UFC Austin headliners Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett — No. 7 and No. 8 at featherweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — might not be next in line for a UFC title shot, but both could take a significant step towards that goal with statement win on Saturday.
Kattar has already proven he’s made of sterner stuff by bouncing back from a devastating loss at the hands of Max Holloway to drub Giga Chikadze this past January, and Emmett is on a four-fight win streak with some impressive knockout wins on his resume.
Unfortunately for Kattar his loss to Holloway may prevent him from moving up in the division. Emmett, however, has not had a chance to challenge anyone in that quartet. The matchmakers likely booked this one wanting a fun banger, but it could also give them another championship option to consider in the future.
In the co-main event, Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon meet in a matchup featuring UFC lightweight legends who will have a combined 66 octagon appearances between them by the end of the night (38 for Cerrone, 28 for Lauzon). This was scheduled to take place at UFC 274 this past May before a mystery illness forced Cerrone to withdraw on fight day and now these fan favorites get a second chance to add to their eye-popping legacies.
It’s a good thing too because even with Cerrone vowing to compete until he hits 50 combined UFC/WEC appearances, you get the sense that one bad night could convince him to hang it up earlier than expected. Lauzon has essentially been one step out of the door over the last few years, and he will do what he wants with no regrets. Cherish these moments while we have them, is what I’m saying.
In main card action Tim Means gives Kevin Holland a test as he navigates the welterweight waters. Joaquin Buckley faces Albert Duraev, Damir and Guram Kutateladze face off in a duels of lightweights on fast-rising platforms, while middleweights Julian Marquez (and Gregory Rodrigues) look to start the show with what promises a wild contest.
What: UFC Austin
Where : Moody Centers in Austin, Texas
When: Saturday, June 18. The three-fight early preliminary card airs on ESPNEWS and ESPN+ beginning at 4 p.m. ET, followed by five preliminary bouts at 5 p.m. on ESPN2 and ESPN+. The six-fight main card airs on ESPN and ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
Calvin Kattar vs. Josh Emmett
Calvin Kattar deserves respect.
“The Boston Finisher” looked like a new man in his recent win over Giga Chikadze, living proof that a year away from competition can be incredibly beneficial for a fighter if that time is spent wisely. Kattar used those 12 months to elevate his game and get his mind where it needed to be to jump right back into contention. With good reason, he’s the favourite heading into the headliner.
Josh Emmett is right behind Kattar in the contender rankings, so expect this one to be touch-and-go in the earlier rounds. Kattar could be up for a knockout if Emmett mixes his wrestling with the defensive. As it stands, I expect Kattar to use his footwork and boxing to get ahead on the scorecards, sending Emmett into desperation mode in the championship rounds. Kattar could benefit from this as it could give him his chance to win, while Emmett could turn the dogfight into an advantage due to his power.
I expect Kattar’s method to win here. However, there will still be some tension. Kattar by decision.
Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon
Historically slow starter vs. first-round finisher? Joe Lauzon will be the one to explain that.
At their peak, I would have chosen Donald Cerrone as the winner of a UFC fight. But, their lives in later stages tell a completely different tale. Cerrone has struggled to make it past the first five minutes of his fights without taking significant damage and now he has to deal with an aggressive Lauzon breathing down his neck. Even if Lauzon doesn’t seal the deal in Round 1, he could hurt Cerrone and set up a finish in Round 2. Or we’re getting a three-round war of attrition between two fighters who have already put in an absurd amount of cage time.
Lauzon’s long layoff of nearly 1,000 days does have me concerned, as did his inability to show up at Friday’s ceremonial weigh-ins due to cramps, but it’s not as if the intangibles surrounding the fight are doing Cerrone any favors. “Cowboy” has been out for over 400 days himself, hasn’t won a fight in three years, and has seemingly spent as much time talking about his latest direct-to-steaming movie than promoting his matchup with Lauzon. Perhaps Cerrone will be reenergized by fighting before a crowd, but not enough to beat a large Lauzon. Doubtful.
“JLau” receives this early.
Kevin Holland vs. Tim Means
Is Kevin Holland serious about contending at 170 pounds? We’ll find out soon enough if he can get past Tim Means after recently defeating Alex Oliveira, another solid veteran. Those are two respectable welterweight marks to collect, guys who might not be household names but who can bring the fight to anyone in their division. Holland’s progress is admirable.
But, it’s irrelevant if Means wins Holland on Saturday. The “The Dirty Bird”, with its firepower, can make Holland miserable. You can also bet on Holland to oblige. After getting stung a few times. Holland might decide to switch tactics.
Though Holland’s wrestling defense is still a question mark, his grappling offense is an effective weapon. Holland should think about how to bring the action down to the ground, where Means’ size and length won’t be a problem.
If Means can keep it on the feet, he should have the edge. I like his chances of controlling the distance and winning on points.
Joaquin Buckley vs. Albert Duraev
Movement, footwork and movement will determine who walks out here with the W.
Buckley showed in his narrow decision win over Abdul Razak Alhassan that he’s more than a highlight hunter. He knows how to stick to a game plan, which will be essential against the dangerous and disciplined Albert Duraev. The Russian fighter has great wrestling and a big right hand that he’ll throw whenever Buckley is in range.
Buckley’s speed allows him to get inside and score points. He should look to frustrate Duraev until he finds an opening for one of his highlight-reel techniques. Duraev, on the other hand, can knock Buckley out early if he keeps the pressure up and stops Buckley finding his rhythm.
This could be a riveting chess match, one that I see starting off slow and then picking up in the second where Buckley will add Duraev to his collection of KOs.
Damir Ismagulov vs. Guram Kutateladze
Bravo to matchmakers who threw two promising lightweights into the flames. Both Damir Ismagulov and Guram Kutateladze have fascinating striking styles, so no matter who ends up scoring the win here they could both end up earning a Fight of the Night award bonus.
Ismagulov is just so fundamentally solid when it comes to his hands. He is a master at timing his opponents and setting up powerful combos. He’s deceptively powerful, scoring knockdowns with precision rather than swinging like a madman. Kutateladze, on the other hand, has some wildness to his game but also throws with precision, especially in kick attacks.
Ismagulov is a strong contender, based on his record. However Kutateladze’s win over Mateusz Gamrot immediately put him on the map. However, if two fighters have such close skill matches, I will go for experience in the tiebreaker.
Ismagulov by decision.
Julian Marquez vs. Gregory Rodrigues
When we think of ideal openings for main cards, we are referring to matchups such as Julian Marquez against Gregory Rodrigues. Both men are highly skilled fighters who have a tendency to lose their minds once the action escalates, much to the benefit of the fans. Marquez should have the edge on the feet and Rodrigues should have the edge on the ground, but once the leather starts flying, who knows what these two will do?
I’ve been waiting for Rodrigues to show off his elite jiu-jitsu, something he hasn’t done much since falling in love with his natural knockout power. Although he may be tempted to go Jorge Gurgel and forget his base, I believe that he is capable of breaking it out when needed. That’s why I see him indulging himself early on by engaging with Marquez on the feet and then mixing in more grappling as the fight progresses.
Marquez has submission skills, but defensively he can’t hang with Rodrigues on the ground. It is not clear if Rodrigues can wrestle there, especially with his gas tank running low later in the contest. If he does manage to get a submission it will likely be after kicking Marquez. We will go Rodrigues with club and sub.
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