I still remember the first time I read Max Holloway’s name. It was in a scouting report, where he clocked in at No. 7 among Featherweight up-and-comers. He was known as "Lil’ Evil" back then despite being nothing like the venerable Jens Pulver, plying his trade as a lanky striker with an endless gas tank and a propensity for wild techniques.
It’s been lovely to watch him develop into the poised, devastating striker that dominated Anthony Pettis last night (Sat., Dec. 10, 2016) in the main event of UFC 206, which took place inside Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. His once-porous grappling, famously exploited by Dustin Poirier in his debut, has become rock-solid, boasting both solid takedown defense and a diverse array of chokes to keep him on the feet. He’s tempered his striking into a cohesive machine without compromising the aggression that carried him through his early fights.
Busted weight cut or no, broken hand or no, Holloway stopped "Showtime" when the likes of Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Rafael dos Anjos and Edson Barboza couldn’t. He controlled every aspect of the fight, eschewing the traditional pressure-heavy style that has plagued "Showtime" in the past in favor of brutally-effective counter-striking. It’s a monumental accomplishment from a man with only two stoppage wins in his firs 10 fights.
He deserved to fight for the title last night. Hell, he’s had an argument for a title shot since running over Cub Swanson last year. He’s everything you could want in a champion -- aggressive, fearless, and above all active. The man’s fought 10 times since 2013.
Holloway is now on similar footing as Jose Aldo -- there is nobody close to them right now thanks to "Blessed’s" warpath through the division. If you look at the UFC’s current rankings, the only man below Aldo in the top eight whom Holloway hasn’t beaten is Dennis Bermudez, who got a wholly undeserved split decision over him in 2013. The belt may be "interim" but there is nothing hollow or fake about what he’s achieved.
Holloway vs. Aldo is now the fight to make and, despite proclaiming Aldo’s status as history’s greatest Featherweight at every opportunity, I have to admit it’s deathly intriguing. Holloway’s iron chin and relentless advance pose unique threats to the oft-conservative Aldo, who shows bursts of the wild man that devoured the WEC’s best, but cruises through fights when the momentum swings his way.
That fight will be a vicious, uncompromising test that will demand every ounce of technical prowess that Holloway has developed since his days as a perpetual motion device on the regional circuit. It will be difficult. It will be either the greatest day of his life or the greatest heartbreak.
It will be glorious.
For now, though, Holloway has dismantled a man who ruled a division with an iron fist, who appeared on a Wheaties boxes, whose submission of the un-submittable Benson Henderson had people buzzing about his forthcoming dynasty. There is more work to be done and a mountainous challenge hangs on the horizon, but tonight, Max Holloway sleeps a champion.