If Max Holloway is able to pull off an upset and make history against Khabib Nurmagomedov this Saturday, he could seal his place as the unlikely heir to Conor McGregor.
Ostensibly McGregor and Holloway could not be less alike. The former made a name for himself with his loud mouth and brash predictions of how and when he would finish his opponents, whilst the latter always exudes an impossibly relaxed aura, and lives by the credo “It is what it is”. The Irishman thrives on controversy, whereas the Hawaiian clearly places a great deal of importance on respect in the mixed martial arts arena.
In-fact, following what one might deem attempted assault by Conor McGregor yesterday at UFC 223’s media day, featherweight champion Max Holloway has never appeared more dissimilar to the soon-to-be stripped lightweight champion. Yet last night’s events in Brooklyn, the full impact of which is unimaginable at this time, position Holloway to confirm his place as McGregor’s successor in the UFC.
That is to say, the company that riskily spent the last three years building itself around Dublin’s martial arts maverick now have the opportunity to make The Blessed One their new poster boy. McGregor could conceivably be released from his contract, and even jailed, for throwing chairs and security rails at a bus last night at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. The rampage saw lightweight Michael Chiesa receive lacerations on his face, causing his fight with Anthony Pettis to be cancelled. Flyweight Ray Borg will no longer face Brandon Moreno, as the former suffered an eye injury from a smashed window.
The company that riskily spent the last three years building itself around Dublin’s martial arts maverick now have the opportunity to make The Blessed One their new poster boy
McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov has been pulled from the 223 card, which in turn leaves his opponent, Alex Caceres, without a fight – and possibly without a pay cheque. Defending strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas, was also present and is said to have been distressed by what unfolded. McGregor is ultimately not bigger than the UFC, and if the company – dependent as it is on drawing money from the likes of the controversial Irishman – has any integrity, it will punish its flagship fighter severely. His actions have affected multiple fighters that had spent months preparing for UFC 223, knowing that even a loss would bring home the consolation prize of a sizeable salary for their families. Now, many of them will not even step in to the octagon this weekend.
And then there is Max Holloway. After an injury forced interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson to withdraw from his title fight with the Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov, a replacement was required on six days notice. Enter the 26-year-old 145-pound champion, looking to cement his legacy. Holloway has not lost a fight in five years (his last loss coincidentally came against McGregor in 2013, though Holloway is a much improved fighter since that collision), and he certainly has as good of a chance as anyone at grounding The Eagle, Nurmagomedov, this weekend.
Intent on becoming the pound for pound fighter in the world, the featherweight champion did what very few would dare to do: step up a weight class, on six days notice, against a 25-0 fighter, despite only just recovering from an injury. Conor certainly did not rush to step in, though those with a business mind might argue that as McGregor versus Khabib would be the biggest fight in MMA today, it would necessitate a much longer build.
Regardless, in the eyes of UFC’s keener followers, Holloway’s legacy has already been guaranteed by this audacious venture. As someone who loves to fight, and will take on any opponent, at any time, in any place – as he has proven this week, and something that has contrasted greatly with McGregor’s modus operandi over the last eighteen months – the Hawaiian is almost universally adored by hardcore MMA supporters. Moreover, the mainstream attention that he has begun to receive for his event-saving insertion into UFC 223 is already greater than any public exposure that Holloway gained for beating Jose Aldo twice in one year. Even McGregor’s distasteful actions last night have inadvertently brought more eyes to UFC 223, which will undoubtedly benefit Max Holloway.
Of course there is the possibility that Khabib may maul Max, as he has done to so many of his previous opponents. However, if one considers the above factors, and if Holloway is indeed able to achieve what many would call an upset against the indefatigable Nurmagomedov, he would become just the second man in history to hold two UFC titles at the same time. The other? Conor McGregor, who held both the featherweight and lightweight titles simultaneously, just as Max Holloway stands to do in two days time. McGregor achieved this goal at 27-years-old, whereas his Hawaiian counterpart could do so at 26. If Holloway is successful, UFC president Dana White might well see before him the next Conor McGregor, just in a very different mould.