Michael Zarrilli/Associated Press
Max “Blessed” Holloway is your first UFC main event winner of 2021. The former featherweight champion put in a peak performance in a unanimous-decision win over Calvin Kattar in the UFC’s first ABC broadcast from “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
One look at the scorecards showed this was a beatdown of epic proportions:
Holloway came out aggressively. His signature volume was dialed to 11 as he consistently attacked Kattar, who often went to simply covering up while moving backward. That resulted in Blessed going to the body early and often.
The former champion drowned Kattar in volume in the opening frame.
The deluge didn’t stop there. Holloway opened a nasty gash on Kattar’s head in the second round while nearly getting the finish before Kattar was saved by the bell.
True to Holloway’s reputation, the hits just kept coming. Holloway continued to wade through anything Kattar threw at him to string together combination after combination in a vintage performance from the 29-year-old.
The fight was Holloway’s first since 2016 that didn’t have some kind of championship attached to it. This performance should ensure his non-title fight streak doesn’t last long.
The Saturday afternoon card was filled with plenty of highlight-reel knockouts, upsets and a battle of well-known veterans.
- Max Holloway def. Calvin Kattar via unanimous decision (50-43, 50-43, 50-42)
- Carlos Condit def. Matt Brown via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Li Jingliang def. Santiago Ponzinibbio via KO at 4:25 of Round 1
- Alessio Di Chirico def. Joaquin Buckley via KO at 2:12 of Round 1
- Punahele Soriano def. Dusko Todorovic via TKO at 4:48 of Round 1
- Joselyne Edwards def. Wu Yanan via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Carlos Felipe def. Justin Tafa via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Ramazan Emeev def. David Zawada via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
- Vanessa Melo def. Sarah Moras via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Austin Lingo def. Jacob Kilburn via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-27)
Condit def. Brown
The first round saw Brown go to his grappling to gain an advantage. Condit is infamously prone to takedowns and he took advantage of that from the jump. However, the Natural Born Killer was the more active fighter from the bottom.
In the second round, Condit returned the favor. After winning the early moments of the round with his striking he swept Brown off his feet and did some damage of his own from top position.
That left the third round feeling like a pivotal deciding factor for the two veterans even if Condit had actually already won the first round. The final round saw both fighters have their moments but Condit’s striking and ability to neutralize Brown’s aggression on the ground was the difference.
This fight was first scheduled in 2013 when both fighters were much younger and more relevant in the division. Still, it was a fun scrap that accentuated the ability both guys have left at this point.
The fight isn’t likely to have an impact on the future of the division but it did bring some nostalgia to the proceedings on ABC.
Jingliang def. Ponzinibbio
Upsets were a theme in Abu Dhabi as Li Jingliang gave Santiago Ponzinibbio a rough and surprising welcome back to the Octagon.
Ponzinibbio, who hadn’t fought in over two years after suffering from a staph infection, was looking to knock some rust off when Jingliang unleashed a hellish left-hand counter that flattened the Argentinian in the first round.
Before the extended layoff Ponzinibbio was on a seven-fight win streak and primed to make noise in the welterweight division. The time off appeared to take a toll, though, as Jingliang was in better form and throwing punches with confidence.
It’s a big win for Jingliang, whose last appearance in the Octagon was a disappointing unanimous-decision loss to Neil Magny.
If Ponzinibbio can recapture the form he showed in 2018, he could be a danger to the division once again. This fight certainly didn’t inspire confidence that will be the case, though.
Di Chirico def. Buckley
Sometimes you create a highlight-reel knockout; sometimes you’re on the receiving end of one. Joaquin Buckley learned that piece of MMA wisdom the hard way against Alessio Di Chirico.
Buckley made his name in the UFC from his infamous spinning-back-kick knockout in his second UFC fight, but he was on the receiving end of a head-kick knockout Saturday.
As Buckley was changing levels, Di Chirico uncorked a leg kick that immediately sent him to the floor. A series of follow-up punches brought the fight to an abrupt end.
Di Chirico had the profile of a lamb to the slaughter coming off three straight losses, and this was booked as a showcase fight for Buckley after back-to-back knockouts.
Instead, the 31-year-old Di Chirico has put a serious damper on that hype while likely ensuring he sticks around in the UFC for a while longer.
Soriano def. Todorovic
The first main-card fight of 2021 featured two undefeated Dana White‘s Contender Series prospects, with Punahale Soriano proving to be the more dangerous of the two. While Dusko Todorovic showcased some smooth striking before it all went wrong, Soriano turned out his lights in the first round.
Soriano’s power was the determining factor. While Todorovic was able to have success darting in and out of range, it turned out he didn’t have much margin for error. Soriano was able to find a home for multiple vicious punches, and it spelled the beginning of the end.
There were multiple times when it looked like Soriano was going to end the fight.
Todorovic was given a small break when referee Herb Dean stopped the fight while he put his mouthpiece back in. However, that just delayed the inevitable, and Soriano buckled his opponent one final time and got the finish with 12 seconds remaining in the round.
Soriano is definitely a name to watch and should continue to move up the ranks with his second consecutive first-round knockout.