LAS VEGAS — Max Holloway should be under a lot of pressure.
It’s Saturday, June 25, seven days before he faces Alexander Volkanovski for the third time at UFC 276, and Holloway (23-6) is in the T- Mobile Arena championship passed to Volkanovski by unanimous decision in their first meeting. The trilogy also takes place at the T-Mobile Arena next weekend.
But as Holloway casually sits back in one of the 20,000 seats that will be packed to capacity on Saturday, he doesn’t seem to have any extra nerve.
Because the first fight in 2019 was so close — and Holloway was such a dominant champion before that — the UFC booked an immediate rematch at Fight Island in July 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Holloway lost again in an empty arena, in a split decision that was even closer than the first.
Holloway has never complained about the scoring of either five-round bout, but when asked how he felt after each of them, he answers honestly.
“Definitely both times [I thought I did enough to win]’ Holloway told ESPN. “But as a wise man once said, it is what it was.”
For the past two years, Holloway has forced the issue of a third meeting against Volkanovski. In martial arts, it’s notoriously difficult to force a third fight against an opponent who’s already beaten you twice – but Holloway made it easy by defeating Calvin Kattar in a historic offensive performance and Yair Rodriguez in a fight of the year, both fighting in 2021.
At a third meeting should come a lot of pressure. Before his loss to Volkanovski in 2019, Holloway was a near-consensual pick as the all-time best featherweight and considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. If he loses for the third straight year, his legacy – especially at 145 pounds – will be changed forever.
“You guys always talk about who has more to lose,” Holloway said. “Respectfully, I think I have more to lose in every single fight I step into there. I always say I’m 0-0 and this fight is no different. I’m taking this fight like it’s my first and it might be my last. We don’t know what happens after that. We don’t know if I’ll ever fight again. you really don’t know
“That’s how I do it and the fans will be happy.”
Max Holloway analyzes what happened when he lost the featherweight title to Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 245.
He’s certainly right about that. Volkanovski is the ESPN pound-for-pound No. 4 fighter in the world. Holloway is No. 6. It’s rare for two of the best fighters in the world to go head-to-head in the same weight class three times in three years.
By not complaining about the scorecards of their first two fights, Holloway said he should never leave a fight in the judges’ hands — but that’s not an easy “mistake” to correct. Volkanovski has been fighting professionally since 2012 and has only finished once – in his fourth professional fight.
“It’s easier said than done, in any fight at any level,” Holloway said at the end. “And when you have guys like me and Alex who are Nos. 1 and 2 in weight class and probably on the pound-for-pound list globally, it’s crazy hard to do. But you get out of there and you make it.
“I had 10 rounds with this guy. We’ll be lucky if we get past three in this one.”
Chris Daggett, Holloway’s longtime manager, acknowledges there’s a lot at stake on Saturday from a business standpoint, but he says it’s nothing unusual for Holloway. The Hawaiian team has grown accustomed to the idea of viewing Holloway’s career through both long-term and short-term lenses.
“Everything about Max, whether it’s finances, his family, brand, partnerships, charities, his health – these are all long-term things,” Daggett said. “But when it comes to the fighting game, everything is short-term. We look a meter ahead and that’s it. So to that end, it always feels like everything is on the line. We put everything on the table. At the same time, we know that Max will definitely still be Max in two weeks. It sounds like a contradiction, but in the short term everything is at stake, but in two weeks everything will be fine, we understand that.”
It’s been two and a half years since Holloway fought at T-Mobile Arena. That’s also the same time since he’s fought in front of fans, as his last three fights have come amid pandemic restrictions. With the restrictions lifted, Holloway said he has over 60 family and friends flying to Las Vegas from Hawaii.
Despite Holloway’s 2-0 record against Volkanovski, he says he goes into this trilogy with the attitude of a champion.
“I felt like a champion when I was 0-1 in the UFC,” Holloway said. “I felt like a champ going 3-3 in the UFC fighting Will Chope for my pink panties. If you don’t think you’re the best, if you don’t think you’re the best in the world, why do you belong here? That helps me to walk the path.”
It really could be like any other fight for Holloway – although history will remember it a lot more.
https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34150311/max-holloway-final-chance-reclaim-division-once-owned Max Holloway’s final chance to reclaim the division he once owned