for their next fights to be officially announced, the winner of Kattar and Ige will set the tone for determining who gets the next shot at Volkanovski.
In other main card action: flyweights Tim Elliott and Ryan Benoit both seek to steady the ship; top-10 bantamweights Jimmie Rivera and Cody Stamann meet in a featherweight bout; Molly McCann puts her three-fight win streak on the line against Taila Santos at flyweight; and Abdul Razak Alhassan returns to face newcomer Mounir Lazzez in a 174-pound catchweight bout.
What: UFC on ESPN 13
Where: Yas Island in Abu Dhabi
When: Wednesday, July 15. The entire event will air on ESPN and ESPN+, with the six-fight preliminaries starting at 7 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card starting at 10 p.m. ET.
I’ve got to go with “The Boston Finisher” in this one.
Maybe I’m going full casual here, but Kattar’s stunning knockout victories have won me over more than Ige’s last two hard-fought split-decision victories. That’s not to take away from Ige’s six-fight winning streak, which has come against opponents with a variety of skill sets. Ige is adaptable, if nothing else.
Whether or not you agree that he beat Edson Barboza in his most recent outing, Ige fared well against the Brazilian striker, and he’ll be comfortable exchanging with Kattar. However, in a pure standup battle, Kattar has the edge in accuracy and power. He’s excellent at patiently countering, and while it may take him until the third or fourth round, he’s eventually going to land a telling blow on Ige’s chin.
Ige may want to consider getting this one to the ground, which is easier said than done, given Kattar’s strong takedown defense. With Kattar dictating where the fight goes, it’s only a matter of time until he punches Ige out and punches his ticket to a future title shot.
You don’t get a lot of pure grappler vs. striker matchups in the flyweight division, typically one of the more well-rounded divisions, but this pairing of Tim Elliott and Ryan Benoit is close. Or at least that’s how I expect it to play out on fight night.
The book on Elliott is well known. He’s an absolute tornado in round one, with the kind of relentless wrestling and submission skills to threaten any opponent at 125 pounds. There just isn’t any flyweight quite like Elliott when it comes to scrambling ability. Where he tends to fall short is in finishing his plate, as it were. Of late, the one-time UFC title challenger has seen himself make pivotal mistakes that either led to him getting finished, or put him at an insurmountable deficit.
He can’t make that mistake against Benoit, one of the division’s hardest punchers. If Elliott plays around on the feet at all, Benoit will take his head off. For Benoit, his takedown defense has to be on point, lest this end with Elliott taking his back and choking him out in the first round.
I’m favoring the grappler here and picking Elliott by submission in the first or second round.
Their careers might be heading in opposite directions, but I still think this is a bridge too far for Cody Stamann.
Jimmie Rivera is a deceiving 1-3 “slump.” His three losses in that stretch have come against Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, and Marlon Moraes, possibly the three best active bantamweights in the world today – and only Moraes finished him. “El Terror” is still one of the most well-rounded fighters at 135 pounds, and his striking is a notch above Stamann’s. That leaves Stamann to fall back on his wrestling, a potent tool that could slow Rivera’s attack. However, Rivera has excellent takedown defense.
One X-factor to consider is how much time has elapsed for each man between fights. Rivera is competing for the first time since June 2019, while this is Stamann’s second fight in 39 days. It’s anybody’s guess how those layoffs of opposite extremes will affect them, if at all – it’s just something to keep an eye on.
Recency bias favors Stamann, who is certainly a bantamweight on the rise. He’s not ready to get past Rivera yet, though.
Molly McCann’s grappling skills played a major role in her previous fight, and that’s an aspect of her game she’ll want to make timely use of in this matchup with Taila Santos. In Santos’ first UFC outing, she showed flashes of the prospect that ran up a gaudy 15-0 record, but she’s a difficult property to evaluate because her pre-UFC competition was of such poor quality. She fought well against the more battle-tested Mara Romero Borella though.
One could feel the frustration from Santos’ corner as she made several tactical errors that cost her a close decision, and if she can sharpen up that cage IQ, there’s a lot of potential there. She has reach and athleticism, and will search for submission from bottom position should McCann take her down. The big question is if she can deal with McCann setting the pace with her pressure game. “Meatball” is the type to walk forward non-stop, throwing with volume to force a fighter out of her comfort zone.
Santos’ leg kicks will also play a factor. If she can damage McCann’s legs early, it changes the whole complexion of the fight. Santos is still so unproven, but I’m going with my gut and picking her to eke out a decision victory.
Abdul Razak Alhassan and Mounir Lazzez are two knockout specialists who find their finishes in different ways. Alhassan is a bulldozer once he’s able to close the distance. It all starts with his right hand, which demands constant attention from his opponent. With so much emphasis on his main weapon, he can slip in a left hook that carries much of the same concussive force.
Across the cage from him on Wednesday will be a more methodical striker in Lazzez. Called “The Sniper” for good reason, Lazzez won’t charge in and swing with Alhassan, even if that first rush of octagon adrenaline pushes him to do so. He has the advantage in leg reach and is going to want to chop away at Alhassan’s body and legs for as long as he can before Alhassan charges in. How much Lazzez’s striking defense has developed in the last 12 months will determine whether he can outwork Alhassan or ends up flat on his back.
I haven’t seen enough of Lazzez to convince me that he can avoid or withstand Alhassan’s shots for three rounds. Alhassan by knockout.