In the fight game, a recurring narrative surrounding fighters, coaches, and promotions is “what have you done for us lately?” and unfortunately, that sometimes leads to greatness being missed. For a perfect example of this, look at Max Holloway, who has been sidelined since he defended the UFC featherweight title against Jose Aldo at UFC 218 in December of 2017.
The reason for Holloway being on the sideline so long is still mysterious, and while there are plenty of guesses as to what the issue was, we simply don’t know for sure. The problem with trying to diagnose Holloway and criticize the sound of his speech or the look of his body language is that, there has been plenty of precautions taken to make sure Holloway is healthy enough to fight.
Instead of trying to become armchair doctors, fans should be looking at Max Holloway’s career and realize that they are witnessing one of the greatest young fighters to ever step foot in the UFC. Currently riding a 12-fight winning streak, having one title defense, and beating two former champions, Holloway is just entering his prime at 27-years old but all the focus falls on his long absence from competition.
Certainly there is reason to be worried about Holloway’s health after he was pulled from the UFC 226 pay-per-view card against Brian Ortega for undisclosed reasons. Many speculated that it was weight cut related while others have said it was due to a concussion, but no clear-cut answer has ever come out. Besides the withdrawal from 226, Holloway attempted to step in on six-days notice to face Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 223, but was ultimately pulled by the New York State Athletic Commission due to weight-cutting issues.
That’s the lasting impression that many in the fighting world are left with in the short-term memory file of Max Holloway.
While Max Holloway sat on the sidelines, the rise of Brian Ortega was happening. In fact, when Holloway had to withdraw from his fight with Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 in March of 2018, it was Ortega who stepped in and became the first fighter to ever finish Frankie Edgar when he scored a first-round knockout. “T-City” himself has found a hot streak, winning six consecutive fights in the UFC and being known for his black belt skills in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, which presents a real danger for Holloway in their upcoming UFC 231 fight.
Since Ortega has been hot and Holloway has been on the sideline, it’s easy for many to side with Ortega because he’s been fighting more recently than the champion. Ortega is an incredible fighter and might just be an even better person with the work he does for his community in California, and that’s why the fight between these two is so exciting.
So, what is the Blessed Era that Max Holloway talks about? It’s everything that has happened with Holloway, good and bad, and others that are still to come. Not many would think that having to be pulled from two fights in one year would be a good thing, but because of those negatives, Holloway was able to fight through and overcome a battle with depression.
Winning fights both inside and outside the Octagon is just part of what the Blessed Era is about. While it’s come to the spotlight since he’s become champion, Holloway’s Blessed Era started when he dropped two consecutive losses to Conor McGregor and Dennis Bermudez. It was after the decision loss to McGregor that Max, then 23 years-old would turn around his career and start an incredible streak.
That streak would be a current 12-fight winning streak that has seen Holloway beat names like Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas, Anthony Pettis, and Jose Aldo (twice) to become champion. Those wins have pushed Holloway into the debate of greatest featherweight ever, but his place in this debate has been diminished by his inactivity.
The pride of Waianae, Hawaii embodies true Hawaiian warrior spirit in never backing down from a fight and working to achieve every goal he’s set for himself. One of those goals has been for years to convince the UFC to come to his home of Hawaii and bring the first UFC event to his homeland, it’s a goal many have heard after Holloway’s wins when he pleads for #UFCHawaii in every interview. Just as much as Holloway is Hawaii, Hawaii is Holloway. It shows in the support he’s shown at home. It shows in every fight with his relentless pressure and aggression — traits Hawaiian fighters are known for.
Every fighter has a signature moment and while Holloway has defeated Jose Aldo to win the belt and then defeated him once again to defend the belt, he made many fans and a major statement when he pointed to the ground in the final 10 seconds of his fight against Ricardo Lamas and both threw wild punches until the final bell went off.
While surfing is mainstream in Hawaii, Holloway shows a preference to swim with the top sharks of his division and drown them deep in his fights as he claims the featherweight land to be his.
Despite all the things that make Holloway exciting, he has yet to grab the attention that a mainstream superstar would, but he certainly has shown he deserves it. When the narrative of “what have you done for us lately” is the trend, it’s easy to miss and forget just how great one fighter has been throughout his career, and such is the case with Max Holloway.
When he steps back into the Octagon at UFC 231 to take on Ortega in his adopted hometown of the “Tenth Island” Toronto, Ontario, Canada, don’t overlook what the Blessed Era has been. It didn’t start when he won the belt from Jose Aldo, it started when he suffered two consecutive losses, and now he’s defeated multiple top contenders, defended his title, defeated depression, and makes his return to the Octagon.
The Blessed Era isn’t a memory, it isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s what embodies and empowers Max Holloway, and UFC 231 will be just another moment in the long-running Era that many have forgotten about.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 12/7/2018.