The Max Holloway era carries on, with the champion avoiding a premature ending to his reign at UFC 218 in Detroit.
Holloway faced former champion Jose Aldo for the second time in a little more than five months, taking on the very man whose title he took back at UFC 212 in June. Dominating Aldo to the tune of a third-round TKO last time out in Rio de Janeiro, many wondered if Holloway could do it again. He was, after all, just the second man to hand the legendary Brazilian a loss in his last 20 fights, spanning 12 years.
Employing a calculated approach in his first fight with Aldo, Holloway did much of the same in a rematch. The champion allowed the former kingpin to tire himself out in the opening two rounds, placing a great deal of confidence in his ability to weather the early storms before dragging Aldo into deeper waters. By Round 3, Aldo was a shell of himself, having exhausted most of his resources, which prevented him from doing much damage or, worse yet, avoiding it.
Holloway pummeled Aldo in the third round, pressing forward and giving the challenger no room to breathe with big punch after big punch. Aldo, like most fighters do when they sense trouble, became the prototypical panic wrestler, shooting for a takedown to avoid any further damage.
It was a grave, but ultimately necessary mistake, falling to his back as Holloway rained down punches before the referee intervened. If that sounds familiar, it should — it’s the exact same way Holloway finished Aldo the first time around, now cementing himself as the greatest featherweight fighter on the planet.
The victory serves as Holloway’s 12th in a row, as well as the first defense of the featherweight championship since October 2013. After numerous injuries kept Aldo away from defending his title, and a lofty set of goals kept Conor McGregor from doing the same during his brief, uneventful run as the featherweight king, Holloway has now restored order to the 145-pound class.
“This is what champions do, champions defend,” Holloway said during the post-fight news conference. “They always say you’re not a champion until you defend your title. I always wanted to bring stability and I wanted to prove to people if you want to be a champion this is what you gotta do. It’s like me, it took me 10 fights to get an interim title and 11 for the undisputed. I don’t want anybody else to go through that.
“I want to be like [Demetrious Johnson]. As soon as they come up, they pop up, you guys get sent right back down to the bottom of the barrel, brotha. So good try and keep trying to catch up.”
In the traditional sense of a fighter’s “era” only beginning once he or she becomes a champion, Holloway’s has only just begun.
That, for a majority of the contenders in the UFC’s featherweight class, should be terrifying.
While Holloway only just became champion, it was previously noted that he’d won 10 straight to reach his first shot at the title earlier this year. Needing such an extended streak of victories to prove to his doubters his credibility as a true contender, Holloway has already defeated a handful of the elite in his division.
He’s already defeated Aldo, Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas — three names featured in the top five of the division. Holloway also has a win over No. 8-ranked Jeremy Stephens, bringing his win total to four against those in the top 10. He’ll likely be tasked with facing No. 2-ranked contender Frankie Edgar next, potentially bringing him four wins over those in the top five.
What’s more, Holloway hasn’t been tested all that much against any of those he’s fought thus far. He made two victories over Aldo look relatively easy, while issuing one-sided performances against Swanson, Lamas and Stephens. Should he get past Edgar in 2018, Holloway would be well on his way toward Demetrious Johnson territory. That is: very, very close to cleaning the division out in terms of high-caliber contenders.
“I want to be a champion, I want to be a long-reigning featherweight champion, I want to be known in the history books, my name everywhere as a champion,” Holloway said. “And then later on in my career when I start getting good, then I can start doing the exhibition matches for money and stuff.
“But right now, I think the world needs to know what a champion looks like and that’s why I’m trying to put my foot down and show the world this is what a champion looks like, defend, I don’t really cry about anything, and if you think you’re the best, come fight ‘Blessed.’ ”
A future at 155 pounds undoubtedly awaits the current 145-pound champion, with his still-growing body serving as the only guarantee that we’ll see a new featherweight champion in the coming years.