DUBAI: UFC Fight Island returned to Abu Dhabi for a third edition with Max Holloway delivering a stunning 50-43, 50-43, 50-42 win over Calvin Kattar at the newly opened Etihad Arena.
The Hawaiian-born American, the world’s No1-ranked Featherweight, has now set his sight on retaining the championship from current holder Alexander Volkanovski.
Watching UFC President Dana White paid tribute to Holloway and his sixth-ranked opponent from the US, as well as the rest of the line-up, which for the first time on Fight Island took place in front of a live audience.
“I knew this card was going to be special,” he said. “Holloway is fun, and we've got to give Kattar some great credit. Khabib and I got together and he said to me ‘I want to see if someone really blows me away next weekend, then we'll see.’ Max looked incredible tonight. I don’t know if I’d call it his best performance, but he’s one of the all-time greats.”
Meanwhile, the delighted winner of the headline bout is already looking ahead.
“Thank you Abu Dhabi,” said Holloway.
“Thank you for keeping us safe and thank you to the fans for coming out. Make sure you tune in for UFC 257 next week. I'm staying on for it and it’s going to be great. Just blessed to have fans back, first card of the year, first event in Etihad Arena and I set some numbers. I had a chip on my shoulder tonight and I wanted to show that I’m one of the best boxers in MMA.”
Just before the main event of the night, Carlos Condit had defeated Matt Brown via a unanimous decision in their Welterweight bout.
“I feel good,” the 36-year-old American said after the win over his compatriot.
“I was stoked to get in there and finally face Matt. Standing across the cage from him was awesome. I had the hair standing up in the back of my neck, I was so stoked to get in there and get my hand raised. I’m very happy. I expected a little more back and forth on the feet, we ended up grappling quite a bit, but I’m not sad about the way that went because I got the better of those exchanges.”
In what was named the Performance of the Night, Welterweight Li Jianglang of China defeated Santiago Ponzinibbio of Argentina via a TKO after 4:25 of round one.
“I landed a clean shot when he was in a defenseless position, there was no need to go after him,” he said.
“If you are a true martial artist you don’t do that. I need to keep going now, show the fans what I’m capable of and go after the championship belt. Having fans back in the arena is a great step forward for 2021.”
Before that, Alessio Di Chirico, who claimed another Performance of the Night award, recorded a TKO win over Joaquin Buckley after 2:13 of round one in their Middleweight bout.
The main card had kicked off with Punahele Soriano of Hawaii delivering the first UFC knockout of 2021 over Middleweight opponent Dusko Todorovic of Sebia in round one.
“The world lies ahead for me,” he said.
“It feels really good to win this after a year off. It’s amazing being here, around the hotel at the pool. I was nervous coming into this fight undefeated, but I just had to keep focusing on winning. He was undefeated and is an amazing fighter so it was great to get it done. Getting the first finish of 2021 was amazing. I wanted to set the tone as the first on the main card and I did that.
“This is my release, so it feels great to be back after a year off,” Sorianio added.
“Shows me I can get it done. I’m back to work on Monday and I’m looking forward. I envisioned going into work after winning a fight and fist pumping everyone - I can do that now.”
The Prelims had seen Bantamweight Joselyne Edwards overcome Wu Yanan with a unanimous decision; Carlos Felipe defeat over Justin Tafa via a split decision in their Heavyweight bout; Ramazan Emeev beat David Zawada; and Vanessa Melo edged a split decision over Sarah Moras in their Women Bantamweight clash.
The night had kicked off with the first ever fight at Etihad Arena, which saw Austin Lingo beat Jacob Kilbum via split decision in their Featherweight bout.
“It’s awesome to be the first winner in the Etihad Arena,” the winner said.
“Thanks for letting me fight here. I love having fans in the stands and hearing them cheering, it’s great, it blew my mind. I’ve seen my teammates fight with no crowd I’ve got in there with fans, it was great. I love Fight Island, I’ll come here to fight anytime. It’s great, the island, the venue, the hotel, all of it.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he added. “I want to fight again soon, in a month. I’m tired of waiting. I’ll come back to Abu Dhabi, I’ll fight anywhere.”
The triple-header Fight Island now moves on to its second night on Jan. 20, before wrapping with Conor McGregor’s highly-anticipated Lightweight clash with Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on the 24th.
“The fans were awesome,” White added. “They had so much energy. It sounded like there was more than there actually was. They went crazy at certain points and it was just so much fun. Very, very cool to have fight fans back.”