Max Holloway always believed it was just a matter of time.
Following an incredible 10-fight winning streak that culminated in an interim title victory over Anthony Pettis to close out 2016, Holloway still wasn’t going to be satisfied until he got his hands on the true champion in the featherweight division — Jose Aldo.
Holloway had been fantasizing about facing Aldo since he was a teenager and held the longest reigning featherweight champion in UFC history in very high regard. Regardless of that esteem, Holloway knew he had finally reached the point in his career where he was not only ready to face Aldo, he was ready to beat him.
Fast forward six months past having a UFC title wrapped around his waist for the first time and Holloway stepped into enemy territory. He squared off with Aldo in the middle of his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with more than 15,000 screaming fans in attendance, with the majority of them rooting for the multiple time 145-pound champion.
Holloway endured a slow start in the opening round before finding his stride in the second round. He started to wear down Aldo’s defenses, while draining the Brazilian’s gas tank with his relentless attack. By the third round, Holloway knew he had Aldo in trouble and he put him down with a stinging combination before following him to the ground where he bludgeoned the long reigning champion with strikes until the referee saw enough to stop the contest.
Holloway was crowned the undisputed UFC featherweight champion at just 25 years of age.
When he returned home to Hawaii, Holloway was celebrated as a conquering hero with masses of friends and family anxiously awaiting his arrival from the airport. The celebration poured out onto the streets as Holloway soaked in the fruits of his labor after not only proving that he was the best fighter in the world in the featherweight division, but by going through arguably one of the top fighters in the history of the sport to do it.
As much as Holloway enjoyed that moment, he passed along a simple message to his most ardent supporters and the doubters who still didn’t believe he was as good as advertised.
He’s not done yet.
Six months later, Holloway stood on the cusp of his first title defense, but after his original opponent Frankie Edgar was forced to drop out of their fight, he was once again presented with the challenge to face Aldo inside the Octagon.
Holloway had little doubt that at some point in the future his path would cross with Aldo again but he probably didn’t expect it to come just six months after their first fight ended. Still, Holloway didn’t complain or refuse to accept the fight because he had already defeated Aldo.
Instead, Holloway signed the contract and welcomed Aldo to try and take away his title.
Aldo came into the fight well prepared after already putting in a training camp for a different opponent that was originally scheduled just two weeks later. When the bout started, Aldo looked as good as ever, coming after Holloway with aggressive combinations and throwing leg kicks, which is one of his signature weapons that he seemingly abandoned in the first fight.
In return, Holloway ducked and dodged Aldo’s best strikes and as he went to the corner he told the commentary team sitting Octagon side that the former champion was already tired.
Much like the first fight, Holloway began to take over in the second round as his offensive onslaught started to become more than Aldo could handle. By midway through the third round, Holloway was backing Aldo up against the cage and unloading a barrage of shots that had the Brazilian bleeding from his face and begging for air.
He wouldn’t get any.
Holloway continued to pour on the punishment until he got Aldo down on the ground again and just kept firing away until the referee couldn’t watch the former champion endure anymore and he was forced to stop the fight. Holloway was the winner — again — and he stopped Aldo just over 30 seconds later into the third round than he did in their first fight.
Despite two dominant wins over the greatest featherweight of all time, Holloway wasn’t ready to take Aldo’s throne and proclaim himself the best 145-pounder in the history of the sport. Instead, Holloway paid homage to Aldo and later reminded everybody that as big as these two wins were for him, he’s not done yet.
“People keep trying to give me the title — you just beat the greatest of all time back-to-back — and I beat him, those two nights were my nights, but I try to be great every time. I’m not trying to stay in the pack and just make it by,” Holloway said when speaking to MMAWeekly following his second win over Aldo.
“I’m not trying to stay in the middle of the pack. I’m here and finally they’re listening. The ‘Blessed’ era is just getting started. I just turned 26. We’re just getting started. I’m not going nowhere any time soon. We’re going to be here for a long time.”
Holloway has certainly enjoyed his run in 2017 and that’s why he’s been crowned as the “Fighter of the Year,” but as much as he surely appreciates the accolades, he’s not done yet.
“I’m not going to sit here and smell the roses,” Holloway said. “This fighting window is too small. These guys think they’re going to be here forever and have this thing forever, but it’s not going to happen. Things come and go all the time. Right now, I’m focused on the present. Not looking too far in the future and leaving what happened in the past behind me.
“There’s a time to celebrate but it’s going to be back to work soon and I look forward to it. I’ve got a legacy to build.”
Judging by how the year started and ended for the reigning UFC featherweight champion, Holloway is already well on his way towards cementing his legacy as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport but the way he sees it 2017 is already finished. Holloway is already thinking about what comes next and he sends a not so subtle reminder to anyone who thinks he’s just sitting around basking in the glory of his last two wins that made him ‘Fighter of the Year’.
He’s not done yet.