Preview: UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’ - Kattar vs. Stephens

By: Tom Feely
May 6, 2020
John Brannigan/Sherdog illustration



Featherweights

Calvin Kattar (20-4) vs. Jeremy Stephens

ODDS: Kattar (-225), Stephens (+185)

Since cutting down to featherweight in 2013, Stephens has settled in nicely as a gatekeeper to the divisional elite. He has not had the most impressive record in terms of wins and losses because he faces tough opposition nearly every time out, but there is a clear delineation. Beating Stephens means you are a championship-level fighter, and he can put away everyone else. To his credit, Stephens has slowly refined his skills during his 13 years in the Octagon. While his UFC record is under .500 and he holds the promotional record for losses, that speaks to his willingness to bounce back, retool and go on another run. At his heart, Stephens still wants to hunt for the knockout, but he has done a much better job in recent years of catching himself, staying measured and playing a more technical striking game. There are still some clear weaknesses—quicker fighters can still frustrate Stephens by forcing him to chase them down, and he is still prone to losing his cool—but he remains a Top 10 fighter in a deep division. In Kattar, he gets someone who is clearly willing to stand with him.

Boston’s Kattar has been a pleasant surprise since he made his UFC debut in 2017. Nothing about his record particularly stood out—outside of his “Boston Finisher” moniker standing in contrast to his string of decision victories—but he stepped in on late notice and picked apart Andre Fili to immediately announce that he would be a concern. Kattar is a rather one-dimensional fighter, a boxer pure and simple, but he is more than good enough at that one dimension to get by. His 2018 victory over Shane Burgos was an absolute pleasure, as each man adjusted to the other before Kattar scored the knockout; and the Bostonian rebounded from a loss to Renato Carneiro with brutal knockouts of Chris Fishgold and Ricardo Lamas. Even in a loss to Zabit Magomedsharipov in his most recent appearance, Kattar looked good enough to keep his momentum. Now, the time has come to try and turn that into some more wins, starting with Stephens.

This should be an excellent scrap, and the win is there for Stephens’s taking. Two typical problems for Stephens are strong wrestlers and opponents who can stick and move, and Kattar is neither. While he has gotten more mobile in recent fights, Kattar is still relatively stationary and, if anything, looks to move forward and engage his opponent. Carneiro showed that Kattar can be absolutely chewed up by leg kicks—something Stephens has intermittently used as part of his game in recent years. Can Stephens stick to a game plan? The concern is that he will still look to load up on power shots against an opponent he feels like he can hit, and Kattar’s much quicker hands, particularly his jab, will continue to literally beat Stephens to the punch. In a bit of a judgment call, the pick is Kattar via decision.

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