UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway has plenty of history with the two men who headlined UFC 229’s record-shattering pay-per-view.
Holloway fought Conor McGregor all the way back in the early stages of his own Octagon career, suffering a unanimous decision defeat to the Irishman in August 2013. He also was briefly scheduled to challenge Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title on short notice earlier this year at UFC 223, but withdrew from the contest because of difficulties cutting weight. So it makes sense that Holloway was one of the many interested parties watching the history that unfolded at UFC 229, which saw Nurmagomedov defeat McGregor via fourth-round submission on a pay-per-view that sold over two million buys.
And although many in the mixed martial arts community have been critical of McGregor’s performance against Nurmagomedov, Holloway believes “The Notorious” represented himself just fine against the undefeated Dagestani champion at UFC 229.
“You know what? Everybody keeps saying, ‘Oh, Conor got smashed.’ I didn’t see it,” Holloway said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Yeah, in a couple positions he did, but I thought he was doing great. I thought he was doing actually pretty good. I thought they had a good gameplan going into the fight — it looked great, it looked good. It’s just, Khabib was just capitalizing. Real little mistakes Conor was doing, Khabib was just capitalizing on them.
“So I just think Khabib was just on his game a little bit more that night than anything, and it was a good fight. I think a lot of people were just saying that Conor didn’t do that good, but I thought Conor did pretty good. It is what it is. He was in bad positions, he got out of bad positions too, so my assessment of it was that he did alright.”
Holloway, 26, is currently scheduled to defend his UFC featherweight title for the first time in 2018 with a much-anticipated matchup against undefeated challenger Brian Ortega at UFC 231. The bout marks the end of a tumultuous 12-month layoff for the 145-pound champion and a welcome return to form for “Blessed” after some scary neurological issues sidelined him from a summer showdown against Ortega at UFC 226.
Holloway knows that a tall task awaits him in Toronto. Ortega’s run to the title has been both violent and impressive, culminating earlier this year in a masterful first-round victory over Frankie Edgar that saw Ortega become the only man to ever knock out the former lightweight champion. But greatness remains on Holloway’s mind, and the Hawaiian fighter isn’t closing the door on giving the Nurmagomedov matchup a second try if things go his way on Saturday night at UFC 231.
“At the end of the day, we’ll find out,” Holloway said. “We’ve got nothing but time, too. I know they’ve got to figure out their stuff going on [with the Nevada Athletic Commission], so we’ll see what happens. I’ve got Brian Ortega first. That’s definitely, the two of them are definitely the guys that would be cool [to fight] and everybody keeps talking about, so we’ll see what happens. I’m a fighter, I’ll fight whoever, and I’m a champion, I’ve been a champion, and I’m about to go out here and be a defending champion, and the next thing on my list is to be on the pound-for-pound list, that No. 1 pound-for-pound.
“And whatever fight it is that takes me there, I’ll go there — if it’s going up a weight class, if it’s staying here and defending my belt 12 times, if it’s going up three weight classes. If I’ve got to go and see the ‘Daddest Man on the Planet’ (Daniel Cormier), then so be it, we’re gonna get it because I want that No. 1 pound-for-pound spot.”