Winnipeg bantamweight Brad (Superman) Katona comes full circle in return to the UFC

The UFC is back in Toronto. And so is Brad (Superman) Katona.

The 32-year-old bantamweight from Winnipeg, who now calls Dublin home, is the lone fighter on Saturday’s UFC 297 card at Scotiabank Arena who also took part in UFC 231 in December 2018, the promotion’s last visit to Toronto.

A lot has happened to Katona since.

After winning a decision over American Matthew Lopez at UFC 231, the winner of Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show lost his next two UFC fights and was cut. With fights hard to get during the pandemic, Katona signed with the Bahrain-based Brave Combat Federation and won four straight bouts — three in Bahrain and one in Kazakhstan.

Offered a way back in the UFC, he joined the cast of Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter, which pitted prospects against former UFC fighters. Katona (13-2-0) won a decision over Cody (The Renegade) Gibson in August 2023 to win the bantamweight bracket and earn another UFC contract.

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Which brings him back to Toronto, where he will take on American Garrett Armfield (9-3-0) on the undercard of UFC 297.

“It’s come full circle,” Katona said of being back in the fold. “It’s exciting in some ways but it just feels right. It’s hard to put into words. We’re home. We’re home where we always belonged and that’s the UFC and that’s fighting in Toronto again.

“The road back wasn’t easy.”

Katona says he experienced “the darkest time” of his career about a year ago despite his string of wins in the Brave Combat Federation.

“We had been pitching the UFC the prospect of me coming back. We even said, ‘Hey I’d be happy to do The Ultimate Fighter.’ And we didn’t get the green light on it.”

Instead he was told the UFC would keep him in mind.

“Then near the end of January (2023) everything changed. I was, all of a sudden, in The Ultimate Fighter house.… It’s crazy thinking about (how) pretty much a year ago today how unhappy I was. It wasn’t for failing and that was the most frustrating part. It was a tough spot.”

So frustrating that Katona, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Manitoba, had a list on his phone of bantamweights he believed the UFC should have cut before him.

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He ended up joining the TUF 31 cast on nine days’ notice. He said his second stint in the TUF house — the fighters train and live together during the filming, prohibited from outside contact — was a tense affair.

Katona knew that a loss, injury or misstep making weight might be “potentially the UFC dream gone.”

He avoided such pitfalls, winning two preliminary bouts before beating Gibson in an entertaining slugfest that saw the two fighters combine for 324 significant strikes over three rounds, with 164 from Gibson and 160 from Katona.

Both men earned a US$50,000 bonus for fight of the night with Katona becoming the only fighter to win The Ultimate Fighter twice.

Asked that night in Las Vegas what the victory meant, he replied: “Everything and nothing.”

“You know this isn’t the end goal … it’s another step on the way.”

On Saturday, Armfield stands in his way.

The 27-year-old American is coming off a first-round TKO of Japan’s Toshiomi (Silent Finisher) Kazama in August in Singapore.

He lost his UFC debut by submission to David (Silent Assassin) Onama in July 2022.

“He’s a talented kid … (but) he hasn’t fought the guys I’ve fought,” Katona said. “And not only fought them but beat them.”

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Katona took his first karate class at five — he and his brother were Power Rangers fans — 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 at the University of Manitoba, hitting the books while punching opponents. His first pro fight was October 2014.

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

Katona and girlfriend Katie Saull, a fellow fighter, pulled up stakes in November 2017 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.

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