The UFC kicks off its 2021 slate with a bang Saturday.
UFC on ABC 1 marks the promotion’s return to network television after a two-year absence since leaving previous broadcast partner FOX Sports. It is the first of three events in eight days in Abu Dhabi. And the first UFC main event of 2021 looks like a potential barnburner on paper, as former UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway takes on fast-rising Bostonian Calvin Kattar in a five-round scrap.
UFC on ABC 1 takes place Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The main card airs on ABC and streams on ESPN+ following prelims on ESPN+.
Without further ado, then, here are five burning questions that UFC on ABC 1 should answer.
How will Max Holloway respond at a key career crossroad?
Holloway (21-6 MMA, 17-6 UFC) has lost three of his past four fights, but not all 1-3 stretches are created equal.
At UFC 236, Holloway, as featherweight champion, went up in weight and endured five rounds before losing a decision to Dustin Poirier in an interim title fight. At UFC 240, he defeated Frankie Edgar in a title defense. At UFC 245, he suffered a clear-cut loss to Alexander Volkanovski via unanimous decision. At UFC 251, Volkanovski won a highly controversial split decision, as many – including this reporter – felt Holloway won the fight.
A 1-3 under these circumstances, fighting the best competition in the world, going the distance in each fight, and arguably getting robbed in one, is a whole lot different than a fighter losing three of four and looking like they’re done.
But this still doesn’t mitigate the cold facts of the situation: Volkanovski is still the champ; Holloway will have a long road back as long as that’s the case, and the competition isn’t getting any easier. Kattar (22-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) is on a tear, and as such, Holloway’s first non-title fight since 2016 should serve as a gauge as to whether he’ll get to another shot.
Can Calvin Kattar make his most definitive statement?
It might seem like Kattar is some up-and-coming prospect bursting onto the scene in recent years. After all, we’re only three-and-a-half years removed from his UFC debut, when he scored what was then considered an upset win over Andre Fili at UFC 214.
But in truth, this has been a long grind of a climb for Kattar. This week, chatter surfaced on Twitter pointing out the all-but-forgotten fact that Kattar competed on the undercard of the legendary June 2008 Elite XC event on CBS that was headlined by the late Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson.
The Bostonian has been fighting professionally since 2007, three years before Holloway made his debut.
Some get put on the fast track. Some come up the hard way. Kattar’s career is peaking at the right time, with enough experience under his belt to have seen and done it all, while he’s still young enough, at 32, to be on top of his physical game.
Twelve years later, he gets the chance to fight a competitor as world class as Holloway. And with that, the chance to prove we should have been paying closer attention since the beginning.
Matt Brown vs. Carlos Condit is coming way late. So what?
Perhaps you came along during Ronda Rousey’s rise and don’t know what Matt Brown was like during his heyday.
Or maybe you started watching while Carlos Condit was on a five-fight losing streak and wondered what all the fuss was about “The Natural Born Killer.”
If you missed out on their primes, well, you missed out. Condit (31-13 MMA, 8-9 UFC) was a championship-level fighter who never lost his knack for exciting bloodbaths along the way. Brown (22-17 MMA, 15-11 UFC) never quite rose to Condit’s title level, but he got every last little bit out of his talent and supplemented it with pure heart, culminating in a seven-fight UFC win streak from 2012-14.
All along the way, Brown vs. Condit was touted as an all-action dream fight. It got scheduled twice and fell out both times.
Now it’s finally here. Brown just turned 40. Condit will be 37 in April. Both have dealt with injuries. Neither will make another run at a title. But Condit’s coming off a win, and Brown has won two of three. Condit is on the last fight of his UFC deal, and Brown has hinted this could be his last tango, so both have plenty of motivation.
Maybe this isn’t the fight it might have been a decade ago, but let’s just appreciate this bout is finally here and sit back and enjoy.
Can Santiago Ponzinibbio pick up where he left off?
It was both a statement win and the culmination of a long journey: Santiago Ponzinibbio knocked out Neil Magny in the fourth round of their UFC Buenos Aires main event, a memorable moment in his hometown, his seventh straight win, his second “Performance of the Night” in three fights, and a definitive statement that he had arrived in the top rung of the welterweight division.
That fight was held in November 2018, and that was the last we saw of Ponzinibbio (27-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) until this week. Injuries and health woes such as staph infection sidelined him right after his greatest moment, and the division has shifted quite a bit in his absence.
Will ring rust get in the way, or can Ponzinibbio pick up where he left off? It really is as simple as that for the Argentine, who faces a solid short-notice replacement in Li Jinliang (17-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) on the evening’s main card.
Can Joaquin Buckley keep building momentum?
Look, unless Joaquin Buckley becomes the next-generation version of a prime Anderson Silva, we’re not likely to see anything approaching his all-time great knockout of Impa Kasanganay.
But Buckley appears to be in the process of doing something more important in the long run: Establishing that he’s on his way to becoming a legit contender in the middleweight division.
Buckley (12-3 MMA, 2-1 UFC) turned around from his October viral highlight and fought Jordan Wright one month later at UFC 255, and this time, he showed poise and patience in wearing Wright down and using old-school ground-and-pound to earn a second-round TKO.
So Buckley has shown he can do it both the flashy way and the gritty way. Now he’s back for his third fight in three months, taking on Alessio Di Chirico (12-5 MMA, 3-5 UFC). This might not be the fight that vaults him to the top of the division, but three wins in three months would be a fine way to demonstrate you’re eager to prove you’re ready to climb that ladder and climb it fast.