Max Holloway prior to his fight with Jose Aldo of Brazil during UFC 218

With finishes over Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar, Brian Ortega was supposed to be Max Holloway’s toughest test yet. I boldly claimed that while “T-City” shouldn’t be the favorite, he’d give Holloway a run for his money. But like so many before him, Ortega was cut down by a thousand blows he could not see. The few, thudding power punches he landed were shook off within seconds. He expended too much energy to achieve too little on his takedown attempts.

And so Max Holloway finds himself in an unprecedented situation:

Less than two years after winning the belt, he may have to leave the division.

Cleaning house

Great champions often “wipe” their divisions. But it’s rarer that a fighter cleans house before they win the title.

Partially due to the idiotic matchmaking surrounding Conor McGregor and partially due to his own activity, Max tore through a murderer’s row to even get a title shot. His four wins before fighting for the title were, in order:

  1. Cub Swanson
  2. Charles Oliveira
  3. Jeremy Stephens
  4. Ricardo Lamas

Max beat four top 5-10ish opponents in the span of just over a year. And then beat Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Jose Aldo and Brian Ortega to win and keep his belt respectively. Frankie Edgar, despite having lost to both Aldo and Ortega, is the only remaining option. After that, who’s left? Does anyone want to make a case for Chad Mendes? Renato Moicano is good, but nowhere ready enough to fight Max.

And so he must look elsewhere for challenges.

Lightweight, land of the freaks

I’ve repeated this ad nauseam but it remains true to this day; the lightweight division of the UFC is the deepest division in all of combat sports. The top 10 of the division is rounded off by Michael Chiesa, the 6’3″ grappler with wicked submission skills. The top 3 is Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson and Conor McGregor. The current division is so brutal that Will Brooks, the former Bellator champion who beat Michael Chandler, went 0-3 immediately upon entering the UFC.

And yet it is here that Max Holloway may find worthy competition.

Remember, Max stands 5’11” tall which is a competitive size for a UFC lightweight. Even with his peerless cardio at featherweight, it could only improve by shaving 10 lbs off his weight cut. Never relying on one punch to get the job done, the power drop he’d experience wouldn’t hold him back. Already faster than most featherweights, he’d be relatively faster at 155 lbs.

The logjam created by the fallout of the Khabib vs. Conor post-fight melee offers some unique opportunities. Even if the best of the best want to wait for a title shot, the division is deep enough for many compelling fights. Justin Gaethje would fight anyone, and he has enough technical holes that Holloway could win their FOTY brawl.

Cornered by greatness

A move to lightweight entails some serious risks, of course.

When Max was tapped initially to fill in for Ferguson against Khabib, the MMA world collectively shuddered. Max is good, but Khabib is enormous compared to his standard featherweight competition. Ferguson, meanwhile has a reach advantage on him while matching height. Even if he isn’t immediately thrown in against them, he’ll have to face them eventually.

But Max may not have a choice.

Even he wanted to wait for the few featherweights left, he’d be waiting a while. Mendes and Moicano need to be built back up, while Yair Rodriguez barely scraped by Korean Zombie. His dominance may force him to pack on weight and jump into the shark tank.

That’s assuming Max even cares. He has never shown anything even resembling fear throughout his career, and I doubt he finds the lightweight division daunting. Let’s see what he’s made of.

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