The conventional thinking is that a fighter who has been defeated twice by the champion in his or her weight class is stuck in limbo, never to get a third glimpse of the belt unless it’s being worn by a different champion.
That way of thinking does open up opportunities for new title challengers and produce fresh matchups in championship fights. But that way of thinking should not apply to Max Holloway.
When Holloway defeated Yair Rodriguez by unanimous decision in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas, that made it two straight victories over top-five featherweights. Just as champion Alexander Volkanovski is doing his part to clean out the division, so is the former champ.
Holloway has clearly established himself as the second-best 145-pound fighter in the UFC — unless you consider him the absolute best. Many do believe that Holloway won the second fight against Volkanovski, though the official result was a split-decision victory for the current champ (Watch this fight on ESPN+). But even if you do accept the opinions of the two judges who scored that 2020 rematch for Volkanovski, you simply cannot deny that a third meeting with Holloway would be the best title fight for the UFC’s featherweight division.
Who else is there to challenge Volkanovski? Brian Ortega had his shot less than two months ago. Chan Sung Jung has won three of his last four fights, but he lost to Ortega just last year. Calvin Kattar lost to Holloway in January. Those three right there, plus Holloway and Rodriguez, make up your top five.
The only reason not to book a third meeting between Volkanovski and Holloway would be if the UFC believed Holloway’s 0-2 record so far would make a trilogy fight a tough sell to fans. I feel pretty strongly that that would not be the case. On the contrary, no other matchup at 145 pounds would generate the same anticipation and excitement among the fan base.
Of course, Holloway has other options. After he’d had his hand raised at the end of Saturday’s brutal fight and was being interviewed inside the Octagon, the topic of Holloway’s future came up. He didn’t demand a title shot. Holloway did mention Volkanovski, but he also mentioned the lightweight division and brought up the possibility of a rematch with Conor McGregor, who defeated him in 2013.
“To be the best, you gotta beat the best. And the best is ‘Blessed,'” Holloway said, referencing his nickname. “They can come after me. Let’s get it.”
That might have been Holloway’s only misstep of the night. He sounded resigned to what the UFC wants to give him. But those words came just moments after he had fought like a man still chasing a championship.
So did Rodriguez, by the way. Fighting for the first time in over two years, the Mexican stood up to Holloway for five rounds, delivering and absorbing damage, and remaining dangerous until the final horn. Previously known best for the flashiness of his highlight-reel attacks, Rodriguez did more to establish himself as a top featherweight in this loss than he did in any of his UFC victories.
But he could not handle Holloway, who showed that, at age 29 and in his 29th professional fight, he still has what it takes to be a champion. Holloway is deserving of another shot at reclaiming the belt that was once his.