When Max Holloway meets UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski for a third time this Saturday at UFC 276, it’ll be a special occasion in more ways than one.
Holloway will not only become the first UFC fighter to challenge for a belt in a trilogy where he’s already down 0-2, UFC 276’s co-main event also will mark one of the rare instances of top pound-for-pound fighters colliding with such momentous stakes. Holloway is currently MMA Fighting’s No. 6 ranked fighter in the world, while Volkanovski is sitting at No. 3.
“If you look at it this way, it’s crazy. When in the last decade did this fight happen, where two top guys in the top 10 pound-for-pound rankings happen?” Holloway said Monday on The MMA Hour. “How many times did it happen? The only guys that come to mind is ‘DC’ [Daniel Cormier] and [Jon] Jones. That’s the only guys. And we’re here now, and this fight, these things don’t happen. And these are the things that excite me. We get to be a part of that history. And to you guys, to all the hardcore fans, this is what they want.
“They want the best of the best fighting each other — and they are. These top pound-for-pound fighters don’t fighters don’t fight each other. They just don’t. It doesn’t happen. It happens every so often in a decade, and we’re getting blessed with one right now.”
Holloway and Volkanovski previously fought twice with the UFC featherweight belt on the line, first colliding in 2019 and then again in 2020. Volkanovski dominated Holloway in their initial outing at UFC 245 to steal away Holloway’s 145-pound title. The immediate rematch at UFC 251 was a much closer affair, but ultimately Volkanovski edged out a controversial split decision to continue his championship reign.
Since then, both men have racked up two wins each. Holloway took out Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez to earn his way back to a third shot, while Volkanovski dispatched Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung to cement his claim as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
“We’re here for a reason,” Holloway said. “If it was so guaranteed already, we wouldn’t have been here. So I can’t wait. I can’t wait to go show. A lot of history on the line, a lot of legacy on the line, 0-0 Max is going in there looking for a finish. So I can’t wait.
“I’ll fight this fight just like how I fought every other fight — like it’s my first and it might be my last. So I’ve been in there 10 rounds with the guy. I feel good, I feel confident, and I’ve been saying we’ll be lucky if we get past three in this one.”
It’s a high-stakes crossroads for Holloway.
The 30-year-old former champion is widely recognized as one of the greatest featherweights in the sport’s history, however falling into an 0-3 hole in the trilogy would effectively end his chances at ever reclaiming the belt as long as Volkanovski is UFC champion.
Holloway knows his legacy is already secure as one of the greats of the era, but that doesn’t mean he’s content with what he already accomplished.
“At the end of the day, I always told myself the belt doesn’t define you,” Holloway said. “I’m a champion. I’ve been telling everybody that. I’m going to be a champion and I was a champion from since when I freakin’ got into the UFC. That’s just the way that you’ve got to carry yourself. If you don’t carry yourself that way, then why are you fighting? Are you fighting to be the second best in the world? That makes no sense.
“So I keep telling myself that I’m the best and I’m the champ, and it is what it is. If you disagree, then we can figure it out in the octagon.”
There’s an additional caveat too, at least in regards to what a win could mean for the futures of both men. Volkanovski has already spoken openly about wanting to move up to 155 pounds and challenge for the lightweight belt and two-division glory. In recent months, UFC president Dana White has voiced his receptiveness to the idea.
Could the same opportunity be on the table for Holloway if he wins at UFC 276?
“We’ll see what happens,” Holloway said. “Never say never, right? There’s interesting fights up there, especially with [Charles] Oliveira leading the pack and stuff. So we’ll see what happens. I can’t wait. First things first, it’s Alex, July 2. Let’s bring back balance to the world.”