LAS VEGAS — The UFC in particular and mixed martial arts in general is filled with men and women who share the ethos of Max Holloway: Anyone, anywhere, any time. It’s one of the reasons the sport is so great. The best frequently seek out the most difficult challenges, and the rankings mean something.
Holloway, though, finds himself in a unique position as he heads into what should be a fantastic featherweight bout Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 42 against Yair Rodriguez. A win would likely make him the favorite to be the next challenger for featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.
After he defeated Brian Ortega at UFC 266 on Sept. 26, Volkanovski praised Holloway for taking the fight with Rodriguez. Volkanovski said the winner would be the next challenger for his belt.
“Let’s be honest: Max didn’t have to take that fight and he still would have gotten [the title shot],” Volkanovski said.
Holloway knows that, but he wasn’t willing to sit idly by and wait for another title shot like so many have done. The idea of doing it goes against everything he values.
He’s a fighter in every respect of the word, and so he wants to do what fighters do: Fight.
“Why would I even do that?” he said of sitting out waiting for a title shot. “Why?”
That’s one of the many things that UFC president Dana White loves about Holloway. White is a long time combat sports fan who grew up in Boston being addicted to HBO’s World Championship Boxing.
There were many great nights, to be sure, but there were an inordinately high number of letdowns. As a young man, White was desperate to get into combat sports, and was trying hard to break into boxing.
He vowed that should he ever get a chance to run a sport, he’d do things different.
“A lot of times you stay home and watch boxing, you get pissed off you stayed home when you turned off the TV,” White said. “I’d watch HBO and so many times, I asked myself, ‘What was the point of that?’ And I was pissed off I stayed home.
“What I said when we started this and were trying to grow the business, if anyone stayed home to watch our fights, I wanted them to be happy they stayed home when they watched the fights. And a guy like Max, he’s awesome.”
Holloway is a winner, and is regarded by many as the greatest featherweight ever, though Jose Aldo and Volkanovski both need to be in that conversation. But he isn’t worried about losing because he knows that in MMA, anything can happen. Even more, if he does lose, it won’t matter because it will have happened in a great fight.
White said he never wants to harm a fighter who loses if the fighter delivers a fan-friendly performance.
“Max Holloway is a fighter who will fight anyone, goes balls to the wall at all times and he’s not worried about the consequences,” White said.
Holloway’s facing a dangerous opponent in Rodriguez, even though Rodriguez will be fighting for the first time in 25 months. He’ll probably be offered a shot at Volkanovski if he wins.
He’s not ready to commit to that yet, though.
“Look, I’ve got five title-fight wins,” Holloway told Yahoo Sports. “I definitely want my sixth title win and what better person to be with than Alex? At the end of the day, the UFC has discussed this with us. I’ve got a win over the 155 champ [Charles Oliveira]. We’re always on the short list for a Conor McGregor fight. I’m the best boxer in the UFC and we live in wild times, so I’ll let you guys use your imagination as to what can happen next.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to know: Holloway will be in a big fight. The question is the identity of his opponent.
Assuming he gets past Rodriguez on Saturday, there seem to be four logical choices at this point, though one is more of a wild card than the others:
• A third fight for the featherweight title against Volkanovski.
• A bout for the lightweight title with Oliveira if Oliveira defeats Dustin Poirier in their title fight next month.
• A fight with McGregor.
• A bout with former two-division champion Henry Cejudo if, as Cejudo manager Ali Abdel-Aziz insists, Cejudo ends his short retirement to take a run at the featherweight title.
The great thing with Holloway is that no matter who it is, fans will be roaring when it ends and those who watched it on television will be happy they stayed home.