Calvin Kattar is at his absolute best when he is counted out of a fight.
A year after the most devastating loss of his career, he returned to the cage and delivered the most dominant performance of his career. Kattar (23–5) decimated Giga Chikadze in the main event of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN card, winning the bout by unanimous decision.
“I know there were a lot of doubters, but all I could do was stay focused on that moment,” said Kattar, who will hold on to his No. 5 ranking in the featherweight division. “The past year was tough, but I knew I just had to be patient and wait for this moment. Myself, my team, my family, we were ready for this moment.”
Chikadze (14–3) had been tearing through opponents. He entered the bout on a nine-fight winning streak, jumping all the way to eighth in the division—but his championship trajectory was halted by Kattar. Chikadze showed toughness in the way he absorbed an onslaught of punishment from Kattar, but that was his lone bright spot in the bout.
Unlike in Kattar’s loss a year ago to Max Holloway, this time it was Kattar who was in complete control of the fight.
“I definitely bottled up a lot of emotion from that Holloway fight and I tapped into,” said Kattar. “To go through that moment and not learn from it, that would have been a waste. But it was even more than that. This was a chance for me to prove my supporters right. I’m chasing down the life on the other side of a win. Every fight is a chance to better my life, and that’s something I don’t take lightly.”
Saturday’s action started on the mat, but that lasted for only the first five minutes. The next four rounds were entirely focused around striking. Earlier in the week, Chikadze had told Sports Illustrated, “I am the best striker in the game. I have a huge advantage when we stand and fight.”
Against Kattar, though, that was not the case.
“I heard [Giga] overlooking me, I heard him calling out the champ,” said Kattar. “A lot of guys are jockeying for title fights with their mouths instead of their fights. I took note of that. I didn’t give him any bulletin-board material, I just wanted to make him pay for it on fight night.”
Kattar controlled the space and pace of the fight, especially in the fourth and fifth rounds. Over the final ten minutes, Kattar landed 87 significant strikes, 27 more than he received, leaving Chikadze’s face battered and bruised.
Kattar prevented Chikadze from using his vicious left body kick, crowding and pummeling a fighter that had previously been undefeated in the UFC Octagon. His combinations and elbow shots were simply too much, and he bombarded Chikadze with an array of over 400 total strikes.
“For some reason, I always seem to find myself in these types of fights,” said Kattar. “I love that sh--. I knew he was looking to come back at me with something big, but my coaches had me ready.”
The featherweight title is next on the line at UFC 273 in April as Alexander Volkanovski defends the belt against “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. Now that Kattar’s championship pursuit is back on track, he wants to return to fighting opponents ranked above him.
“That’s the goal, keep fighting up,” said Kattar. “I’ve worked 15 years to get to this point, and I’m all in. I can’t wait to go back home and get ready for the next one.”
The victory against Chikadze took place on the birthday of his late best friend, Joel Gigliotti, who died in 2019.
“Joel was my fifth corner,” said Kattar. “I’m proud we were able to deliver in his memory.”
Proudly representing family, friends and his home, Kattar reminded the fight world that the future of the featherweight division runs through Methuen, Massachusetts.
“This fight was for New England,” said Kattar. “We’re trying to earn some respect for our home, and we’re doing that every time we step in the cage.”