By Adam Martin
It’s rare for a fighter who is on an eight-fight win streak to not be fighting for a title, but that’s the exact situation UFC featherweight Max Holloway is in. The 24-year-old Hawaiian is 8-0 since his 2013 decision loss to Conor McGregor, but because of the state of the 145-pound division, he will have to keep fighting – and winning – if he wants to get a shot at the featherweight title.
That’s primarily because McGregor, the featherweight champion, potentially might not even fight in his weight class this year. After fighting Nate Diaz at 170 lbs in the main event of UFC 196, McGregor is now primed for either a welterweight rematch with Diaz at UFC 202 in August if Dana White gets his way, or a boxing superfight with Floyd Mayweather if McGregor has his way. Either way, there’s a very good chance McGregor doesn’t defend his belt, meaning the other fighters at 145 lbs will stand to suffer because of it.
The UFC did create an interim featherweight title, which will be on the line between Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo at UFC 200, and if McGregor decides not to return to featherweight, the winner of that fight will become the full champion, but there’s no doubt a backlog has been created in the division because of McGregor, and the fighter it hits hardest is Holloway.
If McGregor had chosen to stay at featherweight, he would have fought Edgar for the title, and it’s likely that fight would have already happened. Had McGregor vs. Edgar taken place, then it’s likely that Holloway would have fought Aldo for the next title shot after that.
Instead, Holloway now has to beat a very tough competitor in Ricardo Lamas on the main card this weekend’s UFC 199 event, and even if he picks up his ninth straight win, that might not even be enough to get him a title shot in the case that McGregor returns to featherweight to defend his title against the winner of Edgar-Aldo. Yes, it’s possible that it might take not just nine, but ten wins for Holloway to get a title shot, something which is absolutely unheard of in the UFC. The only situation that is comparable is that of Jon Fitch, who needed eight straight wins to finally get his chance against Georges St-Pierre, but the difference is that Fitch was a grinding wrestler who bored audiences, while Holloway is among the most exciting MMA fighters currently competing. In a sport known for not being fair to the athletes, this really is a brutal situation for Holloway to be in, as becoming a champion in this sport brings newfound riches, which Holloway no doubt strives for.
The silver lining for Holloway is that he’s only 24 and constantly improving, and at this point in his career more cage time is not a bad thing. But it’s pretty clear he’s one of the best featherweight fighters in the world, and a different fighter than the one McGregor beat three years ago. Unfortunately for Holloway, circumstances outside of his control have put him in a tough position where he has to keep beating tough, underrated fighters like Lamas as he waits for the rest of the division to play out. But if there’s anything we know about Holloway, it’s that he’s mentally strong, and knowing he has to keep winning to get where he wants to be in his career, fans can expect nothing less than strong performances from him.
But the goal in this sport is to become the champion of your division, and that’s what drives Holloway every day. Eight straight wins should have gotten Holloway a crack at the belt, but now he’ll need nine just to continue being in the conversation. Look for the Hawaiian to take out his frustrations on Lamas this weekend at UFC 199, and if he wins, it will be interesting to see if nine is his lucky number or if he’ll need 10 wins just to finally secure that elusive featherweight title shot.
• Max Holloway vs. Ricardo Lamas
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UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Bisping 2 (formerly UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Weidman 2) takes place on June 4, 2016 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.