The first UFC card of the new year could give us our first new No. 1 contender.
With “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung winning the Alexander Volkanovski sweepstakes, top featherweight contenders Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze — No. 10 and No. 8 respectively in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — will just have to settle for punching each other’s faces in Saturday’s UFC Vegas 46 main event for a chance to potentially be the next in line to face the champion.
The stakes are high for both men as are the consequences. Kattar returns to action for the first time since being on the losing end of a brutal five-round decision loss to Max Holloway one year ago, while Chikadze still has to prove that the 7-0 start to his UFC career is for real and not just a product of fortuitous matchmaking.
A loss could be devastating for both men. If Kattar falls, there could be a substantial ceiling placed on his career, and while there’s no shame in making a career out of being a well-liked, action fighter, you have to imagine Kattar has higher aspirations.
As for Chikadze, the Georgian star has placed the bullseye on himself by suggesting on social media that the UFC should have considered moving him from the Kattar fight to the Volkanovski fight, a gesture that could be perceived as Chikadze overlooking Kattar. A slip-up on Saturday will make a huge dent in Chikadze’s reputation after that show of bravado.
In other main card action, heavyweights Jake Collier and Chase Sherman face off, flyweight contenders jockey for position as Brandon Royval fights Rogerio Bontorin and Katlyn Chookagian rematches Jennifer Maia, and Dakota Bush and Bill Algeo welcome recent Contender Series signings Viacheslav Borshchev and Joanderson Brito to the UFC.
What: UFC Vegas 46
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Calvin Kattar (10) vs. Giga Chikadze (8)
Call me a Giga Chikadze believer.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the former Glory Kickboxing standout. How will he deal with a fellow featherweight contender who has a similar level of experience? Can he go a hard five rounds inside the octagon? What if his opponent decides to implement a wrestling-heavy game plan? These are all questions that could be answered in his fight with Calvin Kattar.
It’s been a year since we’ve seen Kattar fight and there’s no way to tell how much his game evolved since then and what areas he’s focused on. On paper, it would make sense for him to mix it up against the master of the Giga Kick, but Kattar has favored striking throughout his UFC tenure so one can guess that he’d stick to that strategy, which has produced a lot of wins. How he approaches Chikadze on the feet is another story altogether.
Kattar is an outstanding boxer and it’s conceivable that he could win a technical battle with Chikadze, even given Chikadze’s own impressive striking credentials. However, it’s more likely that Kattar will work to get inside and make this one ugly when he can, pestering Chikadze with combinations that throw off his timing. Because if Chikadze gets his timing down, it’s going to be either a short night (with Chikadze turning Kattar’s innards into lasagna) or a long night (with Chikadze sniping him to bits for 25 minutes) for Kattar.
I’m leaning towards a main event that goes the distance and Chikadze establishing himself as the real deal at 145 pounds. Kattar will have his moments, but he’ll either fall behind on the scorecards early before rallying late for a moral victory or simply end up on the wrong end of a Chikadze statement victory.
Jake Collier vs. Chase Sherman
Putting two heavyweights with losing UFC records (Jake Collier at 4-5, Chase Sherman at 3-7 across two separate stints with the promotion) in the de facto co-main is a gusty choice, but if the decision makers are hoping for some dumb, big man fun to happen, that’s not a bad bet (and in fairness, the card was shuffled on the fly after being decimated by cancellations and postponements).
Sure, Jake Collier and Chase Sherman probably shouldn’t be this high on any card put on by a major promotion. Don’t be surprised if they make the most of the opportunity though. Sherman has been involved in some memorable scraps in his day and Collier has been an entertaining addition to the UFC roster since moving all the way up from 185 pounds.
While I’d give Sherman the edge in power and durability, I like the high pace that Collier pushes at heavyweight. The variety of his attacks will give Sherman problems as well and once Collier finds his rhythm, he should really start pouring it on in Round 2 and find a finish.
Brandon Royval (T8) vs. Rogerio Bontorin (14)
The people’s co-main event should be a good one. Put aside the UFC’s bizarre disregard for its flyweight division (the men and the women) and you’ll see that this is a perfect matchup for Brandon Royval and Rogerio Bontorin, who need to reestablish themselves as contenders at 125 pounds.
Royval has faced a murderer’s row so far with submission wins over Kai Kara-France and Tim Elliott and losses to top 5 flyweights Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja. He’s incredibly talented and has the profile of a title challenger, he just hasn’t found consistency yet, and the UFC isn’t exactly the place where one is given the breathing room to do that.
This has also been an issue for Bontorin, who has struggled to beat the best of the best in his division while also experiencing some odd hiccups (a brief USADA suspension, missing the bantamweight limit as a short-notice replacement ahead of his recent win over Matt Schnell). Like Royval, he has the skills, but can he put it all together?
I’m leaning towards Royval sending Bontorin back to the drawing board here as I see him as having the higher ceiling and I like that he has shown he can take out upper-tier competition. Let’s hope that this fight spends plenty of time on the mat, where Royval and Bontorin are capable of some amazing displays, though I see Royval being more active with ground-and-pound to take the fight.
Katlyn Chookagian (3) vs. Jennifer Maia (6)
The first time Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia fought, Chookagian won a unanimous decision pretty handily. So what’s changed since their first meeting over two years ago?
Chookagian is still a busy volume striker, Maia is still a confident muay Thai fighter with a great ground game. They’ve both had their shot at flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and they both left the octagon empty-handed. With respect to both fighters, they are who they are and everyone knows what to expect.
That said, if Maia can find a way to get the fight to the ground this time, that will be her best shot at changing the outcome. Because on the feet, Chookagian has a knack for scoring points and winning, even if she’s rarely in discussion for the Fight of the Night. I expect her to keep this one standing and fight how she has to to guarantee herself a second check.
Chookagian by decision. Again.
Dakota Bush vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Dakota Bush is going to want to get this one to the ground. And fast.
A former K-1 kickboxer, Viacheslav Borshchev is as dangerous as you’d expect in the standup. He has fast hands and feet and mixes up his strikes well. He also smartly controls distance, which will be key if he wants to avoid Bush’s wrestling. Because Bush should be going for takedowns as soon as that bell rings. If he stands and bangs with Borshchev, he’s toast.
Bush has the grappling and cardio to get the job done. He has to be single-minded in his approach and he’s also going to have to grind Borschev down because you know the Russian fighter has been drilling takedown defense with his Alpha Male coaches. So far, Borshchev hasn’t done a great job of stopping the initial shot, but he can survive on the ground and knows how to back to his feet.
This is a tough one to call, but I’m going with Bush to take a decision and log one of tonight’s upsets. Borshchev has a bright future ahead of him, so consider this a teachable moment.
Bill Algeo vs. Joanderson Brito
It has not been an easy road for “Senor Perfecto.”
Bill Algeo is 1-2 in the UFC so far, with his two losses coming to longtime featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas and the always dangerous Ricardo Ramos. Those are two Ricardos you just don’t want to mess with. Algeo has hung in there with tough opposition, he just hasn’t been able to get over that hump.
Now he has to deal with promising newcomer Joanderson Brito, a well-rounded Brazilian who brings an aggressive style to his octagon debut. It’s not surprising that he was signed off of Dana White’s Contender Series as he’s exactly what the UFC boss looks for. Brito fought somewhat safe in his Contender Series appearance, but he also showed a willingness to swing wild on the feet and he’s a threat to finish both standing and on the ground.
Algeo is due for a win. His inability to land a big shot has hurt him in his previous UFC outings, but I still see him as someone who’s going to stick around for a while based on his excellent use of range striking and his strong scrambling ability. He’ll probably drop the first round to Brito and then surge back in the second and third rounds.
Give me Algeo by late finish.