But this is the world of MMA — specifically the UFC — where words like “earned” and “deserves” don’t hold all that much weight, so whether it’s Kattar or Allen — No. 8 and No. 9 respectively in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — who has their hand raised in the UFC Vegas 63 featherweight main event, neither fighter is guaranteed anything.
Reigning 145-pound king Alexander Volkanovski has already set his sights on a superfight with newly crowned lightweight champion Islam Makhachev for UFC 284 in Australia next February, which means the featherweight division has to wait for the results of that yet-to-be-booked bout before anyone can attempt to unseat Volkanovski.
That’s a cruel reality for Kattar, who has been booked against one ranked contender after another, and for Allen, who is 9-0 in the UFC and has yet to sniff a No. 1 contender’s fight. Which is what this fight should be, but isn’t. And that sucks for the athletes, even if fans will still be treated to a pay-per-view level five-rounder between two of the best featherweights in the world.
In other main card action, Max Griffin fights Tim Means in what is sure to be a welterweight crowdpleaser, Jared Vanderaa welcomes heavyweight Waldo Cortes-Acosta to the UFC, Josh Fremd looks to keep The Ultimate Fighter 29 middleweight finalist Tresean Gore winless inside the octagon, and Dustin Jacoby and Khalil Rountree battle for a spot in the light heavyweight rankings.
What: UFC Vegas 63
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
Calvin Kattar vs. Arnold Allen
One thing about Arnold Allen: The man will not be made to hurry.
That’s not just a comment on the 28-year-old’s gradual rise up the featherweight charts, but his approach to the fight in general. He maintains his composure and sticks to his game plan at all times, so if falls on Calvin Kattar to bring the fight to him.
Fortunately for Kattar, he has plenty of experience being on the offensive for 25 minutes. Keep in mind that Allen has yet to compete in a five-rounder while Kattar’s past four fights featured championship frames. We know that Kattar can maintain pace even in a back-and-forth slugfest, it’s Allen’s gas tank and resolve that are in question.
Another reason I lean towards Kattar is that he’s the more proven standup fighter. Allen has an excellent counter game and a potent left mitt, but he’s yet to face an opponent who can force him into a grimy fight. I expect Kattar to be the one to force Allen out of his comfort zone, and when that happens, we’ll find out whether Allen is championship material or if he needs just a touch more seasoning.
Kattar by decision.
Tim Means vs. Max Griffin
Max Griffin’s herky jerky, in-and-out style spells trouble for “The Dirty Bird.”
Tim Means is at his best when he has a dance partner that he can pin down with his pressure game, and while Griffin won’t shy away from a scrap, he’ll be more inclined to use his movement to break Means’ rhythm. This strategy should serve him well in the early rounds as he pops Means with well-timed punches.
It’s in the latter stages of the fight that I have my doubts about Griffin’s ability to outlast Means. Griffin’s techniques requires a lot of energy to work properly and we’ve seen his composure ebb as a fight drags on. Means will find openings to do damage, especially if he senses that he’s down on the cards heading into the third round.
Still, I see Griffin building up enough of an early lead that he’ll be able to comfortably adjust as Means ramps up the aggression. As long as Griffin’s defense holds up and he can consistently land counters, this is his decision to take.
Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs. Jared Vanderaa
I’m picking a finish here, if only because I believe that the schedule makers put this on the main card instead of Andrei Arlovski’s 39th (!) UFC appearance for a good reason. That reason being that they believe Waldo Cortes-Acosta and Jared Vanderaa will spark fireworks.
There’s a lot to like about Vanderaa’s high-volume approach to heavyweight warfare, but the results haven’t been promising at the UFC level. He has just one win in six UFC appearances and it’s his lack of finishing touch that has held him back. That’s not an issue for the debuting Cortes-Acosta. The Dominican fighter gets in there and throws haymakers to the tune of five finishes in his first seven fights.
I can see Vanderaa getting out to an early lead before Cortes-Acosta turns it up in Round 2 and clobbers him.
Josh Fremd vs. Tresean Gore
Look, I get the intrigue of Tresean Gore. He was a bright spot on the latest lackluster edition of TUF, where he showed flashes of a fighter who could be a future knockout artist. But he just hasn’t put it together yet and that shouldn’t be surprising given that he only has a handful of pro bouts and that’s counting his fights in the TUF house. In Josh Fremd, Gore has another opponent with a considerable experience advantage over him and I’m not sure his talent level high enough that he can overcome that.
Fremd compliments solid, fundamental kickboxing with an effective grappling game, which might not be a description that jumps off the page, but is the kind of well-rounded skill set one needs to handle a prospect like Gore. He also stands a towering 6-foot-4 and he makes good use of his length when establishing his standup. One major advantage Gore has is his speed, so Fremd has to be wary of an early charge, lest he become not just Gore’s first UFC win, but his first highlight-reel knockout.
Gore absolutely has the potential to prove me wrong, but for me, the smart pick is Fremd picking up a submission late in the first or early in the second.
Dustin Jacoby vs. Khalil Rountree
Khalil Rountree looks like a legitimate contender when he’s at his best, and as our own Jed Meshew has pointed out, he’s 2-0 against GLORY kickboxers (Karl Roberson and Gokhan Saki) with both of those wins coming by way of knockout. Not too shabby! Could Dustin Jacoby be the third?
Putting that quirky stat aside (where’s the fun in that?), Jacoby is a better, more complete striker than Roberson and he’s not as shopworn as Saki, so I like him to strike a blow for his kickboxing brethren. Jacoby has hit a ridiculous stride, going 6-0-1 in his second stint with the UFC to trail only top title contender Magomed Ankalaev for the longest unbeaten streak in the light heavyweight division. The cool thing about Rountree is that if he’s on, he could land that one shot to completely take away Jacoby’s shine.
This fight was positioned as the main card opener for a reason and I fully expect it to deliver from an action standpoint. If you see this one ending in a finish, Rountree should be your pick, but I think it goes the distance and that Jacoby’s sustained offense will be the difference in the judges’ eyes.
Andrei Arlovski def. Marcos Rogerio de Lima