Top-10 featherweights take centre stage as Boston bruiser Calvin Kattar battles surging Brit Arnold Allen in a high-stakes headliner at UFC Vegas 63 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Welterweight veterans Tim Means and Max Griffin meet in the co-main event at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas where undefeated heavyweight prospect Waldo Cortes Acosta makes his promotional debut against Jared Vanderaa in the featured bout.
Plus Josh Fremd takes on Tresean Gore in a middleweight match-up and dangerous light heavyweights Dustin Jacoby and Khalil Rountree rumble in the main card opener.
MAIN CARD (from 1 AM Sunday SA time):
Calvin Kattar (2.00) v Arnold Allen (1.83) (Featherweight)
Ranked fifth and sixth respectively at 145 pounds, Kattar (23-6) and Allen (18-1) collide in a crucial and extremely evenly matched five-round main event. The odds reflect this as Kattar was the favourite at 1.76 before the line flipped in Allen’s favour at the start of this week.
Kattar is a mainstay in the featherweight elite, having gone toe-to-toe with some of the biggest names in the division including former champion Max Holloway and holds victories over the likes of Jeremy Stephens, Dan Ige and Giga Chikadze.
An ultra-aggressive striker, Kattar is what you call a fighter’s fighter. He relishes standing and banging and has superhuman durability as he showed in the loss to Holloway at the start of last year.
With his brilliant boxing and knack for landing wicked elbows, “The Boston Finisher” boasts 11 knockouts but he hasn’t added to that tally since he bludgeoned Stephens in 2020.
He bounced back from the tough loss to Holloway with a career-best performance against Giga Chikadze in the first main event of 2022, battering him over five rounds to snap the Georgian’s eight-fight win, but dropped a razor-thin split decision to Josh Emmett in his last fight in June, leaving him 3-2 in his last five.
The consistency Kattar is seeking is what’s made Allen the hottest rising star in the division. “Almighty” is on an 11-fight win streak dating back to 2014 and is a perfect 9-0 in the UFC.
Despite his hot streak, he’d flown under the radar somewhat until March of this year when he came out of his shell and starched Dan Hooker in the first round on home soil. It was a breakout moment for Allen as he passed his toughest test with flying colours and showed some killer instinct to snap a run of four consecutive decision wins.
Whereas Kattar is a fighter, Allen is a tactician. He’s cyborg-like in his ability to stay cool in the heat of battle and execute a technical game plan. Don’t expect him to veer from his fighting philosophy after the quick finish of Hooker. Instead, he’ll double down on his patient, methodical style in this, his maiden main event.
One of Kattar’s big advantages is the fact that he’s headlined five cards and went the full five rounds in his last four fights. Having said that, he’s 2-3 in main events. More importantly, though, Allen’s tactical style is tailor-made for five-round bouts.
He hasn’t made a single mistake in the Octagon yet and is far more defensively sound than Kattar, who absorbs 7.15 significant strikes per minute compared to Allen’s 2.22. That’s huge in what’s set to be a striking battle, for the most part, considering Kattar hardly goes for takedowns and has excellent takedown defence (91%).
Kattar’s a step up in competition, but Allen’s tactical proficiency should see the surging Englishman prevail on points.
Tim Means (2.60) v Max Griffin (1.52) (Welterweight)
Experienced and entertaining welterweights look to bounce back after having their respective three-fight win streaks snapped in what should be a thrilling co-main event.
Means (32-13-1) was submitted by Kevin Holland while Griffin (18-9) lost a split decision to Neil Magny. With over 50 fights under his belt, Means’ craftiness more than anything is what’s kept him so competitive in recent years.
“The Dirty Bird” is at his best when he mixes everything together and has never shied away from a brawl. He has 24 finishes to his name, including 19 knockouts.
Griffin is more powerful, explosive and athletic than the lanky Means. He, too, does most of his damage on the feet, with nine of his 11 stoppage wins being knockouts.
“Pain” holds a victory over welterweight legend Carlos Condit, which speaks to his talent, has a one-inch reach advantage and far more left in the tank than his opponent, so expect him to get the job done.
Means’ durability has diminished, resulting in his last three losses all being by stoppage, and Griffin has the power to do the same. I’m leaning towards a knockout as opposed to a decision but I’m happy to take the money line.
Waldo Cortes Acosta (1.51) v Jared Vanderaa (2.65) (Heavyweight)
With a perfect record of 7-0, Cortes Acosta is primed for a successful UFC debut as Salsa Boy’s first dance comes against a struggling Vanderaa (12-9) who’s on a four-fight losing skid.
The intimate setting of the UFC APEX makes it an ideal venue for a debutant like Cortes Acosta to help keep his nerves in check.
The big man from the Dominican Republic earned his contract with his fourth career TKO win over Danilo Suzart on Dana White’s Contender Series and he’ll make it five against the plodding “Mountain.”
Josh Fremd (1.64) v Tresean Gore (2.35) (Middleweight)
These men aren’t newcomers but both are seeking their first UFC win. Fremd (9-3) had his promotional debut spoiled by Anthony Hernandez, who got the nod from the judges in their April clash at UFC 273.
Gore (3-2) impressed on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter but an injury ahead of the finale proved to be a turn for the worst as he was signed but lost his first two UFC assignments. He was outworked by TUF 29 winner Bryan Battle and was knocked out by Fremd’s teammate Cody Brundage last time out.
Gore’s still green and with Fremd being more polished and well-rounded (four knockouts and three submissions), back “The Big Yinz” to break his duck in style.
Dustin Jacoby (1.58) v Khalil Rountree (2.45) (Light Heavyweight)
Jacoby (18-5-1) returned to the UFC for his second act in the promotion in 2020 a changed fighter. He’s unbeaten since with six wins and a draw and heads into this mouth-watering main card opener on a four-fight win streak.
It’s clear that he’s in his prime and has sharpened his already world-class kickboxing while improving his defensive grappling. He won’t have to worry about wrestling in this one, though.
Rountree (10-5) is coming off back-to-back TKO wins, which highlighted the brute force of his kicks. He certainly has the power to end the fight with a single strike but Jacoby’s the more technical striker and will triumph as a result.
It could honestly just as easily be a 15-minute barnburner as a 12th career knockout for Jacoby, so I’m happy going with the money line again.