The Film Room: Max Holloway

By Kevin Wilson Dec 6, 2018

UFC 231 is now available on Amazon Prime.

Featherweight champion Max Holloway will defend his title this at UFC 231 against rising submission specialist, Brian Ortega. At only 27 and already considered one of the greatest featherweights of all time, a win this weekend would add to the legacy and put him one step closer to greatest of all time status.

The Best is Blessed

Holloway made his professional debut at 18 years-old and just two years later was signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship and made his debut on short notice against veteran Dustin Poirier. Holloway lost to Poirier and started his UFC career with a lackluster 3-3 record. Since a loss to Conor McGregor, Holloway has compiled an incredible 12-0 record with nine finishes, including two dominant wins over former champion Jose Aldo.

Holloway has quickly become one of the most exciting strikers in the UFC and possibly has the best inside boxing in mixed martial arts. With his long frame, you would expect Holloway to be a distance striker but he does his best work when forcing opponents to trade in the pocket. After attempting to play the outside game in his first fight with Aldo, Holloway decided to put the pressure on and fluster him in the pocket for most of the rematch. Notice the patience and ability to switch stances in between combos, while mixing it up to the head and body and never allowing Aldo the room to counter.

This clip shows Holloway again picking Aldo apart in the pocket with a patient and varied attack. Aldo was known as one of the best in the pocket strikers in the UFC and Holloway used his own game plan against him and got the better of nearly every exchange.

Holloway is one of the few legit switch hitters in the sport, meaning he can comfortably fight out of both stances while hiding the switches in motion. This can be achieved by throwing filler strikes while switching, then immediately throwing a strike hoping the switch went unnoticed or switching while circling to the opponent’s weak side, also known in karate as a switch-45. Fluid switch hitting is the highest level of skill in any standing combat sport and is something Holloway has perfected for use in MMA. Against Cub Swanson, Holloway leaped into a southpaw stance and landed two hooks to the body before exiting. A favorite combo of boxing legend Roberto Duran, against Aldo, Holloway routinely switched to southpaw while throwing a 1-2 and then would throw a hook from his now lead hand.

Holloway’s entire game relies on him being able to fight in both stances based on what his opponents are doing, and the ability to cut angles in a moment’s notice. Aldo has the best pivot in the division, but Holloway was able to take deep angles from either side and catch Aldo as he was slow to turn. Here Holloway also shows another way to hide your stance switches as he takes a deep V-step to Aldo’s right side while switching to southpaw. He immediately throws a strike, hoping the switch was unnoticed, allowing the strike to come at an angle Aldo is not expecting.

Another key aspect of Holloway’s game is the low line sidekick to the lead leg. McGregor controlled their fight with this same kick and soon after the loss, Holloway added it to his arsenal. He now uses the low line kick to set up other strikes like his rear straight to keep aggressive opponents at bay, and again to hide his stance switches. Against Anthony Pettis, Holloway routinely looked for the low line kick, even kicking across himself at times in the closed guard, and used it to set up his offense including this right straight that dropped Pettis.

Although it was early in his career, Holloway has been dominated on the ground. Dennis Bermudez controlled Holloway for the majority of their fight, and even the striking based McGregor was able to take him down with a torn ACL. Holloway has vastly improved his grappling since those defeats but it is still his biggest weakness and could be worrisome against an elite grappler like Ortega.

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