Max Holloway (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ABC 1 Preview and Predictions

This weekend’s UFC event is not only the promotion’s return to Fight Island, but it is also the first event of the calendar year and the promotion’s debut on ABC. In the UFC on ABC 1 main event, top featherweight contenders clash when former champion Max Holloway takes on the surging Calvin Kattar.

Holloway is looking to rebound after a pair of championship losses to Alexander Volkanovski. Meanwhile, Kattar is in search of the biggest win of his professional career with a win over the former champion. “The Boston Finisher” has only suffered two defeats across eight total appearances inside the Octagon.

In the co-headliner,welterweight legends Carlos “Natural Born Killer” Condit and Matt “The Immortal” Brown throw down. Both veterans are coming off victories, but they have struggled to regain the momentum they once held as top divisional contenders.


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The welterweight division is also highlighted in another featured contest that pits Santiago Ponzinibbio against Li Jingliang. The Argentinian Ponzinibbio is riding an impressive seven-fight winning streak heading into this contest, but he has been out of action since late 2018 with multiple injuries and illnesses. “The Leech” was on a three-fight winning streak of his own until his last outing, in which he was soundly defeated by Neil Magny.

Knockout artist Joaquim Buckley returns to the cage for the third time in three months when he meets Alessio Di Chirico. Buckley wowed fans with his “Knockout of the Year” performance against Impa Kasanganay and followed it up with another impressive knockout over Jordan Wright. Di Chirico, who is on a three-fight skid, could go a long way in righting the ship with a win over Buckley.

The main card opens at middleweight with Punahele Soriano and Duško Todorović. Soriano is perfect through one fight in the UFC and seven total in his career. He knocked out Oskar Piechota in his UFC debut. Todorović, a 10-fight veteran, is also undefeated in his career, which includes one fight with the UFC. The winner of this contest not only gets to maintain their unblemished record, but will also announce themselves as a prospect to be watched at 185 pounds.

UFC on ABC 1, also known as UFC Fight Island 7, will be held inside Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Preliminary action gets underway at noon ET on ESPN+. The main card airs at 3 p.m. ET on both ABC and ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Max Holloway has lost two fights in a row to Alexander Volkanovski and is now 1-3 over his last four contests. How likely is it that Calvin Kattar adds to the former champ’s struggles?

Sumian: Holloway didn’t really lose to Volkanovski twice. He was thoroughly robbed in their July 2020 rematch, but that is unfortunately how the fight game works when you leave it in the hands of the judges.

Holloway showed newfound confidence, composure and patience in the rematch, leading to a very closely contested title bout. After being frustrated and overwhelmed by the champion’s pace and pressure in their first meeting, “Blessed” rebounded with a counter-striking game plan based on patience, picking his shots, and increasing his movement. Although Holloway ended up losing yet again, he certainly proved he has more than enough left in the tank to compete for divisional supremacy in the coming years.

Prior to his loss to Dustin Poirier for the interim UFC lightweight championship, the Hawaiian was riding an incredible winning streak that consisted of victories over Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, Cub Swanson, Brian Ortega and José Aldo twice. Holloway quickly established himself as one of the most impressive and popular champions in UFC history at only 29 years old and will be a staple in the UFC featherweight division for years to come. The question, however, is whether he will ever hold UFC gold again. To do so, he will have to rebound against one of the division’s most dangerous up-and-coming contenders.

Kattar is coming off a successful two-fight winning streak in 2020. The Boston native is as tough and gritty as they come. He boasts incredible knockout power and unmatched resilience. After compiling a 16-2 record, he joined the UFC’s featherweight division, where he has compiled a 6-2 record. Kattar has notable wins over Shane Burgos, the aforementioned Lamas, Jeremy Stephens and, most recently, Dan Ige. His losses came at the hands of Renato Moicano and Zabit Magomedsharipov, but Kattar is on a completely different level going into 2021. “The Boston Finisher” would likely crack the division’s top three if he is able to defeat Holloway.

This fight is certainly a spectacular way to kick off 2021. Holloway and Kattar should provide fans with an exciting stand-up affair, but with two very different game plans. Holloway will look to utilize his volume striking and movement, while Kattar marches forward looking to land a powerful shot. Holloway lacks the power to put Kattar away in one clean shot, so he will have to use his speed and accuracy to frustrate Kattar while he unloads two- to four-punch combinations and avoids Kattar’s power. Meanwhile, Kattar’s game plan will be the exact opposite. Kattar will attempt to utilize his punching power to hurt Holloway with one or two big shots before pounding his way to a stoppage.

When it is all said and done, expect a new featherweight contender to arise. Kattar will use his confidence, resilience and power to blast Holloway with several powerful shots that disrupt the former champ’s game plan and cause Holloway to go into survival mode.

In no shape or form is this a knock on Holloway and his ability to become champion again in the future. Kattar presents a very concerning challenge for Holloway and has all the tools to defeat him. The Hawaiian will bounce back triumphantly in a better stylistic match-up in his next UFC bout.

Petela: My colleague must have watched a different fight than I did in Holloway’s rematch with Volkanovski. The two most distinct rounds clearly belonged to the Hawaiian, but Volkanovski edged him in the other three rounds. Volkanovski rightfully retained his belt when the scores were read.

We do agree, however, on how this fight will play out. It will be an entertaining affair from start to finish between two of the most talented boxers in the featherweight division. Each man will have their moments. Ultimately, though, Kattar’s power will be the difference, leading to a late stoppage.

Kattar carries his power well throughout fights, evident in his win over Ige and also shown when he was surging late in his loss to Magomedsharipov. This will be a huge coming-out party for him. The victory over Stephens certainly put Kattar on the radar, but an emphatic win over a former champion and someone who Joe Rogan has called the greatest featherweight in history will bring with it a level of stardom that is yet unmatched in his career.

After a victory over Holloway, Kattar will clearly have UFC gold in his sights and should earn a fight against the winner of the expected clash between Volkanovski and Ortega. Yet, the end is indeed far from near for Holloway as a UFC champion. He is still nearly a full year away from turning 30 and therefore has several years left in his physical prime. With a dedicated strength-and-conditioning program, he could find success and more gold in a lightweight division where he will be far from undersized.

Veteran welterweights Carlos Condit and Matt Brown square off in the evening’s co-headliner. Can fans expect a nostalgic battle for the ages in this one?

Petela: This fight would have been great a few years back, but it would now be better if it was left as one that got away. The possibility of these two fighters delivering a blood-and-guts performance for the ages has long since passed.

Condit hasn’t been the same since UFC 195, where he lost a razor-thin decision to Robbie Lawler for the undisputed welterweight title in an absolutely brutal back-and-forth affair. Over his last six fights, he is a disappointing 1-5. At 2-4, Brown hasn’t fared much better. Brown had his lights turned off by Jake Ellenberger and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in back-to-back fights in 2016. Despite winning his next two fights, Brown has never really looked like he has been able to “bring out the animal” like Forrest Griffin so desperately begged him to on The Ultimate Fighter. In their primes, these guys were must-watch fighters. Now, they are both on the wrong side of 35 — Brown turned 40 last week — and have absorbed much more than their fair share of punishment over their careers.

This is likely the last fight in the UFC for the loser of this affair. In reality, it is probably time for whoever wins this fight to hang up the gloves as well. However, I will still be glued to the television in the hopes that they can prove me wrong and deliver an instant classic.

Sumian: Agreed. We should prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Condit and Brown are no longer able to compete with the UFC’s very best. This “Legends” fight should be the last bout for both men. Despite their lackluster records and recent performances, they will still come out guns blazing with every intent to earn a finish.

When it is all said and done, Condit will have done just a bit more to earn himself a split-decision victory

Joselyne Edwards — do we need to know this name?

Sumian: Absolutely. Panama makes its way to the UFC women’s bantamweight division in the form of this established finisher. The MMA Kings prospect enters the Octagon after compiling a 9-2 record outside of the promotion. Edwards has finished eight of her nine victories via knockout or submission and boasts one of the more impressive armbars in women’s MMA. She’s set to meet Wu Yanan, who has a modest 1-2 UFC record since joining the company in 2017. Edwards will make a strong statement when she finishes Yanan by TKO in the second round.

Petela: As pessimistic as I am about incoming fighters, I must admit that Edwards can likely become an almost instant contender. Her last loss was a split decision against Dana White’s Contender Series alum Sarah Alpar at Legacy Fighting Alliance 55. Edwards probably should have gotten the judges’ nod in that one. She is a proven finisher against a solid level of talent. She was willing to take this fight on short notice, and it could be the beginning of a very successful run for the Panamanian.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Sarah Moras. Her record stands at 6-6, and she is coming off a loss in her last fight. Moras has only registered one victory in her last five appearances, too. She and her team should know that she needs a win to avoid getting cut. Moras is taking on Vanessa Melo, who has also struggled recently, so it is definitely a winnable fight for Moras.

Sumian: Undoubtedly, the loser between Carlos Condit and Matt Brown. Neither should probably be competing in the UFC at this point in their careers, but the boss will likely reward the winner and give the loser a one-way ticket back home. These veterans are holding very high-demand roster spots and command top dollar due to how long they have been with the UFC. With the company’s recent stance on actioning numerous roster cuts, it’s clear that former top contenders who are now well out of the spotlight are prime candidates for release.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Sumian: Phil Hawes and Nassourdine Imavov.

Fans should recognize Hawes from the viral knockout he suffered at the hands of Julian Marquez on the Contender Series approximately three years ago. Since then, he has rattled off three impressive wins and earned another Contender Series appearance in which he stunned the boss with a first-round TKO finish of Khadzhimurat Bestaev. He made his official Octagon debut at UFC 254 and delivered a spectacular 18-second finish over Jacob Malkoun.

Hawes has undoubtedly proven he belongs in the UFC. He now finds himself in a middleweight clash against Imavov, who made his UFC debut in October with a convincing unanimous-decision win over Jordan Williams.

These two prospects have combined for 16 finishes and only two decisions, so expect fireworks as they look to make a statement in their respective sophomore appearances.

Petela: Omari Akhmedov and Tom Breese.

This one will be a fun match-up between the combat-sambo champion Akhmedov and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Breese. Akhmedov had his first hiccup in the UFC in his last outing against former champion Chris Weidman. This fight is a great opportunity for him to try to regain some momentum. Meanwhile, Breese stopped KB Bhullar via TKO in his last fight and will have an opportunity for back-to-back wins for the first time in five years.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Petela: Calvin Kattar. UFC President Dana White will have to give him the bonus after he becomes the first fighter to knock out Max Holloway. This will be a huge win for Kattar’s career that should earn him a title shot in his next bout. The $50,000 bonus will be icing on the cake for the Massachusetts native.

Sumian: We are riding the Joaquin Buckley train on this one. Yes, this might seem like an easy pick, but expect a third consecutive knockout victory for the UFC’s hottest prospect when he takes on Alessio Di Chirico. Di Chirico has not earned a UFC victory since 2018 and is currently in the midst of a three-fight skid.

Pair this card with…

Sumian: Celebration! Yes, COVID cases are on the rise after the holidays, and we are likely in for another lockdown scenario for the next few months. However, the UFC is back in action. This card boasts some incredible fights, including the legends match-up between Carlos Condit and Mike Brown, the clash of hard-hitting welterweights Santiago Ponzinibbio and Li Jingliang, and the return of Joaquin Buckley, one of the most infamous fighters of 2020. It ends with an incredible featherweight clash between Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar in what is sure to deliver many exciting moments. Whether watching alone or sharing the evening with a close friend, enjoy the return of the UFC.

Petela: This card is certainly going to be full of action-packed, fan-friendly fights. It’s the perfect way to kick off the new year. So, grab a six pack of Sam Adams Cold Snap, which at 5.3 percent ABV is stronger than you’d think, just like this card.

FIGHT PICKS
Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ABC and ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)
FW: Max Holloway vs. Calvin Kattar Kattar Kattar
WW: Carlos Condit vs. Matt Brown Condit Condit
WW: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Jingliang Li Ponzinibbio Ponzinibbio
MW: Joaquin Buckley vs. Alessio Di Chirico Buckley Di Chirico
MW: Punahele Soriano vs. Duško Todorović Todorović Soriano
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 12 p.m. ET)
MW: Nassourdine Imavov vs. Phil Hawes Hawes Hawes
Women’s FlyW: Wu Yanan vs. Joselyne Edwards Edwards Edwards
MW: Omari Akhmedov vs. Tom Breese Breese Akhmedov
HW: Justin Tafa vs. Carlos Felipe Tafa Felipe
WW: David Zawada vs. Ramazan Emeev Emeev Zawada
Women’s BW: Sarah Moras vs. Vanessa Melo Moras Moras
FW: Jacob Kilburn vs. Austin Lingo Lingo Kilburn