Calvin Kattar is a man on a mission.
Yes, it would have been nice to have been able to compete in front of a rabid Boston crowd back in his home state of Massachusetts, as he was originally scheduled to do.
And yes, he’s expecting a chilly reception when he meets Zabit Magomedsharipov on Saturday in Moscow, the capital of Magomedsharipov’s native Russia.
But no, he’s not letting any of that distract him. After all, it’s the name on the contract that Kattar signed up for above all else. Magomedsharipov has been a boogeyman on his way up the featherweight ladder, getting past his first five opponents in the Octagon to move into a top-5 spot in the UFC’s official rankings.
It’s those accolades that made Kattar all the more eager to stand in Magomedsharipov’s path to a title shot. Kattar is on a run of his own, having knocked out three of his last four opponents. Most recently, he needed less than a round to defeat one-time title challenger Ricardo Lamas by first-round TKO.
After Junior dos Santos’s withdrawal from an originally scheduled headlining bout with Alexander Volkov caused a shakeup to the UFC Moscow card, Kattar and Magomedsharipov now find themselves in their first UFC main event and while Kattar appreciates the billing, he’s remaining focused on taking down his target.
“It’s a fast-forward, just a few years from my debut to get a headlining spot, it’s a pretty cool opportunity,” Kattar told MMA Fighting. “For me, it was the same thing as fighting Zabit down in Boston. It’s just moved to Russia and then it’s just moved to the main event.
“But for me, it was just always a fight with Zabit. Where or when, it doesn’t matter to me.”
He hopes that he can turn the Russian crowds boos into cheers by the end of the night—even if the outcome isn’t to their liking—and that a strong performance allows him to claim Magomedsharipov’s spot in the rankings.
“I’m going in with nothing and trying to take everything,” Kattar said.
Even though he’s taking the situation in stride, it wasn’t supposed to be so complicated for Kattar. He and Magomedsharipov were first booked to compete at UFC on ESPN 6 in Boston, where it would be Kattar who had the crowd behind him. Instead, Magomedsharipov withdrew from that card citing a blood infection, an explanation that Kattar finds dubious given that Magomedsharipov accepted a re-booking on the Moscow card three weeks later.
Kattar is more disappointed with how the change affected his friends, family, and fans than him.
“The only thing that really kind of sucked was for everyone that planned to go see me in Boston,” Kattar said. “We had people with suites sold, a couple of hundred tickets already sold, so when I was at that event, it was really mostly to say hi and thank you to everyone that was going there to support me.
“Now it’s my opportunity to go to Russia and I’m gonna give them the fight that they paid to see.”
With such a dangerous opponent in front of him, Kattar declined to speculate too much on how much a victory could affect his standing in the featherweight title picture. Current champion Max Holloway will need new challengers should he get past Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 245; on the other hand, Volkanovski will undoubtedly be looking for names to start building his championship legacy should he unseat Holloway.
In explaining why he’s not looking ahead, Kattar cited a New England legend as motivation to stay on task.
“For sure, but to say that Zabit doesn’t have my full undivided attention would be an understatement,” Kattar said when asked about his interest in a future title shot. “I keep that Bill Belichick mindset.
“Right now, we’re on to Zabit. We take him out, it’s all gonna put me in better position for the belt. I’m pretty sure all of the top four or five above Zabit at this point have had their opportunity for the belt and seeing Jose Aldo take the drop to 135 to take on (Marlon) Moraes, it’s wide open. But for me, right now, first I have to get through Zabit and I’m excited for the opportunity.”