The next move taken by the immensely-talented young champion of the UFC featherweight division Max Holloway could well be the most important one of his career to date.
Holloway is one of those fighters that seems to have a knack for reminding us exactly how good he is every time he steps into the octagon. Not that many are doubting his prowess.
Whether he was putting a beating on Brian Ortega, José Aldo, or any of the other featherweights who have attempted to bring his recent run to a halt, as soon as the fight ended and the extent of what just transpired sank in, the reaction was always the same.
Maybe it’s a testament to his consistent improvement over the years because even after his patchy opening run within the UFC where he racked up a 3-3 record, not many had pegged him as a future champion.
It’s pretty clear, though, that Holloway is only going to get better and at UFC 231, he was able to completely run through one of the sport’s most bizarrely effective finishers in perhaps his most impressive performance to date.
So what does the future hold for Max?
It really isn’t as big a stretch as you would think to say that he is very close to clearing out the featherweight division. With that being said, in guys like Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez, and Alexander Volkanovski you have the next wave of talented up-and-comers who are just dying to take the division by storm but to be honest, Holloway’s days at 145lbs do appear to be numbered.
It’s no secret that Max cuts quite a bit of weight to make that limit and as he moves into that 25-30 age-bracket – getting down to the featherweight championship weight will no doubt become a greater ordeal as his body fills out.
So what are his options? Well, first of all, staying put at featherweight is still quite possibly a viable option.
As mentioned before, there are contenders who are on the verge of breaking into the divisional title picture but out of them all, only Volkanovski could arguably be set up for the title-shot before the summer. Defeating Chad Mendes at UFC 232, he moved to fourth in the rankings and in theory, could be signed to fight for the belt without too much in the way of controversy.
Zabit will have his hands full against Jeremy Stephens in March and Rodriguez – who, of course, pulled off the mother of all hail-marys against Chan Sung Jung in November – hasn’t even cracked the top-10 in the division.
Renato Moicano has an opportunity to score an absolutely massive win when he takes on José Aldo at UFC Fortaleza this weekend and depending on the wear-and-tear he takes on in that bout, he could well be slotted in for a showdown with the Hawaiian in a few months time.
If it is, in fact, the former-champion Aldo who pulls it off, though, him getting a third-matchup with Max is virtually impossible, let’s be real.
And when it comes to Frankie Edgar, it just doesn’t really make sense to give him the shot at this point. It could absolutely happen, but with Edgar’s time in the sport winding down – it’s hard to know if the UFC would see his victory over Cub Swanson as enough to justify it unless they really were stuck and Max absolutely needed to fight someone.
Another fight with Brian Ortega would make zero sense right now and to be honest, could well prove detrimental to T-City’s health when you consider how much punishment he sustained. That matchup will happen again if all goes well but both men would be better served fighting other guys in the meantime.
And that’s the featherweight division in a nutshell.
There’s every chance that Max hangs around and continues business as usual atop the division but the more likely option is that he finally decides to go with the flow and make the step up to 155lbs.
Holloway very nearly fought for the lightweight belt back at UFC 223 upon the news that Tony Ferguson was forced to pull out of his showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov due to injury.
Of course, that didn’t happen but is realistic to think that he would be able to jump the queue at 155lbs if he called for a lightweight matchup next.
We all know that the Russian champ’s future is in the hands of the NSAC at present – with Nurmagomedov himself predicting that he will be handed a ban ranging somewhere between 9 and 12 months, putting him out of action until either August or October if its start-date is Oct 6, 2018, as it would likely be.
Tony Ferguson is about as deserving a UFC title-challenger as we have ever seen in the sport but if Khabib is sidelined for as long as he believes he will be, there will very likely be another interim-belt on the line before summer.
And while you could throw Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor, or even Nate Diaz onto that billing with Ferguson, do not be surprised if Max Holloway finds himself in an interim-lightweight title matchup this year.
The UFC love super-fights and I have no doubt that ‘Blessed’ earned himself some brownie points in his valiant, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to save the UFC 223 main-event.
There’s always the possibility of a rematch with Conor McGregor, though, but like any potential fight involving the Irishman, it will only happen if Conor himself desires it. The days of the UFC finding opponents for McGregor are long gone and whether he’s coming off of a win, a loss or a draw, only one man calls the shots when he is concerned.
Unless Holloway wants to enter the lightweight division the old-fashioned way and take a contender fight, which is unlikely, that’s pretty much all that he has to choose from.
Like I said before, he is pretty close to clearing out the featherweight division but if you put a gun to my head and asked me for a concrete answer – I can only see him making that 145lb cut one more time.
There is far more money to be made at 155lbs, the fights are more intriguing from a stylistic perspective and, of course, the fan interest for a showdown between Holloway and Khabib would far outweigh that of a title-defense featuring Holloway and Volkanovski.
2019 is looking set to be the biggest year of the ‘Blessed’ era to date. Whether Max can get through it in one piece could well define his legacy.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena