Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC
What can be said about Max Holloway that has not already been said. There’s only ever been three UFC featherweight champions, which narrows down the discussion as to who claims the throne as the division’s greatest.
Firstly, Brazilian icon Jose Aldo. A fantastic Muay Thai specialist with a gleaming record as division champion, the premier gold holder in fact. Aldo signed off his reign in 2015 having lodged an incredible seven straight successful defences.
Next, we have former two-weight division Conor McGregor. The man to relieve Aldo of champion status, in shocking fashion may I add, also holds a unanimous decision victory over Max Holloway. McGregor failed to ever attempt a featherweight title defense, as he searched for gold a division higher, but he does deserve a mention due to his eye-catching resume at 145-pounds.
Then finally, we have Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway, the current king of the pack. Despite his loss to McGregor during the early stage of both men’s Octagon stints, the Hawaii favorite has twice finished Jose Aldo via strikes. Just take a look at the names on his record. It was a lengthy journey to the featherweight summit, with opponents such as Charles Oliviera, Jeremy Stephens, Anthony Pettis, Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas all falling to the way side. When Holloway seized the crown, he finished Brian Ortega in a arguably career best display. Just sixteen weeks ago, Holloway finally met with and overcame Frankie Edgar. I think we have a winner.
This weekend, it’s another attempted title defense for the 28-year-old but it’s certainly not routine. In the co-headlining slot of UFC 245, Holloway makes a rare trip to Las Vegas as he clashes with Alexander Volkanovski, tasked with handing the heavy-handed Australian his first promotional defeat. It’s one of Holloway’s sternest challenges at featherweight in the current day, so the question is simple; does the best remain ‘Blessed’?
Breaking down the striking style of Max Holloway isn’t exactly rocket science but it is incredibly enjoyable. The Honolulu born puncher has one of the most polished standup countering systems in the entire organization. Impeccable timing and precision, almost inconceivable combinations, rapid footwork and balance and a truly frightening output which seems to increase the deeper we divulge into a bout. All this paired with a stance switching hand’s down approach make ‘Blessed’ one of the most complete standup packages not just the division, but the sport has seen.
At UFC 231 in Ontario, Holloway as champion, entered the Octagon against the then undefeated Brian Ortega as the underdog, mind boggling. From the opening buzzer until a subsequent doctor’s stoppage before the fifth and final round, Holloway bludgeoned Ortega from pillar to post. Landing over three-hundred total strikes, Holloway simply put on the most impressive clinic of his career to date, after some discussion regarding his health before the bout. In what turned out to be the final round of the bout, Holloway landed a whopping one-hundred and thirty-four strikes, a gut-busting effort.
Against Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski, Holloway meets somebody with power that can match both Jeremy Stephens, Conor McGregor, and according to Holloway himself, his heaviest-hitting foe, Andre ‘Touchy’ Fili. Similarly to Holloway, Volkanovksi nullified Aldo in his title earning victory, adding to an exciting win over Chad Mendes previously. The Aussie holds an impressive eleven knockout victories over his young career, which offers Holloway some cause for concern.
We seen the Gracie Technics product struggle somewhat with the sheer size of Dustin Poirier in his one and only lightweight venture recently in a highly competitive matchup re-run. The power coming from Poirier will give Volkanovski confidence ahead of this highly-anticipated clash, considering the stumbling effect it had on Holloway in the opening ten minutes.
A victory for Holloway makes it four successful title defences at featherweight, with only a handful of matchups available for the Hawaiian. Chan Sung Jung and Frankie Edgar meet on short-notice in South Korea next Saturday, with Jung attempting to earn a second title challenge. Two eye-catching strikers have built momentum recently, as Yair Rodriguez and Zabit Magomedsharipov build their win streak’s. Both men will likely clash to determine the number-one contender at 145-pounds. After those potential pairings, I think we see Holloway make the leap to lightweight once again. Although, this is entirely reliant on success this weekend in Sin City.