Highlights - Mackenzie Dern vs Angela HillMay 21
We're back, baby!
Almost a month after our final UFC fix of 2021, we’re back in action and ready to get 2022 underway with a cracking card from the UFC APEX.
It feels like it’s been forever since the last Octagon walk blessed our screens but with the UFC schedule already taking shape for the first quarter of the year, there is plenty coming your way after Calvin Kattar and Giga Chikadze christen the new UFC calendar on Saturday night.
It’s the turn of the heavyweights next week as undisputed king Francis Ngannou takes on interim champ Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
On February 5, we’ll bring you action from the middleweight division as Norway’s Jack “The Joker” Hermansson returns against Sean Strickland.
And then a week later at UFC 271, Israel Adesanya takes on Robert Whittaker in an unmissable middleweight title rematch at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
It’s all systems go from Saturday night – so make sure you’re tuned into BT Sport 1HD from 10pm to stay up to date with all the latest happenings from inside the Octagon.
Kattar ready to rediscover the killer within
It will be almost a year to do the day since we last saw Calvin Kattar in action when the 33-year-old steps into the Octagon on Saturday night.
His previous outing featured one of the most memorable performances in recent UFC history – only not from Kattar himself, unfortunately.
The Massachusetts man came up against a Max Holloway few others in the fight game could have dealt with on that night, battling fruitlessly during a five-round clinic from the Hawaiian future Hall of Famer.
It was on that night Holloway produced a moment that has since been etched in UFC folklore as the 30-year-old slipped and rolled away from a barrage of punches thrown by a weary and bloodied Kattar almost without looking, screaming “I’m the best boxer in the UFC!” before finding a home for a pinpoint jab on Kattar’s mangled face.
There's no shame losing to a guy like Holloway
- Calvin Kattar
The injuries Kattar sustained that night, including a broken nose and a deep wound on his scalp, saw the New England Cartel man slapped with a lengthy medical suspension but 12 months on, he is ready to return and right the wrongs of that night.
"A year is a long time," Kattar told Yahoo News this week.
"It tests your patience. I like to be busy. I was looking to get a fight earlier than this, but it never happened. Maybe that's for the better.
"That was a tough fight against Holloway. Sometimes the hardest part of this business is taking time off, but it's important to listen to your body, and rushing back, playing to emotion and ego, isn't the smartest thing to do sometimes."
The one-sided nature of his loss to Holloway betrayed the talent Kattar clearly has; vicious wins over Shane Burgos, Ricardo Lamas and Jeremy Stephens among others on his ledger show the calibre of a man clearly capable of challenging the elite.
But Kattar knows fortunes can flip in an instant as he puts his lofty ranking on the line against a dangerous opponent this weekend, with one eye on a victory that could open the door to a rematch with Holloway one day soon.
"In the fight game you don't get a best out of seven," Kattar added.
"It's one shot... one. You aren't guaranteed of any trilogies or a rematch or anything. You have to earn that right. That's what I'm doing now, trying to earn the next fight.
"Just like [Dustin] Poirier did with [Conor] McGregor. It took him almost seven years, after losing to him, to get another shot. Then he knocked him out two times in a row. It happens. There's no shame losing to a guy like Holloway."
Will Kattar find form at the first time of asking – or will he fall to successive defeats for the first time in his career?
Beware the Ninja
Giga Chikadze’s UFC career began in solid – if unremarkable – form as the Georgian quietly went about picking up four decision wins, including two narrowly, by split decision, over a quartet of fellow unranked featherweights.
But since picking up the first TKO of his UFC career, with a neatly-placed headkick against Jamey Simmons back in November 2020, Chikadze has looked a man transformed.
Buouyed with the confidence that comes with such a win to compliment his lengthening string of victories, Chikadze has since stopped UFC legends Cub Swanson and Edson Barboza in stunning fashion, underlining his phenomenal talent.
It was Chikadze’s last performance, defeating Brazilian striking maestro Barboza in such emphatic style on his main-event debut, that made many sit up and take notice of the Georgian phenom.
I can beat anyone in the featherweight division
- Giga Chikadze
That win earned the 33-year-old a place inside the top 10 in a fiercely competitive featherweight division – but Chikadze looks more than capable of crashing the party with the big boys in the top five.
Chikadze, nicknamed “Ninja”, believes a win over Kattar would put him in pole position for a crack at featherweight gold later in 2022, labelling himself “the people’s champion” during an interview with MMAJunkie last month.
“I’ve been saying this for a long time, and people didn’t believe it before. Now finally they’re starting to believe it. I’m the people’s champ,” he said.
“I can beat anyone in the featherweight division in the world, and I feel it’s time, and it’s time to make it all official. First things first, January and then we make all this official.”
Will he take another giant stride towards featherweight gold with the biggest win of his UFC career yet?
The next women’s flyweight contender?
The co-main event on Saturday night sees two top ranked flyweights face off in a fascinating rematch as Katlyn Chookagian takes on Jennifer Maia.
Chookagian triumphed the last time these two met with the Pennsylvanian doing enough to get the nod on the scorecards after three rounds and the 33-year-old will be out to inflict a repeat performance on her rival this Saturday night.
Such a win would likely see Chookagian granted a rematch at dominant flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko at some point in 2022 – although the same could be said for Jennifer Maia too.
With revenge an added motivation for Maia heading into this one, the 33-year-old Brazilian might feel she too is only a win away from her own rematch against the champion given the relative lack of options in front of her.
Either way, with so much riding on the outcome this Saturday night, we should be set for something special at the UFC APEX.
Tune in to BT Sport 1HD from 10pm to watch all the drama unfold and usher in a new year of UFC action!