UFC: Is Max Holloway the next Featherweight great?

Max Holloway’s first UFC title defense since dethroning Jose Aldo is on the horizon.

At just 25, Holloway is inching closer to cleaning out the division despite not yet defending his title. Can Max Holloway stake his claim as the new greatest UFC featherweight of all time or will Jose Aldo forever hold onto that distinction?

The consensus has long been that despite suffering a loss to Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo is still the greatest featherweight of all time. This belief stems from Aldo’s ability to remain at the top of the division for nearly a decade. Aldo, 30, reigned supreme before the UFC introduced the 145 lb division. He broke into the scene under the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion in 2008.  Max Holloway was just 15-years-old at the time.

Aldo’s first five bouts were all finishes via KO/TKO, which includes Aldo’s infamous fight-ending flying knee 8 seconds into his bout against Cub Swanson. The highlight reel knockout earned him a title shot against then WEC featherweight champion, Mike Brown. Aldo treated him no differently, stopping Brown in the second round. For a long time, Aldo was the most feared featherweight in the world. Although, his coming out party arguably came in his first title defense against the “California Kid” Urijah Faber.

Faber was Aldo’s first opportunity to defend his crown, and he answered the call by unleashing a plethora of leg kicks. Faber had no choice, but to stand there and take it through the course of five rounds. The legend of Aldo only grew further as a result.

Those infamous leg kicks haven’t been as prevalent of late. They weren’t present in Aldo’s fight against Holloway at UFC 212. Aldo’s head coach revealed a leg injury during the lead-up to the fight that prevented him from throwing the devastating kicks at Holloway’s lead leg.

The result was a beating at the hands of Holloway that led to a 3rd round TKO loss. Conor McGregor’s defeat of Aldo in 13 seconds was impressive, but Holloway managed to break Aldo down and beat him to a pulp.

Aldo, unlike Holloway, was undefeated at the age of 25. Holloway has tasted defeat on three occasions. Cub Swanson handed Holloway his first pro loss in 2012 before the Hawaii native reached the legal drinking age. Dennis Bermudez secured a controversial split decision win against Holloway in 2013. Holloway’s return later that year against Conor McGregor resulted in a unanimous decision loss against the current UFC lightweight champion.

Holloway has since gone on an 11 fight win streak against the likes of Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Anthony Pettis, Charles Oliveira, and Jose Aldo. One of the few names left to conquer in the featherweight division is Frankie Edgar. The two are said to be matched up next according to Dana White. Edgar is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters to compete, which makes Aldo’s two wins over him that much more impressive. Some argue that if Aldo was not around, Edgar would be a two-division champion.

Aldo’s aura was a big part of his success.  Holloway still has a way to go. Getting to the top is not easy, staying at the top is far more difficult. The problem Holloway could face is the lack of fresh opponents after Edgar. He holds wins over three of the current top five UFC featherweights. He also left no doubt in those three victories. While Holloway has stood firm on remaining put in the 145 lb division, there might be enough incentive for him to move up to lightweight.

Aldo received a lot of criticism for opting against moving up to the 155 lb division on several occasions. The difference between Aldo and Holloway is that Aldo would be giving up a lot of size at lightweight. Holloway stated in the past that he will eventually move up when he gets older. If Holloway decides to move up sooner than later, it will hurt his chances of being recognized as the greatest featherweight of all time. He could, however, build a legacy as a champion in both divisions.

While Holloway recently told Ariel Helwani that he didn’t expect McGregor to fight him for the 145 lb title, why shouldn’t he entertain the idea of avenging his last loss?  It’s safe to assume that Holloway’s skills would translate smoothly at 155. It’s also safe to assume that the cut to 145 lbs won’t get any easier.  Then again, Holloway has made everything look easy as of late.

If he follows through with his commitment to remain a featherweight, there is no telling how far he can go. While UFC pound-for-pound rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, being ranked fourth at the age of 25 is a nice feather in Holloway’s cap.