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Playing with fire: Max Holloway enters 'legacy fight' vs. Alexander Volkanovski with added motivation

·Combat columnist
·5 min read
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LAS VEGAS — If there is one thing that Max Holloway has done since the first time he’s stepped into the Octagon, it’s been to fight with passion and, yes, fire.

He’s fought more elite fighters than just about anyone else who has been in the UFC during his run, and he tried to fight even more. He signed to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2019 on six days’ notice without the benefit of a training camp.

There are guys during Nurmagomedov’s career who wanted no part of him, but Holloway was willing to jump up a weight class without hesitation to do it. The fight only didn’t occur because the New York State Athletic Commission yanked him from the card during the weight cut out of concern for his health.

He’s already had four fights against fighters currently in the UFC’s Top 7 pound-for-pound list, and he’s had 10 fights against opponents who held UFC titles.

On Saturday, he’ll make that No. 11 when he faces featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski for the 145-pound belt in the co-main event of UFC 276 at T-Mobile Arena.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 13: Max Holloway prepares to fight Yair Rodriguez of Mexico in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Former featherweight champion Max Holloway has been a mainstay on the UFC's pound-for-pound list since December 2016. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

A little controversy erupted in MMA when Nurmagomedov was asked on camera on the UFC’s Twitter account to pick a winner between Holloway and Volkanovski. He picked Volkanovski, which isn’t the point of the controversy, since Volkanovski won the first two fights between them and is now a -200 favorite at BetMGM to win Saturday.

The lack of fire comment, though, is what was curious, because anyone who has seen Holloway fight would never say that. English is not Nurmagomedov’s first language and he clearly meant no offense by it, but it garnered attention.

“I like Max Holloway,” Nurmagomedov said. “I like him. This is nothing personal, but I think Volkanovski’s going to defend his title. It’s a question of how. Who knows? But I see he (stays busy), fights all the time, has experience, maybe experience. Like a little bit more fire. I feel he has a little bit more fire than Max Holloway.”

Yair Rodriguez would probably say Holloway has plenty of fire. So, too, would Calvin Kattar, as would Volkanovski, who has spent 10 rounds in the cage with him.

Holloway was mystified by Nurmagomedov’s assessment.

“He’s probably talking about Volkanovski having more fire because he has a cooking show or something,” Holloway told Yahoo Sports. “Maybe the fire resemblance is there, but other than that I don’t know, man. I don’t know. Khabib is Khabib. He’s going to say what he’s going to say, and I have no idea what he’s talking about? I’m here, and I’m still doing it, so I can’t wait. There’s a lot of people saying stuff, and we get to figure out if everything is true, if I still have the fire come Saturday night.”

The one reason Holloway has great motivation is because of what happened in those first two fights. Volkanovski used calf kicks early to break down Holloway’s legs at UFC 245 and shot to an early lead before Holloway came back.

Holloway felt he’d done enough to retain his championship, but Volkanovski won a unanimous decision.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 12: (L-R) Opponents Alexander Volkanovski of Australia and Max Holloway face off prior to their UFC featherweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
After 10 violent rounds of toe-to-toe action, Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway meet a third time Saturday at UFC 276. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

In the rematch, it was Holloway who shot out ahead and Volkanovski who adjusted and came roaring back. Volkanovski won that won by a split decision to retain the belt. The majority of fans and media sided with Holloway.

So he’s down 0-2 to Volkanovski and needs a win on Saturday to not only reclaim the belt but for so many other reasons. He’s widely been regarded as the greatest featherweight of all time. But Volkanovski has won 21 in a row and 11 in a row in the UFC, and if he beats Holloway a third time, he’d grab that mythical title.

It would also be difficult for Holloway to get another shot at the featherweight belt if he loses. The featherweight division is stacked, and if one fighter has gone 0-3 against the champion, it’s going to be difficult to give him another crack given the depth of deserving contenders.

So Holloway knows the onus is on him to perform.

Holloway, though, is an optimistic person by nature and not one who pays much attention to naysayers. He pointed out the rarity of two fighters in the Top 10 pound-for-pound list fighting each other. Volkanovski is No. 2 on the UFC’s list and Holloway is No. 6.

The significance of that alone has gotten Holloway licking his lips.

“It’s a legacy fight, man,” Holloway said. “It’s a huge fight and I can’t wait. I’ve got five title wins and to make this guy the sixth title win in the Ninth Island of Las Vegas, in front of fans, friends and family, it’s going to be amazing.”

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