mma / Columns

What’s Next for Max Holloway?

December 10, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Max Holloway UFC 218

Brian Ortega was unbeaten. He’d fought from behind on a few occasions, but each time he turned the tables. There was the unprecedented run of four straight third-round finishes, which attracted some attention, but the excitement surrounding Ortega became real last December, when he submitted Cub Swanson in the second round. His performance spelled out a lesson: you cannot let this fighter grab a hold of you. And so Frankie Edgar, one of the best fifteen or twenty fighters ever, sought out to disallow Ortega from grabbing a hold of him. Edgar was largely successful in that endeavor, but Ortega shrugged, and finished him with his hands.

This was the new big challenge for Max Holloway, who had already faced down big challenges from Jose Aldo (twice), Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, and Cub Swanson. It would be Holloway’s first fight in one year, with injuries and health issues forcing him out of three fights earlier this year. The betting odds were just about even; Ortega had proven to be an incredible finished from just about any position, and this time he’d have five rounds to find victory. It should have been a well-matched contest.

Holloway dominated Ortega, and not in the typical way that makes for a boring, predictable fight. Just in time for the Christmas season, he lit Ortega up with an unkind and unrelenting attack. According to Fight Metric’s count, Holloway scored with 290 significant strikes over four rounds, 244 of which rocked Ortega’s head.

Incredibly, Holloway saved the worst of it for round four, when he hit 134 significant strikes and threw 196. To put that in perspective, Holloway’s output in that round alone beat his significant strike total in all but one of his previous fights (the second Jose Aldo fight).

To his credit, Ortega didn’t fight poorly and showed the highest level of toughness. But on Saturday night, he simply wasn’t close to Max Holloway.

In his past two fights, Holloway has been a different fighter, and one of the scariest order for featherweight contenders. His suffocating output snuffed out Jose Aldo in their rematch last December, and he was much the same against Ortega. This is fighter who will fight at a high pace in early rounds, and then turn it up three levels higher than his opponent is capable of withstanding. His performances have been so remarkable that after just two title defenses—while also considering his larger pre-title body of work—Holloway is already being discussed as perhaps the best featherweight ever.

The next order of business turns to Holloway’s next fight. He has already defeated the division’s two top-ranked contenders, Ortega and Aldo. A fight against the third-ranked contender, Frankie Edgar, has been attempted twice and foiled by injuries. Although Edgar, 37, has seen better years, his wrestling ability adds an interesting wrinkle to a fight with Holloway. Holloway has displayed very good takedown defense, but he’s never faced a wrestler of Edgar’s caliber.

The Edgar fight may be the only one worth it for Holloway to stick around at featherweight for. Even with Edgar’s age and his February knockout loss to Ortega, he represents a challenge and an impressive name to add to Holloway’s growing resume. He’s also the only big-name fighter in the division Holloway hasn’t beaten.

Certainly, it seems Holloway’s future is at lightweight. Not only is featherweight thin on big names that Holloway can make money with, but it’s a tough weight cut. Lightweight will be easier on his body and promises significantly bigger match-ups. The decision of whether Holloway should fight it out at featherweight once more or move up to lightweight immediately should be a simple matter of who his lightweight opponent would be.

Fights with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier, or Nate Diaz are all bigger fights for Holloway than the Edgar bout and will raise his profile significantly. In particular, the McGregor fight—by far the most lucrative option—and the Poirier fight represent chances for Holloway to avenge losses from early in his career. If Holloway can get one of those fights, he should take it. That may or may not be possible with UFC’s plan of a Khabib vs. Ferguson and McGregor vs. Poirier mini-tournament, and with Diaz not appearing to want to fight, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise.

Typically, moving up to a new weight class becomes a question of size and whether the travelling fighter can compete with larger opponents. With Holloway being a larger featherweight, that isn’t a real concern. Competitively, Holloway matches up well with every top lightweight with the exception of Nurmagomedov, who one would think would be able to take Holloway down and do work on top. This wouldn’t be a simple matter of a fighter moving up in weight for more lucrative fights; Holloway could make his mark in the division.

Holloway has a chance to carve out a significant place as one of MMA’s all-time greats. Whatever his next move may be, it will help define the shape of his legacy.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Max Holloway, UFC 231, Dan Plunkett