Calvin Kattar’s head coach Tyson Chartier has heard the ridicule tossed in his direction since Kattar’s unanimous decision loss to Max Holloway at UFC Fight Island 7 earlier this month. While he’s fine with most opinions in the fight’s aftermath, there is certainly a limit to what is deemed acceptable in his eyes.
“The one thing I won’t tolerate is people thinking I don’t have Calvin’s well-being at the forefront of my mind the whole time,” Chartier exclaimed.
Kattar entered the biggest fight of his career on the heels of an impressive 2020 campaign, picking up a ferocious KO win over Jeremy Stephens at UFC 249, and a main event win over Dan Ige at UFC on ESPN 13 two months later. With the way the featherweight division currently stands, a win over Holloway would’ve put Kattar in an almost inarguable position to earn a title shot.
Unfortunately, Holloway had different plans and delivered the performance of a lifetime in the promotion’s first main event to air on ABC. “Blessed” would go on to land a record 447 significant strikes through five rounds, while Kattar earned his spot on the all-time tough list with his ability to endure punishment, and fire back hard shots in his own right—even breaking his own personal record for significant strikes in the bout.
In an exclusive interview with MMA Fighting, Chartier was asked about how Kattar is feeling physically following his second main event in Abu Dhabi.
“I have to keep Calvin from working out,” Chartier said. “He’s pretty normal. His family, his mom, his brother-in-law is in town for the week so he’s been doing a lot of family time. Every day, it’s me saying, ‘Hey, relax.’
“The day after the fight, he was riding an exercise bike and asking me if he could go for a jog, and we were like, ‘No, you gotta rest a little bit.’ He’s antsy, he’s itching to get back to work, but obviously we’re going to be prudent. I’m leaning on the [UFC Performance Institute] and their staff a lot to make sure that we err on the side of caution coming off of a big fight like that. Calvin hasn’t had a break since he came into the UFC. Before the Ricardo Lamas fight he had a little bit of a break after the [Chris Fishgold] fight while we were working out a new contract. Since then it was Lamas, Zabit, and then right into the camp for [Jeremy] Stephens for 18 weeks, then right from there it was a quick turnaround against Dan Ige.
“Then we thought we were going to fight Zabit again, so we were in camp, then we were told we’re probably fighting Max so this is the first time he’s really been told, ‘Hey! Stop, rest and fully recover.’ This will be a good time to rest his hands, let his nose heal, rest his head and get back to it at the end of the year. That’s easier said and done because Calvin wants to work.
“All things considered, for how it looked on TV, and how a lot of people were concerned after, he’s doing well,” Chartier explained. “Easy for me to say as the guy who didn’t get hurt, but he’s in good spirits. We’re trying to reel him back in from not jumping back in the gym too quickly, but we’re all being safe on our end.”
As the fight began, Holloway was coming out with high volume, finding success on the feet with fast hands and successful combinations. Kattar landed some early leg kicks, and Holloway answered back. Both fighters landed at a 51 percent clip, per UFC Stats, but the former champion more than doubled up Kattar’s output.
“The Boston Finisher” has had early finishes in his career, but for the most part, he uses the first five minutes to survey the scene and find his comfort zone.
This time around, Holloway continued to build momentum. In the second, “Blessed” landed 33 more significant strikes then he did in the first round and landed a big elbow that put Kattar in big trouble, then putting a stamp on the round with a slew of elbows and a clean head kick.
As the third round came to a close, Holloway was cruising to that point, but Kattar didn’t seem completely out of the fight—although he had a lot of work to do. As the championship rounds began, Holloway outdid himself. The Hawaiian standout was like a Tsunami in the fourth; landing a barrage of punches, elbows, kicks to the body and head, putting Kattar in a massive amount of trouble.
Referee Herb Dean was very close to stopping the fight but ultimately chose not to as Kattar did his best to throw heaters with his back against the fence to stay in there.
According to UFC Stats, Holloway landed 141 of 191 significant strikes in the fourth round. Those five minutes have been the biggest point of contention when it comes to the result of this fight, and has led to a lot of finger pointing towards Dean and Chartier for not stepping in and, as the statement goes, saving the fighter from himself.
“It definitely did [get close to us stopping it],” Chartier stated. “I’m sitting in the corner and every time things were getting really bad, Calvin’s back was to us, and we see Max, and we see Herb. There was a couple of times when we were like, ‘F*ck, is he gonna stop it?’ And I was hoping Herb would stop it. And then all of a sudden we saw he wasn’t going to stop it, we were like, ‘Should we throw in the towel?’ And then I’m thinking we’re gonna throw in the towel, and then Calvin would crack him. Then he would get off the fence and start landing shots. Like, damn it!
“The only way to describe it is that I was looking for a reason to stop it and every time I was about to, he would give us a reason not to. It’s a tough spot to be in because you have the make a judgement call in real time based on the facts that you’re presented. And, yeah, there was a couple of times I thought Herb was going to stop it, but he’s looking Calvin in the eye. I’m behind Calvin, so it’s like Herb has a better view than we do and Calvin is fighting back. He’s landing good shots.
“There was one point in the fourth round where I looked at Jake [Mainini], the Muay Thai coach, and I was like, ‘Dude, Max is getting tired.’ It was crazy because he was beating us up, but you could see it in his eyes like, ‘Ughh,’ and then he tried to wrestle, tried to take us down, he was getting tired from beating us up and then Calvin landed a good shot again and the round ended.”
Kattar would survive the fourth round, even flashing a smile towards Holloway with his face covered in blood. Both fighters, through 20 minutes, displayed an incredible amount of grit and toughness, both eating hard, powerful shots throughout, with Holloway landing four times the amount of Kattar.
In that final between rounds minute on the stool with his fighter, Chartier saw something in his fighter that led him to believe that he’s still with it and can keep going.
“I went to the stool after the fourth round thinking we’re going to stop the fight,” Chartier explained. “Then he sat down and was like, ‘Are you good?’ Calvin said, ‘Yeah, I’m good. What’s up?’ And he was so clear in the way he spoke. His eyes were clear, he was coherent, he was still in the fight. It was tough. It would’ve been tough to stop it right there when you could tell he was still in it mentally, he didn’t seem to be wearing the damage that we were watching. It was tough.
“It’s easy to sit back when you’re at home when you have the luxury of not being in the seat that we’re in, saying, ‘Oh, I would’ve stopped it.’ It’s easy to say that. I don’t think there is anyone that has spent more time on a mat with Calvin than I have. I know his whole team cares about him, his family cares about him, but there’s no one that can argue that they care more about Calvin than I do—I’m right up there with those people. At the end of the day, the only person I owe an explanation to is Calvin, and his family. We’ve had those conversations and we’re good. We’re onto the next one.”
Chartier undoubtedly saw the praise heaped his fighter’s way for surviving the onslaught for 25 minutes against one of greatest featherweights of all-time, but he also saw the negativity being sent his way. 2020 was a breakout year for himself as a coach, his fighters—including top-five bantamweight Rob Font—and his team, The New England Cartel in general.
With more eyes being on you comes more praise, and also more judgement from the other side. The former fighter turned head coach and manager prepared himself for whatever came his way. In hindsight, after the finger pointing, DMs on social media, etc., Chartier likely would’ve handled things the same way if he had a second chance and stands by his decision.
“I’m not ignorant to think that I know everything and that I don’t make mistakes, and I want to become better as a coach,” Chartier said. “I reached out to some people that I consider mentors, other colleagues, coaches in this sport that have been in that same seat and understand the rule and, honestly, a lot of the feedback I got from a lot of those people was, ‘Yeah, it sucked, but I would’ve done the same thing.’
“I can’t say I regret my decision. It’s tough. I don’t ever want to see my fighters take damage like that but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think Calvin still had a shot to win it in the fifth round. He hits hard, he was landing good shots, but Max was just superhuman. It’s not a position I ever want to be in again but it’s an experience where it happened how it happened.
“I can understand, you got to take the good with the bad. You go into this fight and you’re getting these awards for the team and as a coach, and you’re getting all of this publicity, and you can take that, but you don’t deserve that if you’re not gonna take the ridicule, too. You sit in that stool as the head coach and you have to be able to take the punches.”
The relationship between Chartier and Kattar goes beyond one of manager and client, head coach and fighter, mentor and pupil. In the Chartier household, Kattar is “Uncle Calvin” to his three sons. The same can be said with Chartier’s relationship with Font, and the rest of his fighters.
Questioning Chartier’s coaching is all well and good. Questioning his relationships, and how much he genuinely cares about his athletes? That’s a whole different conversation, which is why Chartier took precautions years ago to prepare for all scenarios.
“People are entitled to their opinion and they can say that I made a wrong choice, or I should’ve protected Calvin more, and that’s their opinion,” Chartier stated. “They’re entitled to it and I respect it. But the one thing I won’t tolerate is people questioning my care for the fighters’ well-being. I’m concerned about the kid, he’s basically like a little brother to me. There’s nothing more important to me than these guys’ health. Maybe you don’t agree with that based on how this fight went and whatever, but there’s a reason that in 2017 I brought these guys out to the PI to get baseline tests with concussion protocols.
“Head trauma is something that I think about. We got the baselines done. I had the UFC open the PI early that Friday when we got back to Vegas to do another concussion protocol test to compare it to our baseline. We already have it scheduled to go out at the end of February to check again to see how we’re improving. It is what it is. I’m gonna take the praise with the ridicule, because you have to expect both.”
While it wasn’t a great night for Kattar and company, Holloway delivered one of the all-time great performances on a big stage. After dropping two straight fights to current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, it didn’t seem like there was much interest in booking a third fight between the two most recent 145 pound titleholders. After that performance, Holloway is in prime position to get a title fight against Volkanovski, or Brian Ortega depending on the result of the next championship bout on March 27 at UFC 260.
While it’s never fun losing, Chartier couldn’t have been more impressed with the performance of Holloway and his team. Kattar didn’t leave the octagon with his hand raised, but the New England Cartel left Abu Dhabi with a lot to learn from.
“It sucks because obviously you have a plan going into a fight and it doesn’t always work out,” Chartier explained. “Max, man, I don’t know if anybody could’ve beat Max that night. Calvin will say it like this: ‘Max fought the best he’s ever fought, I don’t feel like I fought well.’ Even if Calvin did fight the best fight that he could’ve fought, it would’ve been a tall task to beat Max on that specific night.
“Once Max gets momentum, it’s really hard to take it back. You got to feel that, but Max, even though he was winning, he kept making more adjustments and he has a really good team around him. I’ll say that was one of the first times that I’ve ever felt that after a fight that the other team came in as prepared as we did. And that’s not a knock on any of the other teams I’ve coached against, but that’s our M.O. as a team that we come in more prepared. We’re a small group and we have more time to prepare for individual fights and that was the first time that we had faced another team like us—a small team that was so focused on just one fighter. They knew everything Calvin was going to do before they did it and they had an answer for everything.
“It was impressive seeing Max execute against stuff that Calvin was doing. It was definitely something that’s going to make our team take a step back and say, ‘All right, we can fix some things,’ and there’s always things you can fix, but when Calvin has been doing as well as he’s been doing, the it’s not broken, don’t fix it type thing, we’ll have some things to get back to the drawing board and work on now. You always say you win or you learn, and it sounds cliche, but I’m gonna learn a lot on this one, Calvin is gonna learn a lot on this one, and even Rob [Font] watching as a corner and a teammate, he’s gonna learn a lot in his career from this one. And if we don’t learn from it, shame on us.”