Performance of the Night: Li Jingliang
Most of the narrative around Li Jingliang’s fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio circulated around the latter’s return, but in the end, “The Leech” came away with his hand raised.
As Ponzinibbio probed in hopes of quickly finding his timing, Li took advantage of the countering opportunities provided from Ponzinibbio’s errant strikes. In one such exchange, Li slipped a shot and came over the top with a left hand to the chin that immediately dropped Ponzinibbio and ended the bout.
“I really expected to either knock him out in the first round or Santiago knocking me out because he is such a powerful fighter,” he said. “I would’ve actually preferred to go all three rounds to show off more of my skillset, but it feels great
“Santiago is such an aggressive, intense fighter and we were prepared for him. The coach told me as soon as the fight began to match his level of intensity, to not back down.”
Performance of the Night: Alessio Di Chirico
Coming off a three-fight skid, Alessio Di Chirico bounced back in a big way, knocking out Joaquin Buckley in the first round via head kick.
Di Chirico seemed locked in early, managing distance as Buckley weaved in with power shots. About two minutes into the fight, Di Chirico timed one of Buckley’s dips and caught him with a right head kick to the temple. It was an important performance for the Italian middleweight, who will surely look to follow up on his big performance soon.
Fight of the Night: Max Holloway vs Calvin Kattar
In Max Holloway’s first non-title fight in more than four years, the former featherweight king dismantled an incredibly game Calvin Kattar in the first main event of 2021, setting the bar high for any fights that may come to challenge its standard.
Holloway looked as sharp as ever right from the jump, connecting with extended flurries that left Kattar scrambling against the fence and looking to throw one-shot bombs. “Blessed” fired rapid-fire straight punches, leaving few windows for Kattar to respond. The Massachusetts-native took his chances as they came, but Holloway mixed up his rhythm well as the fight progressed into the second round. Holloway also found plenty of success with elbows that opened a big cut on Kattar’s forehead.
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The fight seemed like it was going to come to an end at several points, but Kattar got his shots in as well, particularly a heavy uppercut in the third round that paused the onslaught of pressure from Holloway. It was here where Holloway committed to body shots, digging hooks into Kattar’s ribs and working his way up from there to win another lopsided round.
The fourth and fifth rounds were all Holloway, featuring several moments where the fight seemed incredibly close to a stoppage. Kattar showed immense toughness, though, firing heavy shots when it seemed like he was melting against the cage. In the end, Holloway displayed the form that shot him up into the G.O.A.T. conversation and reminded everybody that the 29-year-old is very much still in play to recapture his belt. The final scorecards were 50-43, 50-43 and 50-42 – a true reflection of the dominant form Holloway showed.