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UFC 199’s Fighter to Watch: Max “Blessed” Holloway

Peyton Wesner

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The date was August 13, 2013, when Max “Blessed” Holloway took to the octagon for a prospected featherweight battle with current division champion Conor McGregor.

In the bout, which ended up lasting all of the three scheduled rounds (unlike any fight including “The Notorious One”), Holloway lost by the scores of 30-26, 30-27, and 30-27. Though, on a positive note, he left the octagon healthier than his well-known opponent, for McGregor tore his ACL in the act.

Oh, and different than the Irishman, the Hawaiian is undefeated since the loss.

Could a rematch soon be in order?

This weekend’s UFC 199 battle versus Ricardo Lamas could answer such an inquiry.

Holloway (15-3, 11-3 in UFC), is not an unranked fighter anymore like he was less than three years ago. In fact, he currently holds the 4th rank in his division with back-to-back-to-back victories over men who are ranked 6th, 7th, and 8th (Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, and Jeremy Stephens).

The 24-year old has transformed himself into a true martial artist, who is not just dangerous in stand-up but on the ground with submissions and strikes in top position. Furthermore, he fights intelligently by keeping himself out of danger (thanks to elusive movement), not inserting himself into tough spots, and ignoring the temptation to move the action to the ground.

For instance, in Holloway’s first fight of 2015, Cole Miller attempted to transition the battle by laying on the ground in full guard. Logically, the Hawaiian backed away, forcing his opponent to stand back up. Also during this match, a deadly ground and pound element was on display as, when he was on the canvas, he dominated the ground game.

Another big element of Holloway’s attack is his kicks. So fluent in transitions from southpaw stance to orthodox, the 4th ranked featherweight can fire off strikes to the body as well as the head. A concern, though, comes with his kick quantity at the end of rounds. To elaborate, he seems to recklessly ramp up the number of kicks with no variety of offering punches. Holloway must not focus just on one strike, for an opponent, in this case, Ricardo Lamas could catch a kick and then finish the five-minute segment strong, possibly swaying the judges.

It would be blasphemous not to mention Max Holloway’s takedown defense when analyzing his strengths. Against McGregor, he was taken down 4 times in 5 attempts for a clear cut 20% takedown defense. But, he has not been taken to the mat unwillingly since August 23, 2014, when Clay Collard landed one. During the 8-fight span following his loss, Holloway has a 90% takedown defense (45-of-50 defended). He spurns most by quickly putting his back to the cage and fighting off the hand control of the opposition. Other times, the fighter with the longest active win streak in the featherweight division will sprawl and actually take the top position! In such a spot of complete control, Holloway mixes strikes with the possibility of obtaining a submission victory.

The previous was seen at its best against Southern California’s finest Cub Swanson. Additionally, during this bout, Holloway showed great calculation picking his spots and the ability to avoid damage when coming forward with strikes.

On Saturday, Max Holloway shall be tested unlike any opponent before upon stepping into the octagon versus 5th ranked Ricardo Lamas (16-4, 7-2 in UFC).

Lamas, who has one less loss to his name than Holloway, was defeated in a title fight versus José Aldo a little over two years ago and knocked out in the 1st round against Chad Mendes last year.

The 34-year old is similar to Holloway in a few ways. For one, he evades dangerous spots, even with the center of the octagon occupied by his opponent. Also, he displays a tactical approach even when there is “blood in the water.”

Lamas is different than the Hawaiian in the fact that he is a kick oriented fighter, who tries to damage the front leg of opponents early and often. Moreover, he clinches for the purpose of ultimately getting submissions. The Illinois native utilizes low knees in the clinch to soften the legs of the opposition before landing a monster takedown.

To ensure success, Holloway simply has to stay within himself. Specifically, he must continue stuffing takedown attempts and keep great movement when moving in and out of the pocket. A spot of emphasis for the Hawaiian lies with staying calculated if his opponent is hurt. Lamas is a hard-nosed fighter (just look at how long he survived when Mendes had him on the ropes); thus, Holloway can not throw all his preparation and game planning to the wind, even if he is on the brink of victory.

UFC 199 takes place at The Forum in Los Angeles, California on June 4th, headlined by a UFC Middleweight Title fight between champion Luke Rockhold and challenger, #4 Michael Bisping.

Other bouts scheduled on the main card include:

  • C Dominick Cruz vs. #2 Urijah Faber
  • #4 Max Holloway vs. #5 Ricardo Lamas
  • #15 Dan Henderson vs. Hector Lombard
  • #11 Dustin Poirier vs. #13 Bobby Green
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Fight Announcements

Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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Bellator

James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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