Max Holloway is a unique case. Not only because he's one of the few humans on the planet who knows what it's like to have UFC gold wrapped around their waist, but because he has gone through the major ups and downs of an athletic career and is still just 30 years old. The pride of Hawaii grew up in the octagon spotlight since breaking through in 2012 and had done enough by 28 to be considered one of the greatest 145ers of all-time.
Ultimately, Holloway says he hopes to one day find himself in the conversation amongst the greats like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Royce Gracie – icons in consideration for MMA's Mount Rushmore. Holloway's resume already boasts the attributes you want to see from the legends. Things like his legendary 13-fight win streak (including two over Jose Aldo) and 10-plus year career speak to his longevity. Moments like pointing toward the ground and slugging away for the last 10 seconds against Ricardo Lamas and hitting Calvin Kattar with a no-look punch then slipping the next five shots are etched in fans' minds forever.
"Blessed" isn't done yet, though. Far from it, and in order to maintain his position at the top and keep stacking his resume, adaptation is the key.
"This is a forever evolving sport, and if you're not evolving with it, you're going to get left in the dust," Holloway said. "I ain't about that. I've been in the UFC for too damn long. I've been in the UFC for 10 years now, and I want to be with the UFC for however many more years. I want to retire by like 35, maybe push it over a little bit. We'll see, but I want to make these years count. I only got a couple more, and you guys should expect fireworks.
"Fourth of July is on July 2. They just announced it."
July 2 represents the biggest test toward that legacy as Holloway (23-6 MMA, 19-6 UFC) takes a third crack at featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 276 in Las Vegas, the same location where he lost the title to the Australian two-and-a-half years ago at UFC 245.
A lot of life has happened since then, including each man competing thrice. The two rematched immediately at UFC 251, where Holloway fell once again but with much more debate and controversy around the decision. Since then, Volkanovski coached on "The Ultimate Fighter" then put on a couple stunning performances to defend the belt versus Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung. Holloway did his part, as well, setting records in his win over Kattar to open 2021 followed with an action-packed five-rounder against Yair Rodriguez.
Not only that, but Holloway achieved another major milestone. While Volkanovski pieced up "The Korean Zombie" in Las Vegas, Holloway married his now-wife Alessa in Hawaii, and "Blessed" is grateful for the presence she brings to him and his son, Rush.
"Sometimes, you have missing links in your life, and she's that link for me and my son," Holloway said. "She's taking care of us in many ways that I could never repay her, so being happy and everything is part of the game. Look good, feel good, dress good, perform good, right? It goes down all the way to your home life, your gym life, and now it's fight week. We got the Mini (Blessed) out here for fight week. We got the wife out here for fight week. I can't wait."
Since their rematch, Holloway and Volkanovski have left no doubt about who the best two featherweights in the world are at present. Moreover, the trilogy bout is a rare top 8 pound-for-pound matchup (Holloway No. 6; Volkanovski No. 2), making this one of the most anticipated featherweight title matchups ever.
Both men are respectful of the others' skills and threats, and naturally, both feel like an evolved version of themselves. For as much noise was made about whether Holloway actually beat Volkanovski in the second fight, "Blessed" isn't hung up on the decision (publicly, at least). What he is certain of is that he gets to control half of what goes on in T-Mobile Arena, and he promises a further advanced rendition of Max Holloway.
"A lot is going to be different," he said. "I am not the same fighter from the first fight. I am not the same fighter from the second fight with him. I'm not the same fighter from the Yair fight that you guys saw. I am a different guy."
Always known for his pace, volume, cardio and granite chin, Holloway mixed things up with Rodriguez and showed more of his grappling, landing multiple takedowns (three) for only the second time in the UFC.
Whether he does that against Volkanovski, who took Holloway down three times in their rematch to likely seal the last two rounds, is a mystery, but the chess game is already at play. Holloway won't disclose how he predicts the fight is going to play out other than it looking different than the first two. He even claims to not really have watched more of Volkanovski's performances than he has needed to in preparation, instead opting to stream himself playing video games online. Jokes and candor aside, he is eagerly anticipating a pro-Hawaii environment on the "Ninth Island" of Las Vegas.
"The beautiful thing is we get to find out come Saturday night," he said. "I had somecrowds in Abu Dhabi for that Kattar fight, and some crowds with Yair here in the Apex, so we'll see. Man, how big is T-Mobile? Twenty thousand in there doing their thing. There's probably going to be Hawaiian flags everywhere (and) people going crazy. It's going to be amazing."
Since joining the UFC as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, Holloway had the confidence of a champion even when he was 3-3 in the promotion coming off two consecutive losses. It's that charisma that endears him to fans, and it's the way he fights that leaves an imprint on their heart. When he walks out to his signature "Hawaiian Kickboxer" song by Moke Boy, all that matters is earning his sixth title fight victory and giving the belt to Rush in the octagon. He showed in his last two efforts he more than deserves this third chance at vanquishing Volkanovski, and he promises we haven't even seen anything yet.
"(Expect) the performance of a lifetime," he said. "Everybody thought Kattar was a great performance. Everybody thought Yair was a great performance. Everybody thought the second fight against Alex was a great performance.
"This is going to be an unbelievable performance. I can't wait for it. You just gotta tune in, live on pay-per-view."
This story first published at UFC.com.