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UFC Fight Island 7: Max Holloway’s no-spar zone could change the way MMA fighters train

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But only if he wins ...

UFC 223: Open Workouts Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Old habits are hard to break.

No matter how many people suffer from the adverse effects of weight cutting, regardless of how many scientific studies are published proving it hurts more than it helps, combat sports athletes are still going to deplete and dehydrate themselves before competing in the most physically demanding sport on earth.

Why? Because that’s how it’s always been done.

No doubt the idea of not sparring in training camp will be met with equal resistance. In the case of former UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, he doesn’t have much choice. “Blessed” had an episode in summer 2018 that called attention to his brain health and yes, he passed every test they gave him.

But he also went on to lose three of his next five fights.

Limiting head trauma to the actual fight could help prolong his career as an MMA fighter and save him from CTE-related effects later in life. Retired UFC fighters have started coming forward in recent years to share their stories of brain injuries.

Some can’t remember the names of their kids. Other are unable to walk in a straight line.

“I haven’t been sparring, I kind of took that out. I believe I had enough full contact sparring. We’ll move and stuff but it’s not like sparring,” Holloway told South China Morning Post. “Save the brain cells for old time’s sake. When you see the professional teams, the NFL teams, these guys don’t (wear) full pads and don’t go hitting already. They did enough of that. They go out there, they do the gameplan and they practice their skills. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been practicing my skills a bunch and I can’t wait to show you guys.”

He won’t have to wait much longer.

Holloway (21-6) returns to the Octagon for a five-round main event against Boston boxer Calvin Kattar. Their 145-headliner tops the UFC Fight Island 7 event this Sat. night (Jan. 16, 2021) inside Etihad Arena on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, part of a stacked fight week that includes UFC Fight Island 8 and UFC 257 the following weekend.

The Hawaiian is not the first UFC fighter to abandon sparring. Longtime UFC veteran Donald Cerrone recently jumped ship and former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler once took six years off from sparring to deal with vertigo. In addition, boxer Sergio Martinez told me back in 2011 that he never sparred before fights because they “took something out of him.”

Whether or not this becomes more prevalent in UFC may depend on the success of those fighters who adhere to it. Nobody is going to jump on a train to nowhere and if fighters who don’t spar also don’t win, it’s going to be hard to convince athletes to lay down their gloves in training.

No matter the cost.