It’s a real disservice to the precocious talent of Max Holloway that Conor McGregor still looms over his career.
His last defeat – remarkably now 11 fights ago – was at the hands of the divisive Irish superstar and after the 25-year-old’s latest, most impressive victory to date over Jose Aldo in Rio at UFC 212 to be crowned the undisputed 145lbs champion, the McGregor question soon reared its head.
“That guy was the 2015 champ,” Holloway said of the current 155lbs champ. “He can go running around wherever he’s at with the belt and celebrate, but guess what? You can’t take that away from him here. This is called the year 2017 right now, he’s the 2015 champ, and I’m the champ.”
There’s a certain sense of irony that after the proud Hawaiian’s victory, recency bias saw critics claim Aldo is done after two defeats by stoppage in his last three fights, while on the flipside blemishing Holloway with a defeat some four years ago.
It’s obvious, however, that Holloway is the most improved fighter on the UFC roster and we could be about to embark on a new era of featherweight dominance.
Indeed, the new champ is intent on cleaning out the division and the frightening prospect for his competition is that at 25, he can only continue to improve.
With 11 straight wins, only four fighters have had longer streaks (Anderson Silva 16, Jon Jones 13, Georges St-Pierre 12, and Demetrious Johnson 12) and Holloway is a great fighter who has the potential to become a great.
His intention now, after his third-round TKO win over one of the best featherweights of all time, is to achieve exactly that.
“Demetrious Johnson, he finds his motivation of keep defending, keep defending,” Holloway said in the post-fight press conference.
“It takes a special human being to do that. And that’s me. I want to defend my throne. All my fans know, they love me, I want to defend this, I want to be a champ and keep defending. Come try to take over my village.”
Holloway entered Aldo’s backyard and silenced the bark of a fervent Rio crowd with a performance of maturity and malice.
While his fluid striking has grown to be among the best in MMA, it’s his mentality which impresses most. Holloway has an unshakable belief and it’s married to a fight IQ which allows him to implement his slick skills.
As has often been the case, though, ‘Blessed’ started slow in Rio with Aldo much sharper and quicker.
The challenger is a fighter who flows without thought but in the opening two sessions he appeared to have a lot on his mind.
But as the action picked up in the second, so too did Holloway and he carried his signature high-pace into the third and dropped the 30-year-old with a mirrored four-punch combination.
As the Brazilian turtled up, Holloway swarmed him on the ground and proceeded to beat Aldo out of his shell with nearly every move in the book from back-taking, to elbows and big shots from the mount as stoppage inevitably arrived.
“Slow and steady always wins the race,” he added.
“I was taking my time. I had five rounds. I took my time. I knew he’d fade later on, and I took advantage of the shots that were open.”
For Aldo, a second defeat in 11 years has critics grabbing the pen to write him off but for the first two rounds he was on top.
Aldo’s reign at 145lbs is over but his career is by no means done and the next phase of his career could well involve a move up to the 155lbs division.
Seems like everyone forgot who Jose Aldo really is after his loss to Conor.. Dudes a legend and damn near flawless— Shane Burgos (@HurricaneShaneB) June 4, 2017
Holloway, however, has a home at featherweight and he again called for the UFC to host him in his native country for the defence of his crown with Frankie Edgar a potential opponent.
“If they want to do it, let’s do it in Hawaii,” Holloway said of a potential fight with Edgar. “I know a place, a stadium, it’s very nice.”
He added: “The ‘Blessed’ era is gonna be in full effect here in a bit, you guys are gonna see. I’ve been telling you. I’ve been screaming at the top of my lungs. And now, you guys are starting to listen.”
The noise of McGregor at featherweight is beginning to fade, all the talk now is about Holloway and deservedly so.