Max Holloway has five finishes during his six-fight winning streak. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Sunday returns to Canada for the second time in 2015 with an outstanding offering on Fox Sports 1. The main event features a dynamite meeting of two featherweight up-and-comers, as Hawaii’s Max Holloway takes on Brazil’s Charles Oliveira. Holloway and Oliveira will be staples for years to come in what is quickly becoming one of the promotion’s marquee divisions. That lends an edge of future importance to an already-great matchup.
The co-headliner is another fight that promises action, as Neil Magny steps up on short notice to take on Erick Silva. The rest of the card continues the theme of rising fighters in exciting matchups, with Canadian prospects Chad Laprise and Olivier Aubin-Mercier hitting the cage in competitive but favorable fights; Maryna Moroz returns to action after her enormous upset of Joanne Calderwood, drawing Valerie Letourneau in a slick women’s strawweight bout; and the undercard should provide excitement from top to bottom, with good prospects and action fights galore.
UFC Fight Night “Holloway vs. Oliveira” is as good as viewers can reasonably expect from a Fox Sports 1 card, so strap in for an excellent lineup of fights:
FeatherweightsMax Holloway (13-3, 9-3 UFC) vs. Charles Oliveira (20-4, 8-4 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: This is an outstanding pairing of two of the featherweight division’s most promising and violent up-and-comers. Both have an incredible amount of UFC experience for such young fighters -- Holloway is 23 and Oliveira is 25 -- with 12 and 13 bouts respectively in the promotion. The Hawaiian has put everything together since a lopsided decision loss to Conor McGregor two years ago, winning six in a row. His most recent win was a brutal third-round finish of Cub Swanson that firmly placed him on the map as a contender. Oliveira has won four in a row, three by submission, with the last a choking of Nik Lentz in May. The winner will have a serious claim on a title fight after Frankie Edgar gets his shot.
Holloway is one of the most diverse and creative strikers in the division, and he backs up that deep arsenal with rock-solid fundamentals. His footwork, angles, movement, timing and sense of the range are all outstanding, and he pushes an incredible pace. The Hawaiian is equally comfortable fighting from both stances and utilizes shift punches to switch mid-combination or drops from one to the other while retreating and then immediately fires off a rear-hand straight as his opponent comes forward. While he remains aggressive, Holloway has added a deep and effective counter game that combines the willingness to exchange in the pocket with back-stepping punches and well-timed stepping knees. He locates his shots based on his opponent’s reactions and mixes up his locations to the head, body and legs. Height and reach are huge advantages, and Holloway makes the most of them, constantly sticking his opponent at the end of his shots and then moving. Holloway’s rapid work rate means that he gets hit a fair bit, but he is defensively sound and does a good job of covering up and using his feet to stay out of danger.
The rest of Holloway’s game ranges from average to excellent. He rarely looks to spend extended periods in the clinch but transitions smoothly from punches into the double-collar tie and then immediately breaks off after throwing a knee. His takedown defense is outstanding, with a quick sprawl and great balance on his single-leg defense. While he wanted nothing to do with grappling aside from scrambling back to his feet early in his UFC career, he has added an aggressive submission game -- particularly his guillotine -- and smooth passes that make him a multidimensional threat.
Oliveira’s raw talent has never been in doubt, but he went through several years of subpar performances before finally putting it all together. He has always been a dangerous and chaotic fighter, but his evolution has turned him into a diverse threat, both on the feet and on the mat. Oliveira is happy to flick slicing round kicks and a forward-moving 1-2 at distance, but his game at range is mostly a bridge into his wheelhouse: the clinch. On the inside, he puts his height and leverage to good use with vicious knees from the double-collar tie, slashing elbows, short punches and a sneaky repertoire of misdirection trips, throws and hip tosses. Oliveira can crack if forced to fight on the feet for an extended period and he is certainly dangerous, but his upright stance makes him seriously hittable and he lacks the gas tank to fight at his preferred pace for an entire bout.
Grappling is Oliveira’s specialty, and if his takedowns fail, he is happy to jump on a submission attempt and pull guard. He is incredibly active from his back and works a constant stream of submission and sweep chains that combine a bewildering variety of triangles, armbars, guillotines and anaconda chokes with a steady flow of elbows. Transitions and scrambles are an even more dangerous place to be with Oliveira, as he has a quick back-take and a slick front headlock game. He drops hard ground strikes from the top and uses them to set up guard passes and tricky submission attempts. The only problems with Oliveira’s game are his occasionally out-of-control aggressiveness, lack of durability and less-than-ideal cardio.
BETTING ODDS: Holloway (-180), Oliveira (+158)
THE PICK: I favor Holloway by a larger margin than the betting odds indicate. If this goes to the ground for long, the Brazilian has a good shot at finding a submission, but Holloway’s takedown defense makes that a tall order. The Hawaiian excels at using his reach and keeping his opponent at range, and that will be his major key to victory. Oliveira has to get inside, where he can use his buzzsaw-like clinch skills and takedowns, but Holloway’s footwork and length makes that unlikely. Holloway will come out firing long jabs, crosses and kicks to stick Oliveira on the outside, and while the Brazilian will have an opportunity or two in the clinch or on the mat, I think Holloway’s consistent output and attrition will wear down Oliveira. The pick is Holloway by knockout in the third round.
Next Fight » Erick Silva vs. Neil Magny