Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Holloway vs. Aldo 2 for UFC 218, and everything you don’t about
Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo II headlines UFC 218 this December 2, 2017 at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.
One sentence summary
David: Just your average UFC title fight, two weeks in the match-making.
Phil: This fight should not make me so sad and apprehensive but it does.
Record: Max Holloway 18-3 | Jose Aldo 26-3
Odds: Max Holloway -290 | Jose Aldo +245
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Some things you can’t quantify through traditional means. To the extent that momentum exists, Holloway has it oozing out of his knuckles and baby faced mustache. What I love about Holloway, and why watching him brings out the fandom in me, is that he reminds me of the famous Mexican boxer, Marco Antonio Barrera. There is plenty of technique on display. There are fight wits. But there’s also that element of emotion, fury, and general badassery. There’s that element of a Diaz brother in a beautifully violent and overly tattooed Hawaiian body. Fighters may not have peak production windows the way football, hockey, or basketball players do. But I imagine that the principles stay roughly the same. To that end, Holloway is 25 years old, in a certified prime, and that means what we’re watching is a fighter at his absolute best. The dude is riveting, plain and simple.
Phil: Does everyone know how lucky we are to have Holloway? I hope so. He’s thrillingly violent, wonderfully technical, and a respectful, likeable dude who nonetheless manages to dodge the trap of also having a bland personality. He’s rad. He’ll fight all comers (and did a pretty solid job of cleaning out the division before he made his way to the belt), and yet he hasn’t reached the anything like the McGregor / Rousey level where bullshit starts to pull him away from the sport. This is a selfish thing to be happy for, because it means he makes less money that he might, but for now Holloway is that underground band that just had the breakout album, making it to the main stage at festivals. “I remember when he first fought Poirier” we all say, nodding wisely.
David: For such an elite fighter, and former champ, Aldo’s career is on the verge of turning upside down. Where the Conor McGregor loss overestimated his decline, the Holloway fight seems to have underestimated that trajectory. Personally, I thought Aldo looked really good in that fight. But I also thought his philosophy to fighting needs an adjustment. Like a politician taking cues from the old Greek philosophers instead of market forces, there are fundamentals there that make Aldo a premiere fighter, but the pragmaticism is lacking. No, I’m not saying Aldo should embrace the neoliberalism of UFC fight philosophy, but I am making bad analogies to point out that I believe Aldo is still in a window for power. He still has some punch austerity. And for all the talk about styles, this is kind of a good test for both men, in my quixotic opinion.
Phil: It’s always rough to watch a previously untouchable king get dethroned. Much like Anderson before him, we’ve had the denial (“he just got caught”), but unlike Anderson we got to see Aldo come back looking like his old self, before falling to Holloway. Watching Aldo struggling to hold onto his legacy has reminded me of just how bummed I was when Mike Brown lost to Aldo for the WEC featherweight strap. If you’d told me that I’d be even more upset when that Brazilian kid eventually lost the belt, I don’t know that I would have believed you. Still, here we are. I am bummed! Still!
What’s at stake?
David: I would say, ‘the usual’. An Aldo win says more about people’s expectations of him in contrast to Holloway’s style than it does about his actual status IMO. I wouldn’t be shocked if Aldo won, at least in a vacuum. The shock would be in the how, because there’s basically no universe where such a win isn’t 100% earned given Holloway’s roll. A Max victory tells us more of the same. The real stakes are in the cage, which promises exactly what we crave.
Phil: One of the advantages of fighting beyond the traditional boundaries of a career is that you’re essentially playing with house money. I don’t think many people expect Aldo to really take his belt back, but if he did it would add another layer to a phenomenal legacy, in much the way that GSP did against Bisping.
Where do they want it?
David: Holloway fights like a slightly more restrained Rose Namajunas. Where Rose lunges in more dramatically, and from greater distances, Holloway takes gradual, but quick sticks to angle in for combinations and aggressive bodywork that always pays dividends. His footwork is good in subtle ways. Rather than make outward, obvious displays, like pivoting, lunging, or sidestepping, to the extent that he works these movements into his game, he does so with the support of various punch feints. Not only does he layer his offense with movements and feints, he adds a third coat of violence paint with his stance. In proximity, you’ll see Holloway switch his combinations from traditional to southpaw. This allows him to do a lot with very little. So even when Max is making a simple jab-overhand right combo, or right-left hook two piece, they’re landing because of his dynamic positioning and masking tools. The fact that he’s not easy to take down, and is actively good at grappling is just the gravy.
Phil: Max is simply one of the best strikers in the sport. Whether circling on the outside fishing for the angle to come in behind his one two, hanging out behind his jab, controlling lateral space with his body kicks, or just tearing shit up in the pocket with combinations, Holloway rides a fine line of controlled, cerebral savagery. He’s one of the few fighters that really uses a spinning back kick well, driving opponents away from the threat of his right cross into the spin kick to the body by the cage. His pace and durability get justifiably high praise, but I often feel his power is a bit overlooked. People do *not* like to get hit by Holloway, evinced by the way he scared Aldo off throwing his leg kicks with one punch, and folded Pettis with a body kick.
His takedown defense has been excellent in recent years, perhaps second only to Aldo’s as an effective sprawl’n’brawler, but with a different flavour to it: whereas Aldo pivots, shoves and stiff-arms, Holloway has more of a tendency to directly attack the takedown with sprawls and head attacks. I said it in when we previewed their last fight, but he truly is a credit to the Gracie Technics team. He’s the complete package.
David: I’m gonna walk straight into a recap of the first fight. Aldo has always been brilliant with what I call release points. It’s a term from hockey referring to where forwards need to be in order to retrieve the puck. Same principle – Aldo may not always have the best sense of positioning (despite some wonderful movement), or defense, but he’s brilliant at releasing potent offense quickly, and timely in all manners of combat. Against Holloway, we saw this through the first two rounds. Aldo would cut in with a left hook, chamber some combinations moving forward or on the reset, and rack up damage in pockets. Aldo doesn’t dictate pace the way most elite fighters do. Instead he’s constantly calibrating pace. Even beyond the left hook that stunned Holloway a bit, I thought his overall offense looked slick as ever. Aldo’s challenge is being able to chamber his attacks down the center, and move laterally when resetting. It’s not easy task, obviously, but he’s skilled enough to win with the right gameplan.
Phil: Aldo is an iceberg fighter. Like GSP, he’s someone with a vast amount of technical skill and a huge array of tools which you very rarely get to see, because he’s focused on a few of his most reliable weapons. Jab, one-two, hook and leg kick (and sometimes not even that). He’s fantastic at getting opponents to duck into his uppercut and step knee, which does double-duty with his phenomenal takedown defense.
The Holloway fight showed one of Aldo’s problems as it went deeper, which is his reliance on his jab to lead, and on his pivot to get him out of danger. Against Mendes and McGregor, he was forced into dangerous exchanges when he couldn’t rely on his jab. Against Edgar, it didn’t really matter because he could just counter Edgar all day. I think his issues with his jab are in turn related to his tendency to throw everything with maximum power. He so rarely probes, and only ever commits to anything when he’s sure it’s going to work. The question for this fight is then: how much of the iceberg can he consciously bring to the surface? Can he bring back the takedowns he used against Korean Zombie? The leg kicks he last used against Lamas? Because he pretty much has to.
Insight from past fights
David: Aldo is the most gifted grappler with only two submission wins in the world! I know, kind of a non-stat, sure, but as we saw against Urijah Faber, the guy is just plain deadly in top control. It doesn’t represent Aldo’s path to victory, per se. Aldo just doesn’t have the instincts to mix in a takedown with a combo. But it does represent the one real advantage Aldo has, which is being a slightly bigger dual threat. It’s not something that will have a dramatic impact on the fight, since Holloway isn’t a liability from his back, but in fights between two such massive talents, that extra 2% goes a long way.
Phil: I’m in the minority in that I think both fighters looked sort of terrible in their last fight, albeit in different ways. I don’t think Holloway had an incredible genius plan to slow the pace and figure Aldo out, I think he was just nervous. If someone whose primary advantage is pace comes out looking to fight conservatively, I can’t consider that plan a success if he then allows the other fighter to hit him as hard as he possibly can. Aldo absolutely belted Max in that first round (and that it didn’t have more of an effect is a tribute to Holloway’s adamantine chin). But then Aldo just… fell away. And that is the most damning thing to me. He didn’t fight at a tremendously fast pace, he had success in both of the first two rounds, and he still looked exhausted after ten minutes. Holloway’s confidence visibly surged after about 7 or 8. Basically, the last time out Max looked shook and Aldo looked old. This time? Max won’t be nervous. Jose won’t be any younger.
David: Aldo’s fuel tank, basically. His cardio has never been a concern even when it’s been nominally relevant, as it was in the Jung, Hominick, and Holloway fights. But his stamina is typical of high velocity strikers – the foot fist wane isn’t noticeable until the opponent is still there, energetic, fuzzy box faced smile and all.
Phil: Man, I am not sure that Aldo really wants to be here. Despite the talk of the best Muay Thai coming back, and his motivation, I think the words of his wife (from Guilherme Cruz’ excellent piece) are the one’s which stand out the most to me: “I just think he’s tired of it and wants to breathe new air. He’s not as motivated as he once was. He likes to train, and the weight cut bothers him. … I think he will fight out of his contract. I think.”
David: I’m really tempted to pick Aldo. I think his success down the middle early on, with his hooks, uppercuts, and ability to pressure without Holloway being able to counter effectively means a more measured pace can be the difference. I think he’s the better striker in the raw, ain’t backing down bro exchanges. But I don’t see him fighting away from his instinct to work in the pocket, move straight back when defending, or only using his head movement when he’s looking to pressure. The scares might be more dramatic this time (I could see Holloway getting cracked a bit harder early on), but ultimately I just see Holloway breaking Aldo down in the middle frames, and either capitalizing on the pressure like last time, or capitalizing on the pace he’s better able to dictate through five rounds. Max Holloway by Decision.
Phil: I love Max. But I just can’t help shake the feeling that this is going to be a slaughter; a sad destruction which I really don’t think I’m going to enjoy watching. This tweet here basically. Max Holloway by TKO, round 2.