Winnipeg native Brad Katona has an opportunity to do something tonight that no Canadian cage fighter has ever done.
At the Pearl Theatre in Paradise, Nev., Katona will step into the octagon with British fighter Jay Cucciniello in the featherweight tournament final on the finale of the UFC’s reality television series The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated. The Ultimate Fighter is in it’s 27th season, with the winner of the show receiving a UFC contract. Former UFC champions such as Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Michael Bisping and Matt Serra are previous winners of the popular reality series, but a Canadian has yet to have their arm raised on a series finale of the show. This season featured eight undefeated featherweights and lightweights competing for UFC contracts.
"It would be a great milestone in my career to really show I’m on the right path," Katona said in a phone interview with the Free Press on what it would mean to win The Ultimate Fighter.
"Already the opportunities I’ve had shows I’m doing something that I can be great in. A win on Friday night would cement it all in and show that greatness is in reach."
Katona, 26, had a professional record of 6-0 heading into the show, and beat Kyler Phillips and Bryce Mitchell to earn his spot in the final. Katona reaching the featherweight final is even more impressive when you consider he moved up a weight class to compete in the series, as he usually competes as a bantamweight.
Katona said it has taken years of hard work to get to where he is today. He began training in Winnipeg at the age of 14 while going to school at Dakota Collegiate. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in mechanical engineering, while training at the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA) and United Boxing Club. The founder of WAMMA and Katona’s longtime coach, Curtis Brigham, said it’s no surprise Katona has reached the finale, and a win tonight would do wonders for his career.
"Being in the finale and potentially winning that is enormous for Brad," Brigham said. "That’s going to open every door in the world possible for him in this sport and since he’s already won two fights (on the show), I have no doubt that he will be signed permanently and make his way to the top of the division."
But Katona doesn’t want to just make it to the UFC, he wants to climb the ranks and be one of the best fighters in the world. Since he was 15, it has been his dream to become a UFC champion. Katona said he’s been lucky to have people supporting his goals, especially his parents.
"Nobody was really doubting me. My parents were fully supportive, even though they maybe wished I took up another sport," Katona said. "When I started grappling, it wasn’t to be competitive necessarily but as soon as I got my first taste of competition, I really liked it."
Katona moved to Dublin in November 2017 to train at Straight Blast Gym (SBG) with John Kavanagh to take his training to another level. It’s the same gym and coach as UFC superstar Conor McGregor. Katona said before he moved to Dublin, he visited the country for a month to check out his potential new home and gym. Katona said Kavanagh would give everyone in the gym attention, from McGregor who was a UFC champion at the time, to people who were first-time visitors. He said he knew right away that’s where he needed to be.
"What impressed me about it wasn’t the fact that they had one or two high-level guys, the amateurs coming up were killer," Katona said. "That’s what really impressed me, they had impressive fighters at the grass-roots level all the way up to a UFC champion holding two belts."
But despite moving to a new country, Katona will be representing Winnipeg tonight when they call his name. He said it’s an honour to represent his country and city and have the opportunity to become the first Canadian to claim the title of The Ultimate Fighter.
"It’s great to represent one of the smaller cities in Canada," Katona said. "(Winnipeg) is not the fight capital of the world. It’s not Montreal, it’s not Toronto. It would just be great to represent Winnipeg and Canada. To represent everybody well and win The Ultimate Fighter, it would mean the world."
A win tonight would make Katona the fourth Winnipegger in history to earn a UFC contract. Joe Doerksen, Krzysztof Soszyski and Roland Delorme are Winnipeg fighters who previously fought in the UFC.
The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated finale will air on TSN3 tonight at 9 p.m.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.