One minute into the third round, the commentary trio calling Saturday night’s main event between Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar wondered whether referee Herb Dean should stop the fight early to save Kattar from excess punishment. The request was not fulfilled, as Dean did not stop the fight—not then, not in the fourth round, not at all—giving Holloway 14 extra minutes to cap the UFC’s most dominant five-round decision victory in years. Holloway won 50-42 on one judge’s scorecard, a well-earned score that hasn’t been given since 2006.
Holloway is a special fighter, one of the most intelligent strikers in the game, and an ironman who’s never been knocked out and holds a 22-6-0 record. In a sport full of kooks and assholes, he stands out by virtue of being a relatively normal and recognizably human person, which says as much about him as the standards we’re working with here.
But Holloway came into the fight against Kattar at the lowest point in his career. He had dropped three of four, including two straight title fights against Alexander Volkanovski. In Volkanovski, Holloway was presented with a dark mirror of himself: Volkanovski’s game was built, to a degree, to grab the featherweight title from Holloway, just like Holloway’s was fine-tuned to take the same belt from Jose Aldo years earlier.
Losing to Kattar would have been a sign that Holloway was beginning to succumb to the inevitable toll of fighting other people for a living. Instead, he put on an all-time performance. Holloway landed a stunning 445 significant strikes on Saturday, breaking his own record by 155. He also net new marks for significant strikes attempted (744) and significant strikes landed in a round (141, in the fourth). The numbers tell a story of a one-sided beatdown. The exchange Holloway had with the ABC booth during the fifth round shows it.
As color commentator Daniel Cormier suggested once again that Dean stop the fight, Holloway agreed, turned toward him, and started yapping about how he was the best boxer in the UFC, all while Kattar threw shots as Holloway’s unprotected head. Naturally, he slipped those ones too.
Part of why Holloway looked so sharp was because he had been fighting less. His fight camp featured almost no hard sparring, which meant he came into the fight without any of the invisible attritional damage that most fighters wind up carrying into their matches:
“Like a good legend, [NFL star] Marshawn Lynch said, ‘Save your chickens,’” Holloway said. “Save your chickens. Right here, you only get one brain, save it. You guys don’t need to do it. You sparred enough, you trained enough, you know how to punch someone, you know how to slip a punch, why even take unnecessary damage before the main game? That’s just the way I think and everybody who keeps telling me on my [Facebook Gaming stream], everybody who tell me I should be training? No. I’ve been training, when I play games, leave me alone. I want to play video games.”MMA Fighting
Holloway’s future opponents know: If you want to beat him, simply hop on the sticks and start grinding.