Max Holloway did everything he wanted to do in his last fight. He checked all the boxes he’d set for himself as he prepared to rematch Alexander Volkanovski on July 12 at UFC 251.
He left the Octagon pleased with his performance, but without something he was determined to bring with him: The featherweight title belt.
He lost an agonizingly close split decision to Volkanovski, his second defeat in a row and his third in his last four fights. Holloway was 1-3 in 2019 and 2020, beating Frankie Edgar by decision and losing to Volkanovski twice and Dustin Poirier by decision.
Each of those losses were close and were bouts he could have won.
No one could blame him if he were bitter, angry and upset at the judging and at his lot in life, but those who expected that reaction from Holloway clearly don’t know him.
He shrugged off the losses with a grin and is only thinking about his fight on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC) at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi against Calvin Kattar in the main event of UFC Fight Island 7.
One of the reasons for Holloway’s greatness is that he doesn’t let things he can’t control bother him. He’s like a golfer who shoots 62 in the final round of a tournament but doesn’t win because someone else shot 61. You can’t be angry when you play that well, and Holloway isn’t angry because he fought at what he felt was the best of his ability.
It wasn’t good enough in the eyes of two of the three judges, so he has simply moved on.
“That last fight, there is nothing I can be mad about,” said Holloway, who in November became engaged to professional surfer Alessa Quizon. “Eighty to 90 percent of the world thought we won the fight. Like I said, this ain’t just fans saying that; this was a who’s who [of MMA experts]. Firas [Zahabi], GSP’s coach said it. [Legendary referee] Big John McCarthy said it [and he is] the guy who pretty much invented the rules. Then you got guys like Nate [Diaz], Dustin [Poirier], Justin [Gaethje], Jorge [Masvidal, who all thought I won].
“At the end of the day, if those guys told me I didn’t win the [Jose] Aldo fights, you know what I would have done? I would have moved to Brazil and tried to fight Aldo every single day to prove I’m the better fighter.”
It’s going to be tough for him in the short term to get back to a title shot given he fought Volkanovski twice and the featherweight division is filled with contenders who are long overdue a shot at the championship.
Holloway’s perspective, however, is refreshing; he sees the championship not as who was the best in a given era, but rather, who was better on a specific night. He felt that way when he was winning the championship and defending it and he hasn’t changed his outlook since he’s lost.
He points that out as a means of explaining he’ll be just as motivated to fight the No. 6-ranked Kattar as he was to fight elite opponents like Volkanovski, Poirier and Aldo, among others.
Holloway is by far the most significant fight of Kattar’s career, but it is just another one of many big fights for the Hawaiian so he will be ready to put on a show when the bell rings with a national television audience watching on Saturday.
“At the end of the day, we’re still fighting five rounds and there’s no less work,” Holloway said. “I’ve still got to do the same amount of work as if I were doing a title fight. It’s the same rules. It’s the same everything. Calvin is a dangerous dude, and we know he’s dangerous because he wouldn’t be standing across from me [if he weren’t].
“I’m excited for it. He’s from Boston and a lot of people like to talk about his boxing. A lot of people like to talk about my boxing. … Calvin was saying something like, ‘I am overlooking him,’ and this and that, but I can’t. How can I overlook you? You made it here. I got to respect that.”
Holloway, who is a little better than an 8-5 favorite on BetMGM, has near universal respect in the industry. He is one of those guys who comes in shape every time, leaves it all in the cage and doesn’t complain about bad breaks or poor judging.
He gets it.
It’s why he’s arguably the greatest featherweight in MMA history and why it would be no shock if he were to wear the belt again.
No matter what happens, though, he’ll leave the cage with a smile on his face because that’s who he is.
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