Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Max Holloway: “I’m the best boxer in the UFC”
Max Holloway returns to the Octagon this Saturday for his first fight since January. That was when he made his network television main event debut, putting on a boxing clinic against Calvin Kattar.
“It was an honor to fight on ABC,” said Holloway. “The day after that fight was Muhammad Ali’s birthday, and I heard some people compare me to him. I was tripping. That’s just not right. You can’t compare me to him. You can’t compare Ali to anyone.”
With the exception of reigning featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, there are few comparisons between Holloway and the rest of the division, either in or out of the cage. Earlier this week, UFC named Holloway the recipient of the Forrest Griffin Community Award. UFC and Toyo Tires, the company that presents the award, recognized Holloway’s work in the community, especially in his hometown of Waianae, Hawaii.
“Shout to Toyo Tires and shout out to UFC,” said Holloway, who is a strong advocate of the Waianae Food Bank. “I was talking to my agent about the Boys & Girls Club in Waianae, and we’re donating the whole $25K to them. That’s to help them in the next step of life.”
In addition to all of his success outside the cage, Holloway main-events this Saturday afternoon’s UFC Fight Night card against Yair Rodríguez. The two were initially scheduled to fight in July, but that was postponed after Holloway suffered an injury that prevented him from competing.
“I did three training camps for this guy,” said Holloway. “The first one, I got injured. Second, I did a mini one to make sure my injury could uphold the training, and it did. Then we started the real one. I had to pay a lot in training camp, and now it’s time to make someone else pay. I can’t wait for Saturday.”
Holloway (22–6) is the top ranked UFC featherweight contender, only behind Volkanovski, who is both champ and second overall in the men’s pound-for-pound rankings. Volkanovski has twice defeated Holloway, once by unanimous decision and another via split decision, and he is coming off his most impressive victory after defeating Brian Ortega at UFC 266 in September.
“Alex-Brian, that went exactly the way I thought it would go,” said Holloway, who has also defeated Ortega. “When there was a striking distance, the advantage went to Alex. Every time they got close, I thought Brian would take advantage of grabbing him up, and that’s what happened.”
If Holloway is victorious against Rodríguez (13–2, 1 NC), who is ranked third in the division, then the natural progression would likely be another title bout against Volkanovski.
“I don’t know how Alex feels about that,” said Holloway. “I didn’t get knocked down by Brian and I didn’t get wrapped up by Brian. But at the end of the day, that win against Brian was good for Alex. He got dropped and he got out of chokes, and he showed he could get through adversity. That’s a good highlight reel for him. That helps all of us—the bigger he gets, the bigger UFC gets, so that’s good for all of us.”
Holloway also has history against Conor McGregor, who he lost to in 2013, as well as Dustin Poirier, who has notched two victories against him (via submission in 2012 and then by unanimous decision in 2019). But Holloway defeated Charles Oliveira, the reigning lightweight champion, in 2015, leaving him plenty of options if he leaves the UFC Apex in Las Vegas this Saturday with a victory.
“I’ve got five title wins,” said Holloway, referring to his combined victories either winning or defending the featherweight title. “A sixth title win, and doing it against Alex, that would be great. But we’ll see. I have a win over the 155-pound champ [Oliveira] right now. Conor is always on the short list. I’m the best boxer in the UFC. Use your imagination. You never know what is going to happen.”
Although he has not displayed his brilliance in the cage for nearly nine full months, Holloway expressed confidence that this Saturday will be a spectacular return.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and the best is blessed,” said Holloway. “I can’t wait to go in there and remind everyone we’re living in the ‘Blessed’ era and we’ll keep the Blessed Express chugging along.”
Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev should headline UFC 269 in December
Leon Edwards is going to have to wait for his “three piece with the soda.”
Jorge Masvidal suffered an undisclosed injury in training camp, removing him from next month’s UFC 269 main event against Edwards. And while Edwards (19–3, 1 NC) has won his last nine decisions, tearing through opponents since his last defeat, it still appears he needs one more win before a rematch against welterweight champ Kamaru Usman. Edwards’ last loss was a unanimous decision defeat to Usman in 2015, and he is more than deserving of a title shot. Yet, Edwards still has hurdles to jump in order to reach Usman.
As for Masvidal, he was called out this past weekend by Colby Covington. On paper, that is a big-drawing fight, and one that favors Covington–though Masvidal is certainly no stranger to being the underdog. But the question now becomes what happens on December 11 at UFC 269. Undefeated dynamo Khamzat Chimaev (10–0) made a play to replace Masvidal, and that pairing would be a perfect matchup to determine the next opponent for Usman.
The right play for 269 is Edwards against Chimaev. If Edwards wins, there is no way he can be denied a title shot. And if Chimaev emerges victorious, then we will have a new contender emerge for Usman’s belt.
The Pick ‘Em Section
Here are my picks for this weekend’s fights:
UFC featherweight bout: Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodríguez
Pick: Max Holloway
Bellator 271 main event: Cris Cyborg vs. Sinead Kavanagh (o½)
UFC heavyweight bout: Ben Rothwell vs. Marcos Rogério De Lima
Pick: Ben Rothwell
UFC women’s featherweight bout: Felicia Spencer vs. Leah Letson
Pick: Felicia Spencer
UFC bantamweight bout: Song Yadong vs. Julio Arce
Pick: Song Yadong
UFC welterweight bout: Miguel Baeza vs. Khaos Williams
Pick: Miguel Baeza
Last week: 4–1
Current record: 45–25