Last week, Max “Blessed” Holloway had one last training session at Gracie Technics in Kalihi before departing for his fight with Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 245. The Waianae native looked loose but determined, disciplined but still cracking jokes, dripping in sweat but still fresh and ready for more.
“Feeling like a champ,” Holloway said after his workout. “Just can’t wait. Couple more days and then we’re gonna go up there and show why we’re the best in the world again.”
Holloway flew out on Dec. 4, the same day he turned 28. The first leg of his trip was set for Los Angeles before he ultimately made his way to Las Vegas, where on Saturday he’ll fight Volkanovski for his fourth featherweight title defense.
Many athletes hit their prime when they’re around Holloway’s age. Ask Holloway himself about where he is in relation to his peak, and it’s clear he believes he’s far from it despite having been in the fight game for nearly a decade.
Holloway turned pro in 2010 and joined the UFC in 2012, where he holds a 17-4 career record. His UFC debut on Feb. 4, 2012 ended in a submission loss to Dustin Poirier.
“The biggest thing I learned about myself is it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I had a bad start in the UFC,” Holloway said. “Going out strong, got knocked back down…We’re not done yet. I got a lot more to do. A lot more time. I’m far from my prime and I can’t wait. It’s exciting.”
Holloway fell to Conor McGregor in a unanimous decision loss on Aug. 17, 2013. Over time, he proved to be one of the few to take him the distance.
From there, Holloway steadily climbed the ranks and has become one of the UFC’s most beloved champions in the process.
After the McGregor loss, he rattled off a 13-fight winning streak. During that streak he fought the most decorated featherweight champion ever, Jose Aldo, twice. He won both by technical knockout. The first one, fought in Aldo’s home city of Rio de Janeiro, won him the UFC Featherweight Championship (136-145 pounds) and unified the interim belt, while the second one defended it. His lone fight in 2018 was a TKO over Brian Ortega on Dec. 8, a technical masterclass that was stopped by the doctors before the fifth and final round was set to begin.
Holloway started his 2019 slate with a loss to Porier for the interim UFC Lightweight Championship (146-155 pounds) on April 13, ending a winning streak that lasted nearly six years. However, he returned to featherweight and defeated Frankie Edgar on July 27 to defend his championship belt.
On Saturday, he puts his 14-fight featherweight win streak on the line against Volkanovski. Despite losing his initial chance at the lightweight belt in April, he plans to get it back in the future and then some.
“I feel great. I feel good. I want to be a legend in this sport. I want to be a pound-for-pound fighter,” Holloway said. “Somebody asked me, ‘is your goal to still hold two belts at one time?’ If it’s holding two belts at one time, that would be cool. But I want another belt. I told them I want to break the record. I want to be the first guy to win three belts, maybe four — 170’s not too far from 155, and 185 ain’t.
“I’m more Samoan than anything. Polynesians is big, Hawaiians is big, Samoans is big, so I can get there. I just think I need the right training, the right mindset, and I think we can accomplish anything.”
Such aspirations could be shot down and/or met with criticism, but during Holloway’s evolution as a fighter, he’s constantly proven himself. To coach Ivan Flores, his best days are ahead of him.
“With age comes maturity, and I think anytime you have someone putting in the work as consistently as he has, you can’t help but to grow from it,” Flores says of Holloway. “His character is much stronger, his work ethic is incredible. I think he’s just a little more wise. When we first started working together, I would describe Max as that dog on a leash. He’s a gunslinger, you know? He couldn’t wait to go out there and put people out.
“As the years have progressed and what not, he’s gotten more experience and better and better. He understands when to go and when not to go.
“I think that separates him from a lot of people.”
Despite Holloway’s lofty goals for the future, he certainly isn’t looking past the task at hand against Volkanovski this Saturday.
Volkanovski has won 17 straight fights and is a perfect 6-0 since joining the UFC. He’s rightfully listed by the UFC as the No. 1 contender in the featherweight division, and Saturday will be his first title fight.
“Alexander, like I said many times before, this guy is another cupcake — another flavor I get to try,” Holloway said. “He presents a lot of questions and we’ll see on Dec. 14 if I got the answers. That’s the thing that excites me and my team. We sit down, we see what these guys present and we’ll go from there.”
During an episode of Ariel Helwani’s MMA show that was released on Dec. 9, Volkanovski touched on the sacrifices he’s made on his career path as a fighter while raising a daughter. He told Helwani that he hopes to bring an “early Christmas present back home” if he were to win the belt.
“Nothing but respect to Max, but I’m planning on taking that belt and I’m gonna have this side of the world know exactly who I am,” Volkanovski said on the show. “It’s really gonna put me out there. It’s really gonna get everyone going and start following my name with the big boys.”
Holloway is raising a child of his own. His son, Rush, will be at the fight as a proud observer.
When the two fathers take the octagon on Saturday, only one will leave with the belt.
“Everyone’s saying I never fought nobody like him,” Holloway said. “The cool thing is, he’s never fought nobody like me. We get to find out who really prepared well and we get to go out there and do our thing Dec. 14.”