Give Max Holloway this: He doesn’t set his sights low.
The UFC featherweight champion, who has won 11 fights in a row and vaulted to No. 4 in the promotion’s pound-for-pound rankings, defends his title on Saturday against the man he won it from, Jose Aldo, in the main event of UFC 218 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
His winning streak includes some of the elite UFC fighters in the world, including Aldo (third-round TKO at UFC 212); Anthony Pettis (third-round TKO at UFC 206); Ricardo Lamas (unanimous decision at UFC 199); Jeremy Stephens (unanimous decision at UFC 194); Charles Oliveira (first-round TKO at UFC Fight Night 74) and Cub Swanson (third-round submission at UFC on Fox 15).
He has nothing left to prove to whatever detractors remain – he’s elite, and getting better.
Holloway, who hasn’t lost since dropping a decision to Conor McGregor in Boston on Aug. 17, 2013, has big plans in terms of how he’s regarded. Like, really big, beyond the UFC.
“I don’t want to just be [considered] the greatest fighter of all-time,” Holloway told Yahoo Sports. “I want to be [considered] the greatest athlete of all-time. I don’t want to be the next LeBron James. There’s already a LeBron James. I want to be Max Holloway.
“And the kids who look up to me, I’ll tell them, ‘Don’t want to be the next me. There’s only one you. Be the first you, because nobody is you-er than you.’ So I want to break records and set the bar so high that you guys will be saying it will be impossible to break them.”
That leads into Holloway’s thoughts on the rematch with Aldo. Aldo is on a shortlist of the greatest fighters who ever lived, along with the likes of UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson; ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones; ex-UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva; current UFC middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre and former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko.
After a relatively even first round, Holloway was dominant the rest of the way over Aldo at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro, where Aldo had the very loud backing of the often-intimidating Brazilian crowd.
But Holloway won’t be satisfied with a similar effort.
“If you watch all my fights and you watch closely, you’ll notice that each time, you get a different version of me,” Holloway said. “It’s not about reaching a certain spot and then maintaining. You get a better version of me every single time and this will be no different. That last fight, you know, it’s like ‘Finding Nemo’ to me. I’m Dory and I ain’t remembering.
“I’m getting ready for the best Aldo the world could possibly see. I hope he feels the same way as me, because I’m coming full force and I’m here to show I’m the best to ever do this.”
In a sport like fighting, confidence goes a long way.
There is no better example than former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, whose self-confidence created an aura and intimidated many opponents, who were beaten before the bell rang. But once Tyson was beaten and that aura disappeared, he was never the same.
Confidence is almost as important in fighting as speed, power, athleticism and technical knowledge, and Holloway oozes confidence.
And while his success has affirmed his belief in himself, don’t make the mistake of suggesting he’s comfortable where he is.
“I’m not comfortable,” he said. “I’m not comfortable, I’m confident. I’m as confident as they come. Look, I’m not comfortable where I’m at. People have a little taste of success and they say to themselves, ‘Oh, this is where I should be. I’m comfortable here.’ But no, no way, that’s wrong and that’s never going to be me. Never.
“Every time I go to training camp and do this and do that, my coaches push me and they make me uncomfortable. They make it hard on me. But people who have success very often once it comes tend to get comfortable and cozy and they relax and put their feet up. I’ll have my retirement to do that, but I’m totally focused on being the best me I’ve ever been.”
Holloway’s competitiveness is what drives him, but that’s long been a part of what makes him the fighter he’s become.
It’s hard for him to accept second place, in a fight, in a pickup basketball game or playing checkers.
“When I go into a room, I make it a point to walk through the door first,” he said. “That’s how competitive I am. I’m thinking about winning all the time. Every day, that’s what is on my mind: Winning. Winning is a habit but so is losing and if you get used to losing or you accept it, you have problems.
“My friends and I, we compete with each other all the time, the simplest, most stupid stuff. But that constant competitiveness keeps me going.”
And that’s why, no matter who one may mention – Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Babe Ruth, Diego Maradona, Jim Thorpe – Holloway’s simple goal is to surpass them all.
He’ll take any fight, he says, and proof positive is accepting Aldo on short notice after original opponent Frankie Edgar had to withdraw because of a broken orbital bone.
He isn’t looking for what he disdainfully refers to as “them exhibition fights Conor wants to take.” He was referring to speculation that McGregor, if he does return to fighting, is considering boxer Paulie Malignaggi in an MMA match.
That’s just not Holloway’s style.
“I have a responsibility as a champion because I respect our sport, and that’s to stay active and to fight the best guys in the world and clean out this division,” Holloway said. “My plans haven’t changed. I have to clean out 45, but yeah, at some point I’ll have to move up and when I do, I can tell you already, my plan will be to clean out that division. The UFC did ask me about [fighting McGregor] when we sat down to renegotiate my contract. Let me tell you, if it’s not happening, it’s on Conor’s end. He seems to be focused on those exhibition fights, the money fights. I don’t blame him to go for the money, but right now, I want to fight the toughest guys they possibly can give me.
“At some point, I’ll focus on them exhibition fights that Conor wants to take and make my money. But he’s thinking of fighting Paulie in MMA. That’s the lifestyle he’s living. It’s all good, but I will promise you this. If that fight between me and Conor becomes a possibility, you have my word I’m down. I’d welcome the chance to do that but with great power comes great responsibility. I am a champion and there are tough guys who deserve a chance to fight for the title and I’m going to just keep running through them.”
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