Take a look back at Max Holloway’s 2012 UFC debut, and tell me what you see.
Is it Holloway’s youthful looks that stand out? Or is it his energetic race around the Octagon and over-excited nerves that grab your attention? Perhaps it’s Max’s under-developed ground game, tapping to a Dustin Poirier triangle-armbar in the first round, that catches your eye. For Holloway himself, nothing is more noticeable than his physical appearance.
“If you look at my Poirier fight, I look like a 16-year-old kid,” offers Holloway, who is busy training for an August 23 bout against Charles Oliveira, his first main event in the UFC. “You look at my kind of recent fights, I kind of got a little bit more muscle. I’m maturing into a man I guess you can say. My body looks way different from what it was before.”
Now 23, Holloway fondly recalls his first trip to the Octagon, regardless of the result. Just 20 at the time of his UFC 143 loss to Poirier, and one of the youngest athletes to ever compete in the UFC, Holloway has gone from late replacement, stepping up to the big show on short notice, to top-five featherweight in less that four years.
But Holloway is not content or complacent with his current status near the top of the featherweight division. He’s intent on raising his ever-expanding athletic and competitive ceiling, and believes that a win over Oliveira will put him closer to his ultimate goal of hoisting UFC gold.
However, this wasn’t always the case.
“I wanted to be a K-1 fighter to be honest … when I was 16 … that was my goal,” comments Holloway. “But two years later, when I was 18, that’s when UFC started getting really hyped and stuff and huge. In my eyes, I was thinking, that’s the belt to make money wise was through UFC.”
Having reached the MMA majors and the UFC by the age of 20, Holloway would rebound from the Poirier loss by winning three straight to close out 2012. But the following year would bring new challenges, in the form of a pair of decision losses to Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor, and Holloway’s future inside the Octagon appeared to be in jeopardy.
Then, in 2014, Holloway would rebound in a major way, winning four straight, all finishes, including his first ever submission, a come-from-behind guillotine choke of Andre Fili at UFC 172.
“When I had that two fight loss streak, I was like ‘shit, I might lose my job,’ cause right after that I was fighting a guy making his debut – usually a guy making his debut against a guy in the UFC that has a losing streak and he loses again, he probably gets his papers,” recalls Holloway. “No one expected me to guillotine a guy from [Team] Alpha Male … even Joe Rogan was saying that Andre’s not gonna get guillotined. He gets guillotined by Chad Mendes and Urijah Faber … and there’s no way I’m gonna guillotine him pretty much. And then I went in there and I guillotined him.”
With his win streak now up to six straight, including his most recent victory, an impressive, Performance of the Night submission over Cub Swanson in April 2015, Holloway has shifted his attention to Oliveira, one of the division’s best grapplers and submission artists. But it’s not unlike anything he’s previously seen in UFC competition.
“The perfect thing we can compare Oliveira to is my Cole Miller fight. I feel like we had a good game plan against Cole Miller, so if I make some tweaks, I’ll be ready for Oliveira,” offers Holloway. “Oliveira’s a little bit more savvy on the ground, or he grabs something and he won’t let go until it’s broken or till the bell stops, or until you go to sleep or something like that. We got minor changes in my jiu jitsu game … but like I said … Max Holloway doesn’t change just for an opponent. I go out there and I do the same thing in the fight. It’s just if they can stop me”
While Holloway has already faced higher ranked opponents than Oliveira, the Brazilian, who enters the bout on a four-fight win streak, has looked stellar of late, and will likely own the advantage if the fight goes to the ground. And despite Holloway’s new-found submission game, his best chances will likely come on the feet, where his crisp and accurate striking have made him a 2-to-1 favorite heading into Ultimate Fight Night Saskatoon.
A win, of course, would thrust Holloway further up the ladder, where new challenges can present themselves in the form of Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, and Ricardo Lamas. There is also a potential re-match with interim titleholder McGregor, a bout that could generate significant buzz, as Holloway is not only the lone fighter to take the Irishman the distance, but he is also significantly improved since the last time the two met in Boston in 2013.
First, however, Holloway will need to stop Oliveira.
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