This Saturday night (April 26, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Max Holloway and Andre Fili will face off on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 172, airing live at 10 p.m. EST from Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.
After two straight losses, Holloway recently got back into the win column with a second round "Knockout of the Night"-winning stoppage of Will Chope at UFC Fight Night 34 in January. "Blessed" is looking to build some momentum and prove he's one of the best featherweights currently fighting in mixed martial arts (MMA).
He'll receive an unpredictable contest in the talented but untested Fili. The 23-year-old made his UFC debut by filling in for an injured Charles Oliveira at UFC 166, finishing Jeremy Larsen with a second round technical knockout.
"Touchy" is in for a stiff test in Holloway, who's fought some of the toughest 145-pound fighters in UFC. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Holloway vs. Fili:
Record: 8-3 overall, 4-3 UFC
Key Wins: Will Chope (UFC Fight Night 34), Leonard Garcia (UFC 155)
Key Losses: Dustin Poirier (UFC 150), Conor McGregor (UFC Fight Night 26), Dennis Bermudez (UFC 160)
Keys to Victory: Fighting all but four of his bouts in UFC, Holloway has experience beyond his 22 years. Problem is, "Blessed" has faltered in the face of truly top competition, evident by his losses to Poirier and McGregor.
There's still a ton of time for Holloway to ascend to the upper rungs of his division, and that journey starts against Fili. The Hawaiian-born Holloway has largely favored his striking as a means to dispatch his foes, owning three knockout finishes. The rest of his wins have come on the judges' scorecards, and given the skills of Fili, this fight could meet the same fate.
For Holloway to avoid losing three out of four, he has to respect Fili's skills. "Touchy" is far from a well known combatant, but by no means does that make him any less dangerous.
Holloway has to use quick, crisp striking to get in and out of the pocket and pick apart Fili with a high volume of various punches and kicks. His takedown defense will be crucial to victory, as Fili has submitted three opponents on the ground.
Holloway's defense on the mat has been nearly flawless up to this point, with his only submission loss coming to surging No. 5-ranked contender Poirier. There's not much doubt that Holloway wants to keep this fight standing.
If he can, his Octagon experience should give him a huge edge against Fili.
Record: 13-1 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Jeremy Larsen (UFC 166)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Training at California's Team Alpha Male, Fili actually has more MMA fights on his resume than his opponent. However, they haven't been at nearly the same level as Holloway's competition, so Fili has to continue proving he can deliver on the big stage.
To do so, Fili has a few ways to pick up his biggest-ever win. "Touchy" has put his hands on his opponents enough to score seven knockout finishes. However, Holloway has never been knocked out. Fili may be able to outpoint Holloway on the feet, but "Blessed" will likely be looking to do the same thing.
Fili's edge lies in the grappling game. He has undoubtedly been training wrestling, and he also possesses a decent array of fight-ending submission holds that includes a lethal armbar and triangle choke.
Fili should be looking to duck under some of Holloway's strikes and take this fight to the ground. Even if he can't lock up a submission, he may be able to control the action with some decent ground work and transitions.
His team is full of some of the best wrestlers in the UFC's lower weight classes, and that will come into play in a big way here.
Fili is the more well rounded fighter here, at least on paper. With one huge UFC win under his belt, his confidence should be soaring as well, making him a dangerous challenge for "Blessed" in Baltimore.
Bottom Line from Baltimore: The bottom line for this fight is that we may see a future contender emerge. Both fighters are still very young in their careers, and both still have a lot to learn.
Holloway has been thrown to the wolves since making his UFC debut in early 2012, but he doesn't seem to mind. Facing some of the best featherweights will definitely make the lesser-known Fili seem like an easier fight, but that mindset could yield bad results at UFC 172.
Fili also has much less to lose than Holloway. He's undefeated at 1-0 in UFC, and that was as a late replacement. Holloway, on the other hand, is trying to avoid losing his third bout in four fights, and that is going to put a large amount of pressure on "Blessed's" shoulders.
Team Alpha Male is known for their clear-headed mental focus, so Fili should be no different. The team embodies a winning attitude, and Fili will be expecting to win this one handily. If he fights smart and doesn't let the grand stage affect him, he just might make a name for himself in very quick fashion.
It's on Holloway to prove he's far from a bust and send the talented Fili packing, no easy task to be sure. Expect a war as both fighters attempt to move up the 145-pound rankings.
Max Holloway and Andre Fili have the skills and time to become two of the best featherweights in the game. Which one will emerge victorious at UFC 172?