Rivalries: Max Holloway

By Brian Knapp Apr 27, 2020
Max Holloway debuted in the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old, made incremental improvements and blossomed into one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound competitors.

The Gracie Technics standout in 2012 introduced himself to a wider audience as a short-notice replacement at UFC 143, where he submitted to a triangle armbar from a vastly more experienced Dustin Poirier in a little more than three minutes. Holloway’s next five outings saw promising victories over Pat Schilling, Justin Lawrence and Leonard Garcia offset by frustrating losses to Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor. From there, the Hawaiian continued to develop and bloomed during a 13-fight winning streak that included an extended run as featherweight champion. Now well-established as one of the UFC’s true stars, he has turned his attention to building a historic legacy.

As Holloway awaits his next order of business, a look at some of the rivalries that lit his pathway:

Volkanovski ended Holloway’s 922-day reign atop the 145-pound weight class. (Photo: Getty Images)

Alexander Volkanovski

Volkanovski leaned on crushing leg kicks and power punching combinations, as he captured the featherweight crown with a unanimous decision over Holloway in the UFC 245 co-main event on Dec. 14, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Australian swept the scorecards with 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45 marks from the judges, ending Holloway’s 922-day reign atop the 145-pound weight class. Volkanovski never once deviated from his game plan. He shredded Holloway’s base with kicks to the upper and lower leg, forcing him to switch from orthodox to southpaw. Holloway fought well in spurts—he occasionally doubled up on his jab and connected with hooks to the body—but ran into an opponent who was unwilling to back down. Volkanovski kept the Hawaiian’s patented multi-punch volleys to a minimum, fought fire with fire when the situation called for it and emerged as the fourth undisputed featherweight champion in UFC history. Holloway, who was ticketed for a rematch with Volkanovski prior to the coronavirus outbreak, was respectful in defeat but did not agree with the decision.

“I don’t want to sound like a sore loser,” he said. “I didn’t watch no tape. I don’t know what happened. I felt like we was doing enough, but there’s three guys’ opinions that matter the most and they didn’t see it my way, so at the end of the day, it is what it is. We’ll be back. Like I said, I’m only 28. I’m only 28, guys. I’ll be back, and we’ll be ready.”

Holloway teed off on Ortega until a cage-side doctor showed mercy. (Photo: Getty Images)

Brian Ortega

The previously unbeaten Ortega did everything in his power to loosen Holloway’s grip on the featherweight throne, but his efforts proved fruitless. The Hawaiian retained his undisputed 145-pound title in resounding fashion, as he forced a doctor stoppage after the fourth round of their UFC 231 headliner on Dec. 8, 2018 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The cageside physician took one look at Ortega’s grotesquely swollen left eye and declared him unfit to continue, and no one in their right mind could have argued with his decision. Ortega put up considerable resistance and obliged the Hawaiian with a war of attrition, only to be met with four-, five- and six-punch combinations. Holloway struck with surgical precision. The champion connected with 166 of the 304 total strikes and 156 of the 294 significant strikes he attempted. Ortega, who has not fought since, was credited with two takedowns but could do nothing of note with either of them.

“He’s a tough opponent, tough guy,” Holloway said. “We’ll probably see each other all the way to heavyweight because we like to eat.”

Holloway took Aldo’s title and then stopped him in the rematch. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jose Aldo

Holloway removed Aldo from power by force, as he laid claim to the featherweight championship by disposing of the Brazilian with third-round punches in the UFC 212 main event on June 3, 2017 at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Holloway drew the curtain 4:13 into Round 3, as he took his place on the 145-pound throne. Aldo was competitive, as evidenced by the fact that he outlanded the Hawaiian in each of the first two rounds: 19-12 in the first and 29-28 in the second. However, he holstered one of his most trusted and devastating weapons, the Nova Uniao standout throwing only one leg kick across more than 14 minutes of combat. Holloway decked him with a two-punch combination in the third round, climbed into top position and cut loose with ground-and-pound—he paused briefly for an attempt at a rear-naked choke—until referee John McCarthy called for the stoppage.

Six months later, their rematch provided the same result, as Holloway put away Aldo with punches 4:51 into the third round of the UFC 218 headliner.

“I just had to be myself,” Holloway said. “That first fight, I was holding back a little bit. “This one, I let myself go a little faster. It showed. He took this fight on short notice. He got tired the first fight on a full camp. What do you think was going to happen the second time?”
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