From me­chan­i­cal engi­neer to UFC fighter, Ka­tona liv­ing the dream

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - SPORTS - NEIL DAVIDSON THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

TORONTO — If fight­ing doesn’t pay off, Brad ( Su­per­man) Ka­tona has a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing in his back pocket.

But so far so good for the 26- yearold from Win­nipeg.

Ka­tona, com­pet­ing as a feather­weight, won The Ul­ti­mate Fighter Un­de­feated re­al­ity TV show in July with a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion over Jay Cuc­ciniello in Las Ve­gas. On Satur­day, re­turn­ing to his more fa­mil­iar ban­tamweight divi­sion, Ka­tona ( 8- 0- 0) faces Amer­i­can Matthew Lopez ( 10- 40) on the un­der­card of UFC 231 at Sco­tia­bank Arena.

While Ka­tona is new to fight­ing as a ca­reer, he is a vet­eran of martial arts. He took his first karate class at five — he and his brother were Power Ranger fans so chose karate over hockey — and got his black belt at 14. Their fa­ther, a UFC fan, then put them into Brazil­ian Jiu- Jitsu at the Win­nipeg Acad­emy of Mixed Martial Arts.

He con­tin­ued his MMA stud­ies dur­ing high school and his time as the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba, hit­ting the books while punch­ing op­po­nents. His first pro fight was Oc­to­ber 2014.

“I def­i­nitely feel like sport helped me at school as well as get­ting that en­gi­neer­ing de­gree helped me in sport,” said Ka­tona. “An engi­neer knows how to solve problems and that’s what ev­ery day in the train­ing room is.”

“The sad part is you’re never quite sat­is­fied,” he added. “But I’d rather be push­ing the bar­rier on ev­ery­thing than sit­ting back com­pletely 100 per cent sat­is­fied.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing his de­gree in May 2016, he said the time was right to fo­cus full- time on fight­ing.

“I was reach­ing a point in my dream ca­reer of be­ing a pro­fes­sional ath­lete that it didn’t make sense to hold off. If I didn’t make that at­tempt, it would be some­thing I would re­gret for a long time.”

Ka­tona said he and his girl­friend Katie Saull, a fel­low fighter, soon knew it was time to make a move and “step things up.”

“Other­wise the game will pass you on. I wanted to be ahead of that curve and be train­ing with ( the) best team that I can be.”

In Novem­ber 2017, the five- foot­six 135- pounder and Saull pulled up stakes and moved full- time to Dublin to train at Straight Blast Gym Ire­land un­der coach John Ka­vanaugh, who coin­ci­den­tally also has an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree. The gym is fa­mous for be­ing the home of Ir­ish star ( The No­to­ri­ous) Conor McGre­gor.

“They wel­comed us in and it was just a right fit,” said Ka­tona, who also has a black belt in Brazil­ian Jiu- Jitsu.

“It’s a big gym, but it has also a small gym feel,” he added. “There’s a tight- knit com­mu­nity around the team mem­bers.”

He ap­pre­ci­ates Ka­vanaugh’s hands- on ap­proach dur­ing train­ing, rather than hand­ing off to an as­sis­tant coach.

Ka­tona says he sees McGre­gor at the gym, but doesn’t get to rub shoul­ders too much with the for­mer feather­weight and light­weight cham­pion.

“When you’ve made it to the level that he has, be­ing a two- divi­sion champ and be­ing the big­gest su­per­star in the sport, you’re not do­ing the same prac­tices as ev­ery­body else. But he still shows up for the team prac­tice from time to time.”

McGre­gor is also not above lead­ing a class him­self, Ka­tona added.

The Win­nipeg­ger pushed “pretty hard” to get on the Toronto card, look­ing for­ward to fight­ing on home soil.

“It’s also a big card so there’s go­ing to be a lot of eyes, both in per­son and on TV.”

He calls Lopez a dif­fi­cult op­po­nent — and a dan­ger­ous one af­ter two straight losses.

“I think he knows this could be make- or- break for him. If he loses this, the UFC could po­ten­tially cut him. So I’d ex­pect him to put in the most work that he’s ever done for this fight to keep his job in the UFC.”

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