When Max Holloway meets UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski for the third time this Saturday at UFC 276, it will be a special occasion in more ways than one.
Holloway will not only become the first UFC fighter to fight for a belt in a trilogy where he is already down 0-2, the UFC 276 co-main event will also mark one of the few where the best pound-for-pound fighters collide with such momentous stakes. Holloway is currently MMA Fighting’s No. 6 ranked fighter in the world, while Volkanovski sits at No. 3.
“If you look at it that way, it’s crazy. When in the last decade did this fight happen, where did two of the best guys in the top 10 pound for pound rankings happen? Holloway said on Monday MMA hour. “How many times has this happened? The only guys that come to mind is ‘DC’ [Daniel Cormier] and [Jon] Jones. It’s the only guys. And we’re here now, and this fight, these things don’t happen. And those are the things I’m passionate about. We are part of this story. And to you guys, to all the hardcore fans, that’s what they want.
“They want the best of the best to fight – and they are. These best pound-for-pound fighters don’t fight. They just don’t. It doesn’t happen. It happens every now and then in a decade, and we’re lucky to have one right now.
Holloway and Volkanovski have already fought twice with the UFC featherweight belt on the line, clashing first in 2019 and then again in 2020. Volkanovski dominated Holloway in their first outing at UFC 245 to steal the 145-pound title from Holloway. The immediate rematch at UFC 251 was a much closer affair, but ultimately Volkanovski beat out a controversial split decision to continue his championship reign.
Since then, the two men have scored two victories each. Holloway knocked out Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez to come back on a third shot, while Volkanovski dispatched Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung to solidify his claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
“We’re here for a reason,” Holloway said. “If it was already so guaranteed, we wouldn’t be here. So I can’t wait. I can’t wait to go show. Lots of history at stake, lots of legacy at stake, 0-0 Max is going there looking for a finish. So I can’t wait.
“I’m going to fight this fight like I’ve fought every other fight – like it’s my first and it might be my last. So I was in there 10 rounds with the guy. I feel good, I feel confident and I said we would be lucky if we passed 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, but falling to an 0-3 hole in the trilogy would effectively end his chances of reclaiming the belt as long as Volkanovski is a 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’s already achieved.
“At the end of the day, I’ve always thought the belt doesn’t define you,” Holloway said. “I am a champ. I told everyone. I’m going to be a champion and I was a champion since I entered the UFC. It’s just the way you should behave. If you don’t behave this way, then why are you fighting? Are you fighting to be the second best in the world? That does not make any sense.
“So I keep telling myself I’m the best and I’m the champion, and that’s the way it is. If you don’t agree, then we can understand that in the octagon.
There is also an additional caveat, at least in terms of what a win could mean for the future of both men. Volkanovski has previously 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 expressed receptivity 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 are some interesting fights up there, especially with [Charles] Oliveira leading the pack and all. So we’ll see what happens. I can not wait. First up is Alex, July 2. Let’s bring balance to the world.