Methuen to Abu Dhabi.
Don’t bother checking Robert Frost poetry or even the GPS. It’s certainly a road less traveled.
Calvin Kattar is the living embodiment of his blue-collar Massachusetts town that prides itself of roast beef sandwiches and an unrelenting pride in their pro sports teams.
“I’m still upset the Patriots weren’t in the playoffs,” said Kattar, only hours away from the biggest fight of his life. “This season wasn’t the same without [Tom] Brady.”
Like Kattar, Brady will also be in action this weekend, quarterbacking his Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the favored New Orleans Saints on Sunday night. Brady has rarely been an underdog throughout his professional career, a stark contrast from Kattar’s ongoing journey to stardom in mixed martial arts—as well as the people for whom fights.
“I’m fighting for my team, my family, and for me, but I’m also fighting for the ones that aren’t here anymore,” said Kattar, reflecting on friends whose lives were ripped away due to mistakes with substance abuse. “I fight for all of them. There has been a lot of adversity, but the pressure is a privilege.”
Kattar has a date with destiny Saturday in his bout against former two-time UFC champion Max Holloway. Holloway is a bona fide star of the Octagon, operating on a terrain that Kattar covets. But for all Holloway’s strengths and advantages—his versatility in the cage, his ability to withstand pressure and to viciously and ceaselessly pummel his opponent—Kattar has one distinct advantage: he is hungry.
Saturday's fight represents every opportunity Kattar has worked to achieve and attain. He has a golden platform, the main event on UFC’s debut on ABC, and he seeks to carve up Holloway on network television.
“I have a lot of respect for Max, for what he’s been able to do in the Octagon and how he’s carried himself as a champion,” said Kattar. “This is a huge checkpoint for me and my team. Nothing was given to us, everything was earned, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“We’ve been hard at work for over a decade and a half to get this kind of opportunity. In order to be the best, you need to beat the best. I have that opportunity against Max.”
Sink or swim. Those are the only two options. A win launches Kattar (22-4) into a Featherweight Championship bout, a title currently held by Alexander Volkanovski, who twice has slain Holloway (21-6). A loss, however, shatters any of those visions. If Holloway wins, then Kattar leaves the main event before his seat is even warm—and the return flight to Boston’s Logan Airport will be filled with broken dreams.
But Kattar is quite familiar with obstacles and unseemly odds. Merely being happy for his inclusion on the ABC card is not part of Kattar’s itinerary for this trip to Abu Dhabi. While Kattar has already made it further than he ever imagined, he still has more to prove. His game is not just fighting Holloway, but mauling him once the bell rings.
“I’m going to earn my respect,” said Kattar. “Every shot, every round, he’s going to have a lot to deal with.”
If the only way to defeat Holloway is to unleash a desperate, relentless style and pace, then Kattar is ready.
“People like to say Max is coming off losses, but sometimes you drop one or two when you’re fighting the best guys in the world,” said Kattar. “I am planning on fighting the best-ever version of Max Holloway. We’ll be prepared for a full 25 minutes, and looking to get it done before then.
“There is nothing more dangerous than a man fighting with a purpose. I have my purpose. I’m fighting for the life on the other side of a win against Max Holloway.”