UFC 212: Blessed? No, Max Holloway is just really, really good

To be described as ‘blessed’ suggests you have received some kind of gift or opportunity. It implies good fortune. For Hawaii’s Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. He not only earned his UFC featherweight title fight with Jose Aldo the hard way – winning ten fights on the bounce – he then went about finishing Aldo the way champions, true champions, look to finish fights, which is to say decisively, conclusively, inside the distance, with style.

Watching Holloway score a third-round TKO over Aldo tonight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aldo’s home country, one thing became clear: it’s not Holloway who is blessed, it’s us.

Conquering Aldo is no mean feat. He has lost only once in twelve years – step forward, Conor McGregor – and is considered by most observers to be the greatest featherweight of all-time. He’s certainly, on his day, one of the greatest strikers in mixed martial arts, all rapid-fire punch combinations and chopping leg-kicks. Holloway, for that reason, knew he had his work cut out. He also knew wins over the likes of Anthony Pettis, Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas, great as they were, didn’t necessarily prepare him for a fight with the best 145-pound fighter in the world; regardless of his form, it was unquestionably a step up in class.

This more or less showed in round one, too, a round in which Holloway found himself wobbled by an Aldo left hook and then drilled with a follow-up combination as he struggled to get a foothold in the contest. Holloway was in the fight, that was never in doubt, and he was putting together his shots, but there was also a feeling he’d yet to find his range and was struggling to get loose. For fans of a man who has come to rely on this looseness, this relaxed, improvisational quality to his game, it was an early concern, albeit only a slight one.

By round two, Max Holloway started looking more like Max Holloway. He was letting his hands go freely, at times recklessly, and was also taking chances he seemed unsure of taking in round one. He’d drop his hands, wiggle his hips, goad Aldo. He’d get sloppy work done on the front foot, but it was work nonetheless.

Aldo, meanwhile, continued to pick his spots. He landed combinations whenever the opportunity presented itself. He fired his right hand like he knew it would end the fight. With conviction, with spite. Yet, interestingly, there was no sign of the leg-kicks which have debilitated so many of Aldo’s previous opponents, nor was there the usual intensity to Aldo’s work. He was, for all intents and purposes, potshotting, waiting, being patient, being clever. He fought like a man who was expecting to go the distance with his opponent, thus decided to conserve his energy.

Holloway, though, only had designs on finishing the fight. He’d found his range, rediscovered his timing, and it wasn’t long before he got his first proper breakthrough in the form of a jab and right-cross, two punches that landed on Aldo’s jaw and dropped him for the first knockdown in the fight. The Brazilian, for a moment, looked spent, shut down by one shot, but he quickly regained his senses as Holloway stood over him and proceeded to rain punches down on his unprotected head.

It was, at this point, frantic, violent stuff. Aldo looked to survive – as well as fully wake up – and Holloway, a man who sensed this was his moment, wouldn’t let up. He thought first about using punches to get Aldo out of there. He then tried to get mount. He then tried to get his back and slip in a choke. But Aldo, to his credit, was still able to survive each of these attempts. He hung in there and showed a champion’s resolve.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Holloway got the back mount and whaled away on a helpless and effectively defenceless champion that Aldo’s game (and second reign) was up. Apparently in no position to defend himself, referee John McCarthy saved the man from Manaus from further punishment at 4:13 of round three.

“I’ve been telling you guys this is the ‘Blessed’ era,” Holloway, 18-3, said in his post-fight interview. “Dana White, where’s my 50K? I want my (performance bonus) check.”

Max Holloway is now the undisputed UFC featherweight champion. He has won eleven fights on the spin. He’s still only twenty-five years of age.

Blessed? Perhaps. But also brilliant.