UFC Austin headliners Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett — No. 7 and No. 8 at featherweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — might not be next in line for a UFC title shot, but both could take a significant step towards that goal with statement win on Saturday.
Kattar has already proven he’s made of sterner stuff by bouncing back from a devastating loss at the hands of Max Holloway to drub Giga Chikadze this past January, and Emmett is on a four-fight win streak with some impressive knockout wins on his resume.
Unfortunately for Kattar, his recent loss to Holloway might preclude him from advancing much higher in the division until he proves he can get past one of the big featherweight four — Holloway, Alexander Volkanovski, Brian Ortega, Yair Rodriguez — while Emmett has yet to have his shot at anyone in that quartet and could be looked at as a fresh challenger depending on how a pair of upcoming matchups involving the aforementioned four play out. The matchmakers likely booked this one wanting a fun banger, but it could also give them another championship option to consider in the future.
In the co-main event, Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon meet in a matchup featuring UFC lightweight legends who will have a combined 66 octagon appearances between them by the end of the night (38 for Cerrone, 28 for Lauzon). This was scheduled to take place at UFC 274 this past May before a mystery illness forced Cerrone to withdraw on fight day and now these fan favorites get a second chance to add to their eye-popping legacies.
It’s a good thing too because even with Cerrone vowing to compete until he hits 50 combined UFC/WEC appearances, you get the sense that one bad night could convince him to hang it up earlier than expected. As for Lauzon, he’s essentially had one foot out the door for the past few years and whenever he feels comfortable hanging up the gloves, he’ll do it with no regrets. Cherish these moments while we have them, is what I’m saying.
(UPDATE: Saturday’s Cerrone vs. Lauzon co-main event has been cancelled due to Lauzon being forced to withdraw with health issues.)
In other main card action, Tim Means provides a tough test for Kevin Holland as he navigates welterweight waters, Joaquin Buckley fights Albert Duraev in a middleweight bout, Damir Ismagulov and Guram Kutateladze meet in a duel of fast-rising lightweights, and middleweights Julian Marquez and Gregory Rodrigues look to kick off the show with what promises to be a chaotic contest.
What: UFC Austin
Where: Moody Center in Austin, Texas
When: Saturday, June 18. The three-fight early preliminary card airs on ESPNEWS and ESPN+ beginning at 4 p.m. ET, followed by five preliminary bouts at 5 p.m. on ESPN2 and ESPN+. The six-fight main card airs on ESPN and ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
Calvin Kattar vs. Josh Emmett
Calvin Kattar deserves respect.
“The Boston Finisher” looked like a new man in his recent win over Giga Chikadze, living proof that a year away from competition can be incredibly beneficial for a fighter if that time is spent wisely. Kattar used those 12 months to elevate his game and get his mind where it needed to be to jump right back into contention. He’s the favorite heading into this headliner with good reason.
Josh Emmett is right behind Kattar in the contender rankings, so expect this one to be touch-and-go in the earlier rounds. He only needs one shot to put a man down and if he mixes in his wrestling offensively, it could set Kattar up for a KO strike. As it stands, I expect Kattar to use his footwork and boxing to get ahead on the scorecards, sending Emmett into desperation mode in the championship rounds. This could work out well for Kattar as it will present him with his own opportunities to finish, but turning this into a dogfight could also tilt the action in Emmett’s favor due to his power advantage.
I expect Kattar’s technique to prevail here, though there will be plenty of tense moments. Kattar by decision.
Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon — CANCELLED
Historically slow starter vs. first-round finisher? Give me Joe Lauzon in that equation.
At their peaks, I’d have picked Donald Cerrone to win a fight against his fellow UFC lifer, but the latter stages of their careers tells a different story. Cerrone has struggled to make it past the first five minutes of his fights without taking significant damage and now he has to deal with an aggressive Lauzon breathing down his neck. Even if Lauzon doesn’t seal the deal in Round 1, he could hurt Cerrone and set up a finish in Round 2. Or we’re getting a three-round war of attrition between two fighters who have already put in an absurd amount of cage time.
Lauzon’s long layoff of nearly 1,000 days does have me concerned, as did his inability to show up at Friday’s ceremonial weigh-ins due to cramps, but it’s not as if the intangibles surrounding the fight are doing Cerrone any favors. “Cowboy” has been out for over 400 days himself, hasn’t won a fight in three years, and has seemingly spent as much time talking about his latest direct-to-steaming movie than promoting his matchup with Lauzon. Maybe fighting in front of a crowd will rejuvenate Cerrone, but enough to push him past a swarming Lauzon? Doubtful.
“J-Lau” gets this one done early.
Kevin Holland vs. Tim Means
Is Kevin Holland serious about contending at 170 pounds? We’ll find out soon enough if he can get past Tim Means after recently defeating Alex Oliveira, another solid veteran. Those are two respectable welterweight marks to collect, guys who might not be household names but who can bring the fight to anyone in their division. I like how Holland is being built up.
Then again, that’s all a moot point if Means upsets Holland on Saturday. “The Dirty Bird” has the firepower to make Holland’s life miserable for as long as the fight lasts and you can bet that Holland will oblige a standup battle, at least early on. After getting stung a few times. Holland may decide to change tactics.
Though Holland’s wrestling defense is still a question mark, his grappling offense is an effective weapon. He should consider finding a way to get the action to the ground where his size and length will cause major problems for Means.
If Means can keep it on the feet, he should have the edge. I like his chances of controlling the distance and winning on points.
Joaquin Buckley vs. Albert Duraev
Movement and footwork will be the key to deciding who walks out with the W here.
Buckley showed in his narrow decision win over Abdul Razak Alhassan that he’s more than a highlight hunter. He knows how to stick to a game plan, which will be essential against the dangerous and disciplined Albert Duraev. The Russian fighter has great wrestling and a big right hand that he’ll throw whenever Buckley is in range.
However, Buckley’s speed will allow him to stay on the outside and get in and out to score points. He should look to frustrate Duraev until he finds an opening for one of his highlight-reel techniques. On the other side, Duraev can take Buckley out of the fight early if he maintains steady pressure and prevents Buckley from finding a rhythm.
This could be a riveting chess match, one that I see starting off slow and then picking up in the second where Buckley will add Duraev to his collection of KOs.
Damir Ismagulov vs. Guram Kutateladze
Bravo to the matchmakers for throwing two promising lightweights right into the fire. Both Damir Ismagulov and Guram Kutateladze have fascinating striking styles, so no matter who ends up scoring the win here they could both end up earning a Fight of the Night award bonus.
Ismagulov is just so fundamentally solid when it comes to his hands. He thrives on figuring out his opponent’s timing and then setting up impactful combos. He’s deceptively powerful, scoring knockdowns with precision rather than swinging like a madman. On the other side, Kutateladze has some wildness in his game, but he also throws with purpose especially when it comes to his kick attacks.
I’m higher on Ismagulov as a potential contender just based off of the strength of his resume, though Kutateladze eking out a win over Mateusz Gamrot instantly put him on the map. Still, when two fighters are this closely matched skill-wise, I’ll go with experience for the tiebreaker.
Ismagulov by decision.
Julian Marquez vs. Gregory Rodrigues
When we talk ideal main card openers, we’re talking matchups like Julian Marquez vs. Gregory Rodrigues. Both men are highly skilled fighters who have a tendency to lose their minds once the action escalates, much to the benefit of the fans. Marquez should have the edge on the feet and Rodrigues should have the edge on the ground, but once the leather starts flying, who knows what these two will do?
I’ve been waiting for Rodrigues to show off his elite jiu-jitsu, something he hasn’t done much since falling in love with his natural knockout power. He’s in danger of going full Jorge Gurgel here and forgetting his base, but I still believe he can break it out when necessary. That’s why I see him indulging himself early on by engaging with Marquez on the feet and then mixing in more grappling as the fight progresses.
Marquez has submission skills, but defensively he can’t hang with Rodrigues on the ground. I don’t know if Rodrigues has the wrestling to take the fight there especially if his gas tank ebbs later in the contest, so if he’s to find a submission, it will be after hurting Marquez on the feet. Let’s go Rodrigues by club and sub.
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