On Saturday night, Max Holloway (23-6, 19-6 UFC) had to sweat to impose his will over Yair Rodriguez, but he earned a unanimous decision victory in the UFC Fight Night 197 headliner. In addition to taking home the win, “Blessed” broke several records, many already set by himself on a previous occasion. Among the others, he moved up the limit for most wins in the featherweight division and accumulated both the most strikes and the most significant strikes landed in the UFC history with 3,056 and 2,848, respectively. On top of that, his relentless efforts earned him his ninth post-fight bonus, another record for the 145-pound division.
It’s hard to argue with the fact that the Hawaiian fighter is inches above the rest of the pack in the UFC featherweight division right now. However, the former divisional titleholder lost twice with the current kingpin, Alexander Volkanovski, putting Holloway in a challenging position matchmaking-wise. Many fans and MMA members indeed scored the Volkanovksi-Holloway fight in favor of "Blessed," a close encounter that ended with a razor-thin split decision for Volkanovski at UFC 251. Still, the cageside judges are the supreme authority, ultimately. At the time of writing, the score says two to nothing in favor of “The Great,” and, unless the UFC decides otherwise -- we'll come to that later --, it’s unlikely to see Holloway getting a title shot any time soon.
There might be a solution to keep “Blessed” busy while waiting for Volkanovski to lose his belt or for Charles Oliveira to defend his title against Dustin Poirier, opening another exciting scenario for Holloway, who scored a TKO victory over Oliveira in August 2015. Another former opponent of Holloway has expressed interest in facing him against inside the Octagon, and his name is Conor McGregor. Even before the Rodriguez fight went down, the Irish fighter mocked Holloway’s claim of being the best boxer in the UFC. Then, “Notorious” took up to his social channels to share a video of him walking back and forth in front of his television while watching Bruce Buffer announcing Holloway. Both the messages and the video have been canceled in the meantime but expressed pretty clearly McGregor’s intent.
Holloway’s answer was not long in coming as he retweeted a quote by McGregor where the Irish said he only counts knockout losses by pointing out that, if the Hawaiian had to follow the same way, he’s undefeated. Most of Holloway’s defeats came by decision, with the only exception of the first at the hands of Poirier. That time, “The Diamond” forced promotional newcomer Holloway to tap thanks to a triangle armbar in the opening stanza. After that, the Gracie Technics standout had always shown an extraordinary endurance that not only allowed him never to be finished with strikes inside the Octagon but also to make 25 UFC appearances without suffering a knockdown, another promotional record.
Should the UFC go this way, fans will have to wait for McGregor to heal from the broken leg he suffered in the first frame of his third clash with Poirier. As often happened in the past, the time off from competition meant legal troubles for McGregor. This time, he allegedly punched an Italian DJ while in Rome, the last entry on a list that features multiple assaults on civilians. As for his latest in-cage performances, it looked like McGregor was out of his prime. His latest five MMA appearances span over a five-year period where he collected a victory over Eddie Alvarez and Donald Cerrone, in front of tapping to Khabib Nurmagomedov and picking back-to-back defeats to Dustin Poirier. On top of that, he also suffered a TKO defeat against Floyd Mayweather in his short stint in boxing.
There might be a significant hindrance for the Holloway-McGregor rematch, and it’s Dana White. In the post-fight press conference, the UFC President praised the Hawaiian standout’s performance against Rodriguez before adding that it might be worth a trilogy fight with Volkanovski. Shortly afterward, he dismissed any talks about a Holloway-McGregor rematch by pointing out that the Irishman is still recovering from the nasty injury he suffered in the UFC 264 main event.
The first time McGregor and Holloway met was at UFC Fight Night 26 in August 2013. The Hawaiian had already competed five times under the UFC banner while “Notorious” was in his second appearance. The Boston crowd went crazy that night for the Irish fighter, who displayed his arsenal variety in the opening frame by landing all kinds of kicks on “Blessed,” so much that he blew his knee at some point during the second frame. After outstriking his 21-year-old opponent, McGregor switched to a more cautious approach and outgrappled Holloway en route to a unanimous decision.
Should they lock horns now, things might go considerably different, and it’s not hard to see why White doesn’t seem to be thrilled by the Holloway-McGregor rematch idea. The Irish superstar might easily get outboxed by Holloway as the Hawaiian appears in a state of grace right now. His way to enter the UFC Hall of Fame one day and establish his claim to go down as the best featherweight in MMA’s history. The short-listed club includes Volkanovski and Jose Aldo, a man whom Holloway beat twice. In addition to avenging one of his defeats, Holloway will easily get the best paycheck of his career so far. McGregor headlined all five cards on the top-five list for most PPV buys in UFC’s history. He also shows twice more in the top-ten list. To put it in his own words, it’s red panty night for whoever he faces when he fights.