Fighter of Interest: Brad Katona

Brad Katona
Brad Katona reacts after finishing three rounds against Kyler Phillips during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated on February 9, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Winnipeg native Brad Katona (6-0 MMA) flew under the radar all the way to the finals of The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated featherweight tournament, as a natural bantamweight. Humble, friendly and unassuming, many slept on Katona despite his high-profile victories and baffling skill set.

Brad identifies with the dynamic of “Clark Kent” and Superman. Not only because he takes off his glasses to fight, but because in the cage he is more powerful than a locomotive, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

An incredibly scholarly, process-driven fighter, Brad Katona is a treat to examine technically and strategically. Check out the GIFs and brief analysis of his best moments leading up to the finale, as well as some wisdom from the man himself.

This is Fighter of Interest, where underrated, under the radar, or underappreciated fighters from an upcoming event are brought to light.

The Ultimate Fighter Season 27 Finale
Fighter of Interest: Brad Katona

“Brad is a nerd.” Katona’s girlfriend and MMA colleague Katie Saull poked fun in his Ultimate Fighter home video.

Liking Star Wars doesn’t make you a nerd. Those hats, on the other hand…

For the majority of his fighting career, Brad Katona was an engineering student, working full time in the field up until his bout with Stephen Cervantes in 2017. Katona explained on the show that he finds natural connections between his academic interests and combat sports.

“For example, throwing a cross and seeing your body rotate, the drive in your legs, the rotation and how that translates to power on your punches. It was really neat, because your body is almost just like a bunch of levers.”

Being able to think critically and analytically is a key to success in any pursuit, and Katona approaches MMA with an engineer’s methodology. This ability to troubleshoot, problem-solve and adapt led him to journey from Canada to Dublin’s Straight Blast Gym. Brad told MMASucka his mindset is all about maintaining a positive trajectory in every aspect of his career.

“This philosophy of constant improvement applies to all things involved in being an athlete. From my own mental preparation for a fight, to my technique and training methodology, constant improvement is a necessity if I want to be the best version of myself and overcome the competition.”

A grappler by trade, Katona has a technical, but overwhelmingly physical manner of manhandling his adversaries. A Canadian Golden Gloves champion, his striking is educated, but it’s his ability to clear distance and land leaping shots that catches many by surprise.

Brad has a great left hook, it will make many appearances in the upcoming GIFs.

Katona seems to have mastered the low-calf kick, which he has used to terrorize his past few opponents.

Observe these details for yourself as we analyze and illustrate the striking, wrestling, and grappling of Brad Katona.

Striking

Katona’s background in traditional martial arts has translated to a bouncing style of footwork, as well as a dexterous and diverse kicking game. Since polishing up his boxing, Brad has become excellent with leaping shots, especially his left hook to the head and body.

–vs. Stephen Cervantes

In his final bout before joining The Ultimate Fighter, Katona met “Scrappy” Stephen Cervantes in Canada’s Mercenary Combat League. A young developing fighter from Jackson Wink MMA, Cervantes made serious waves when he upset NCAA All-American and Olympic alternate Shawn Bunch.

While the fight mostly played out on the ground, Brad was nearly flawless in the standup. He had clean entries on lead hooks to the liver and head, and did a fantastic job managing distance.

“Scrappy” Stephen took some flush shots and didn’t blink.

–vs. Kyler Phillips

In the preliminary round of the Ultimate Fighter featherweight tournament, Katona was paired with Team Stipe’s top featherweight Kyler Phillips.

Training out of The MMA Lab in Arizona, Phillips impressed many in his short career with an LFA victory, as well as a 46 second knockout on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. “The Matrix” is a formidable striker who is more than competent on the ground.

Given the details of the matchup, many assumed Katona would be eager to fight on the ground.

Kyler Phillips is a fighter who feeds on confidence. He was clearly caught by surprise when Brad Katona began catching him with lunging hooks and chopping low kicks. In fact, the low calf kick is a move made famous by the Lab’s Benson Henderson.

The MMA Lab is known for the low calf kick. Brad stole your move, man.

Kyler became timid, which accentuated the pressure-fighting of Brad Katona.

Brad’s commitment to low kicking hindered the movement of Kyler Phillips. This allowed him to maintain a safe distance, and choose when to spring into boxing range.

It is a scary situation to have your movement compromised against a fighter who is happy to pick you apart with in and out attacks.

Phillips had very little success, due to Katona’s workman-like performance and adherence to the gameplan.

–vs. Bryce Mitchell

According to coach Daniel Cormier, the top three featherweights on the show were Tyler DiamondBryce Mitchell, and Brad Katona, in that order. Standing 5’9, “Thug Nasty” is a natural featherweight who held a significant size advantage over Katona.

Mitchell is an aggressive fighter with a stifling top game, and mean straight punches. Katona’s ability to close the gap quickly and minimize Mitchell’s size advantage was a huge factor in this matchup.

Katona and Mitchell were teammates on the show, and consistent training partners. By no means was Brad going to change his game or hide anything in training, this meant he would have to be creative in his setups, and strong-willed in his pursuit.

Step one was to work the legs, just like before. Mitchell stood tall, and could be timed moving forward due to his hostility.

Karate style attacks are extremely effective against larger opponents. As long as you’re able to move out of range quickly after you strike.

But Bryce Mitchell’s “Thug Nasty” moniker isn’t just for show. Despite the obvious damage to his legs, he doubled down on his strategy, firing off hard straights when he saw Katona kicking.

But the beauty of the low calf kick is you can throw without lifting your knee enough to telegraph. While body kicks and certain entries were dangerous, Brad’s bread and butter techniques were reliable time and time again.

Bryce Mitchell is Arkansas tough.

Brad continued to chip away. Mitchell came to a wise realization, he was not going to win on the feet.

That lead body straight is a beaut.

Through an extremely deep bracket, Brad Katona showed he was the best striker at featherweight.

Wrestling

Canada is not known for wrestling prowess. The same can be said for Brad’s new home in Dublin, Ireland. But throughout his career, Brad Katona has demonstrated an effective, and deeply comprehensive wrestling game.

Katona has powerful legs which give him a ton of horsepower for double legs and explosive shots. His clinch work is highly detailed and physically grueling. He is fantastic at digging underhooks and shrugging to the back clinch.

–vs. Stephen Cervantes

Brad really had his way with Cervantes when it came to clinching and wrestling exchanges. He set the tone early with a forceful double leg. Katona showed off a diversity of techniques, most notable was his trusty inside trip.

He was consistently able to punch into the clinch, and transition to the back from a bodylock or high double underhooks.

Poor Stephen Cervantes was the perfect opponent for Katona to show off his skills for three rounds.

–vs. Kyler Phillips

Things were a bit dicey for a moment against Kyler Phillips. Katona went for his inside trip, and Phillips countered with a strong whizzer. However, when they began grappling and tying up off that exchange, Brad was able to get to his positions and hold Kyler where he wanted.

I loved the counter motion to Kyler’s switch attempts off the cage.

In the second round, Brad broke out his double. After a deep entry, Brad ran his feet, changed direction, and blew through to finish in guard.

After definitely losing both rounds, I don’t know why Kyler went for a takedown with 10 seconds left.

–vs. Bryce Mitchell

Wrestling and grappling were both extremely contentious for Katona and Mitchell. Mitchell was clearly the more traditional and credentialed wrestler, but he did not have success until later in the fight and Katona’s feet had slowed a touch.

Otherwise, Brad was fantastic in finding opportunistic takedowns, and crossfacing hard when Bryce shot his favorite single leg.

If you’ve never been crossfaced, pushing through it is the exact opposite of what you feel like doing.

Grappling

Katona’s jiu-jitsu is his strongest weapon at the moment. He is dominant and mobile on top, dangerous from his guard, and educated on the modern leglock system. It comes as a surprise when you see how complete his grappling attack is, given the level of the rest of his game.

–vs. Stephen Cervantes

The most dramatic display of grappling was a deep guillotine from Katona, but the story of the Cervantes fight was Brad’s back taking ability.

Cervantes fought off a number of deep rear naked chokes, but Brad was able to get his choking arm in position almost immediately after each back take.

Cervantes is unchokable apparently.

–vs. Bryce Mitchell

As great as the striking battle was between Katona and Mitchell, the real drama was on the ground.

The larger, more aggressive wrestler, Mitchell was able to force Brad to work from his back throughout the fight. But Bryce would not have his way on top like he had against past opponents. Using a butterfly hook, Brad was able to elevate Mitchell and use his underhook to threaten a back take, resulting in a beautiful sweep.

Step by step, Brad will outmaneuver you.

Mitchell attempted to ride out the second round after a late takedown. But Brad proved he’s not just a position based player, quickly swiveling his hips to catch an armbar from guard. Mitchell created space quickly, but Brad was still able to get a grip on the arm.

What can’t he do?

The match was likely tied up going into the third round. Feeling Brad’s momentum pick up on the feet, Mitchell got in deep on a single leg. Brad countered with a guillotine, but gave up bottom position.

After the fight, Katona remarked he felt himself losing the round, the victory was slipping away.

But it was from there that once again, he attacked an armbar from guard. This time he had full control of the arm before swinging his hips. Masterfully, Brad adjusted his position as Mitchell attempted to gain a dominant defensive standing.

Clutch armbar sweep in the third round of a dogfight.

That sweep won Brad the fight. After the fact, Bryce admits he realized Brad would win if he couldn’t get up off bottom quickly. With this in mind, Mitchell scrambled to get up, giving up his back.

We know better than to give Brad Katona that opportunity.

Notice how Katona is slipping his arm under the chin at the same time he puts his hooks in.

Not only did Katona stay on top, he finished the fight in dramatic fashion against a fantastic grappler and all around scrapper.

NEXT FIGHT: vs. Jay Cucciniello at The Ultimate Fighter Season 27 Finale

Everyone thought it would be Tyler Diamond. The number one seed was a Team Alpha Male trained Division 1 wrestler, and the clear favorite to win it all.

Jay Cucciniello is a crafty striker, but was enveloped on the ground by Bryce Mitchell. After an injury opened up the semifinal spot against Diamond, Cucciniello had a shot at redemption.

After being dropped early, Jay fought back against a relentless stream of takedowns and power striking with brutal body work. He slowly broke down his heralded opponent, and finished in the third round in one of the best fights of the year.

“They doubted us.” Before they faced off, Jay Cucciniello gave Brad Katona the biggest of hugs. There is no bad blood here. It is Team Stipe vs. Team DC, but any outcome is a victory for the underdogs.

Cucciniello is as tough as they come, and swings freely with impactful shots from wide angles. His weakness appears to be his striking defense, and being held down by superior grapplers. If Brad can stay disciplined and use his full range of tools, the title is his.

You can watch Brad Katona vs. Jay Cuccinello on the Main Card of The Ultimate Fighter Season 27 Finale on Friday, July 6th. War Katona.

Main Photo
Embed from Getty Images

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