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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 42’s Max Holloway

UFC Fight Night: Max Holloway v Kattar Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Volume punching king, Max Holloway, will face off with knockout artist Yair Rodriguez, this Saturday (Nov. 13, 2021) at UFC Vegas 42 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Holloway vs. Volkanovski 3 sure feels like an inevitability.

Regardless of whether or not you personally believe that Holloway deserved the nod in their controversial rematch, recent performances from both men have largely made it clear that they are in a league of their own. Last time out, Holloway took on arguably the hottest up-and-coming striker in the division and dominated him so thoroughly that viewers were scared for his life.

With Volkanovski firmly in control of the strap, a third battle is likely sooner than later. First, however, Holloway has to prevent Rodriguez from throwing a wrench into those plans. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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Striking

Holloway is a historical anomaly when it comes to volume. He holds all sorts of absurd records when it comes to number of strikes landed, and volume is really the core of his success.

Over time, Holloway become a much more fundamental boxer compared to the young kid who loved fancier techniques. He still may throw the occasional spinning kicks and flying knees, but none of that would matter without the base from which he builds. Look at his original title win over Jose Aldo, where a one-two combination, pull, one-two combination ended the Brazilian’s night. That mix of straight shots and pulls is the core of Holloway’s game and seems simple enough, but Holloway lands often because of his snappy punches and range control (GIF).

Boxing begins with the jab, and Holloway uses his jab quite well to control range. Opposite shorter men looking to close the distance — a fair number of his foes — Holloway’s footwork and jab are enough to maintain distance. Against fighters willing to strike from the outside, Holloway moves in behind his jab well to set up his combinations (like in the above Jose Aldo .GIF).

Before we get too far into Holloway’s overall habits, let’s touch on his brilliant win over Kattar. Kattar is a genuinely great boxer, but he tends to shell up then respond to his opponent’s offense. Holloway took advantage of this trait ruthlessly, punishing Kattar’s shell and then either taking an angle or never letting up.

Holloway did a lot of doubling up and hooking off the jab while circling towards his lead side. As Kattar’s guard raised, Holloway was inching his way to an advantageous angle, lining up his rear shoulder for the cross. After establishing that combination, Holloway would instead follow up with a hard power kick to the thigh or head, and he’d make use of this strategy from both stances (GIF).

Alternatively, Holloway would stay on Kattar, particularly as the damage began to build. After raising his foe’s guard, Holloway would weave punches through, like body shots or slick uppercuts. Kattar would usually fire back at that point, but Holloway remained well prepared to pull back then go right back to combination punching.

His foe never looked comfortable in the 25 minute contest (GIF).

In general, hooking off the jab is a signature technique of Holloway. Holloway digs to the liver off the jab commonly, and his right hand that follows the jab-hook has a great chance of landing.

Against Brian Ortega, Holloway repeatedly nailed the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace by shifting his stance while firing straight punches (GIF), extending the combinations until he was landing at will. After the cross, he would slip his head off the center line — avoiding whatever single punch counter Ortega fired back — and transition into the opposite stance simultaneously. Often, another one-two combination followed.

Holloway did find some success against Dustin Poirier with this same strategy, but Poirier’s composure and defense really frustrated Holloway. When Poirier hid behind his elbows and denied Holloway a clear path to his chin, Holloway struggled to find openings. As a result, he sometimes stayed in the pocket for too long, which gave Poirier more chances to counter.

One of Holloway’s most consistent strategies is body work, which builds upon his usual range and cardio advantages. As he shifts stances and confuses his foe’s defense, he’ll look to time his opponent leaning back or covering up high with strikes to the mid-section.

Holloway is a smart kicker with a wide variety of techniques. He’s settled down a lot in the last few years, as he now sticks to well set up roundhouse kicks much of the time. For example, he’ll get his foe moving backward or take an angle before chopping at the leg. In addition, Holloway will take advantage of being in the opposite stance of his opponent and attack with power kicks to the body (GIF). Thanks to his ability to shift stances so fluidly while pressing forward, those body kicks can really surprise opponents.

A big addition to Holloway’s game a few years back was the spinning back kick. It’s another excellent technique that works the body, and Holloway sets it up well. Usually, he’ll look for this strike when his opponent is trying to take a breather or is backed into the fence, as he’s more likely to land (GIF). Holloway has began throwing the spinning wheel kick as well, which builds off the threat of the back kick.

Against Volkanovski, Holloway’s big issue in the first fight was that he was out-kicked by a shorter, quicker opponent. As Holloway stepped forward and looked to box, Volkanovski remained mobile, kicking the inside leg or coming over the top with his right hand. The Hawaiian was a more predictable target, and his performance suffered.

“Blessed” did, however, make great adjustments in the second fight. Namely, he was more active with kicks rather than pressure. Volkanovski still landed some good low kicks, but when they were not enough to cleanly win the distance battle, he was forced to lead more often. Holloway did well to counter his shorter foe with uppercuts. In addition, when Holloway did back his foe into the fence, he was better able to capitalize by kicking, making the most of his range.

Wrestling

Holloway has not spent considerable time on his back in a long, long time.

Holloway really isn’t one to actively change levels and hunt for the shot or even look to trip from the clinch. However, he did utilize a step behind trip opposite Anthony Pettis, sliding his lead leg behind Pettis’ then backing him over it. It was a lower energy way to trip Pettis to the mat and further assert his dominance, as well as cause Pettis to burn up the gas tank by scrambling back to his feet (GIF).

Defensively, Holloway really does everything correct, and that begins with his stand up. Thanks to his good habits of maintaining a healthy distance — or hiding his ability to close distance with footwork — and keeping his feet under him, Holloway is rarely caught out of position and is difficult to shoot against. When his opponent does get in on his hips, Holloway will often feed his foe the single leg and hop back to the fence. Once there, he can widen his base and score with occasional punches and elbows until an opportunity to escape emerges.

Finally, Holloway does a very nice job limiting the amount of time he spends on his back. When he is brought down to the mat, he quickly bounces back up or wall-walks. While this does take a fair amount of energy, Holloway’s extremely deep gas tank is an eternal advantage. Meanwhile, his opponent — who’s likely been eating body shots the whole night — just did a ton of work with very little payoff, leaving him in prime position to eat more punches and kicks.

Against Volkanovski, Holloway was actually brought to the mat a couple times, mostly via the inside trip. He still managed to stuff more shots than not though, and he sprung up quickly whenever he was put on the mat. The Hawaiian’s hustle doesn’t stop just because the fight hit the canvas!

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Holloway’s bouts rarely end up on the ground because he doesn’t want them there. When the brown belt isthe brown belt is on his back, Holloway isn’t searching for submissions — he’s trying to scramble back to his feet. That said, Holloway has demonstrated at least one wrinkle of his submission game inside the Octagon. He’s become very aggressive with his high elbow guillotine choke, which is responsible for two of his UFC wins.

The first came at the end of a back-and-forth battle with Andre Fili. After hurting the Californian with a spinning kick to the body, Holloway moved in and fired off a combination. The wounded Fili shot in for a single-leg takedown, and Holloway seized the opportunity by snatching his neck and falling into the choke. When Fili attempted to roll out, Holloway continued to apply pressure and forced the tap (GIF).

A bit more recently, Holloway repeatedly attacked Cub Swanson with the same guillotine. Holloway rocked and dropped Swanson multiple times in their bout, and he usually followed him to the mat and tried to force the choke. In the third round, Holloway finally locked it in and advanced into mount. From there, he cranked on his opponent’s neck and broken jaw until “Killer Cub” submitted (GIF). Finally, Holloway countered Lamas’ double-leg attempts with his guillotine. He was able to gain top position twice thanks to this submission, and he even attempted a transition into the north-south choke at one point.

Conclusion

Scoring a trilogy match up after losing the first two fights is generally an impossible task, but Holloway is one victory away from securing such an opportunity after less than 18 months. That’s a testament to his talent, but it’s important to remember that Rodriguez is still a dangerous threat to anyone at 145 lbs.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.


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