Single sentence summary
Phil: (Editor’s Note: We have to forgive Phil. He’s busy playing Tekken 7).
David: Aldo finally answers Holloway’s pop culture riddle.
Record: Jose Aldo 26-2 Max Holloway 17-3
Odds: Jose Aldo -140 Max Holloway +130
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: In other sports, humiliation is typically prolonged. Elite boxers usually have to wait at least ten minutes before witness the rapture. Golfers and tennis players experience a gradual decline. And so forth. Aldo has to wrestle with just 13 seconds. Which leaves his brain exhausted by the amount of what-ifs to overload his CPU while the rest of the world has asinine debates about whether or not Floyd Mayweather, one of boxing’s greatest, can beat someone without a single professional boxing match. Despite Aldo’s peripheral presence to MMA’s dumbest curiosities, he remains a featherweight icon. This is the perfect fight for Hosay. With gold at stake against featherweight’s most serious contender.
Phil: Aldo enters this stage of his career on a bit of a razor’s edge. He’s reached a higher level of stardom at the same time that his competition has taken a leap in quality- it’s a similar dynamic to what happened with Anderson Silva, albeit a bit earlier in the cycle: Silva had a few big performances at his peak, whereas Aldo’s introduction to the masses was the Conor KO. The main risk for him is simply that a long career in the sport has drained him somewhat, and that despite his stellar win over Frankie since the Conor loss, another defeat to someone like Holloway consigns him to guys like Rogan blathering on about his “tarnished legacy.”
David: Holloway entered the UFC as a technical fighter who probably just needed the right matchups – a striking version of Charles Oliveira. But slowly but surely he blossomed into something much more effective. I think it was the Akira Corassani fight when his game “arrived” – like Anderson Silva, his progression in accuracy led to his progression in power. Last December he punctuated that arrival with a solid postfight interview after Pettis, using the services of British author Martin Handford no less. Needless to say, I’m giddy just thinking about this fight.
Phil: I wrote about Holloway’s clawing rise through the ranks. It really has been something to behold. He was given absolutely zero favours with his matchmaking, kept a high pace of fights taken, and has tangibly evolved from bout to bout, from a scrawny kid with a knack for bodyshots and spinning shit, to one of the most rawhide-tough technical strikers in the sport. This fight is glorious.
What’s at stake?
David: All the marbles. Or at least most of them. If Aldo wins, he cements his legacy and holds all the promotional cards. Maybe he even begins a verbal campaign to get McGregor back in the featherweight cage, relying less on the someone else’s achievements. It’s probably not enough. McGregor has a 50/50 split in boxing to think about. But still. As far as Holloway is concerned, who knows. I struggle to conceive just how much better Holloway can get. If he can beat Aldo, we’d have a pretty good idea obviously. And plus, Edgar would be doing jumping jacks.
Phil: Aldo has pretty much cleaned out the division with a win; I’d be interested to see if he starts campaigning for 155 fights to get an angle on McGregor. There was that rumour that he had agreed to fight Khabib, but that Khabib’s dad Abdulmanap (smartly) nixed that idea. If Holloway wins, then he truly has arrived, and an Edgar title defense is in his future.
Where do they want it?
David: Aldo is a nominally stationary fighter – lulling opponents into a false sense of pressure with piercing counters and lightning quick pivots. His sedentary stance allows him to torque harder on his leg kicks (which are some of the best in MMA if not THE best), delivering short left hooks and a thudding jab as he assesses range. Because he has cheater thighs, he doesn’t have to extend very far to land the best counter knee in the business. I hate comparisons to animals because I can only read them in head splitting Joe Rogan voice, but his movements do remind me of a cobra’s strike – coiled for countering.
On the ground he’s, frankly, a dynamic grappler. Not a surprise to those who recall the unrecorded history of his wins over Cobrinha. But watching him cut up Urijah Faber’s guard brings home this point with clarity. I’d contend that if Aldo committed himself to a grappler’s role, he’d still be elite. His top position is similar to his striking; relying more on punctuated movements than general rhythm. Kind of perfect for a sport that defines itself on punctuation (BIG RIGHT HAND) over processing.
Phil: To me, Aldo’s fights are indicative of his overall mindset and one of the main heuristics which drives how he approaches his career. The basic idea which I think he lives by is “you pay attention to what you have to, and no more.” He’s famous for not being hugely invested in the promotional part of the sport, and is something of a grumpy malcontent who often gives the impression that he’d rather be playing football… but he’s also an astonishing athlete and technician, and a legendarily hard worker. His style is pared down, but also beautifully constructed. His parries, his head and upper body movement and his footwork (from the tiny microsteps he constantly takes to his silky-smooth pivots) are all designed to allow him to simply discount a lot of the offense coming his way, because he has systematic, high-percentage defenses which he can live behind as he figures his opponents out.
If there’s a weakness to Aldo’s style I’d say that it’s in commitment: while technically gorgeous, his strikes tend to be pitched at around the same frequency: not for him the soft, pawing set-up or the throwaway combination. Instead, when Aldo strikes he commits to it, hard. While he hasn’t knocked anyone out for a while, he has serious power, and often starts to scare his opponents off early in a fight. This does contribute to his need to keep the pace down, and his slightly flagging pace as fights go deep. This, to me, is a key question of this fight: can Aldo scare Holloway off like he has almost everyone else?
David: Holloway has shifted minor gears over his short career. He was never overly aggressive, but he had a tendency to overstay his welcome in the pocket. Now he makes sure he holds a combination ace up his sleeve when approaches proximity fighting. To that end he’s varied up his extensive attack with bodyshots and even trip takedowns, as he displayed against Pettis. Switching stances at times, his flowchart resembles a reverse olive tree, opening up when resetting, and lunging forward for strikes when he’s working his angles. He’s deliberate, but not overly cautious. His style draws comparisons to Aldo himself but where Aldo’s conglomerate attack relies on close quarter meticulousness, Holloway’s conglomerate attack relies on range awareness, whirling around effortlessly to overwhelm via attrition.
This general awareness makes him somewhat dangerous on the ground. He’s not a high octane grappler, but he’s an intelligent one – drawing inspiration more from the steady pace of Faber types than Jacare’s coiling oracle.
Phil: If Aldo tends to make sure that he is (almost) always appropriately insulated from risks, Holloway has tuned his approach in something of the opposite direction. He’s rarely completely safe when he enters an exchange, and can often be in fact somewhat hittable, but he throws in combination, angles out, and has an absolutely absurd chin. Despite taking multiple bombs from one of the hardest hitters in the sport in McGregor, I’m honestly not ever sure that I’ve seen him badly buzzed once. Those angles he leaves on are a vital part of the equation, because they mean that counter-shots only have a short period of time to live in before he cuts out of the pocket and the opponent is swinging at air. Basically, he ensures that even if the opponent is getting their licks in, that he is on the winning side of the offensive equation, which gathers momentum over time.
He mentioned when he first joined the UFC that he was scared to throw his kicks for fear of getting taken down, but this is really a part of his game which has blossomed of late. Against Pettis and Swanson in particular, he was able to mix up oblique kicks and round kicks to the leg and body to take a fearsome toll right from the start of the fight.
Holloway is probably not as fast or as strong as Aldo, but he does seem to be more durable, in terms of both cardio and chin. Aldo has a notable tendency to open up with brutal combinations if opponents really press him. If Holloway panics, or gets hurt (and both of these would be a first, really), the champion remains a predatory finisher.
Insight from past fights
Phil: There are two interesting ones here for me: the first is Holloway-Stephens. Holloway won fairly clearly, but fought a cautious fight against Stephens, who came with a powerful Dutch-style approach which isn’t a million miles away from Aldo’s. Notably, Holloway ate a fair few leg kicks. Another interesting one to reference is Hominick-Aldo- while people remember the weird last round more than anything, it’s interesting that Hominick managed to get Aldo’s attention in the early rounds with a doubled jab and his often underrated body work. Essentially, Aldo has fought some absolute monsters, but they have often not been skilled combination punchers in the same way that Holloway is; whether his defenses can stand up to that kind of multi-pronged assault is something of an open question.
David: I like to look at Max Holloway vs Anthony Pettis because it’s considered, in some ways, his breakout fight – the one that propelled into championship material. It’s by no means a mirage, but Pettis is absolutely done as an elite fighter and Showtime still found success early on, and really through the entire bout at countering and sometimes pressuring Max. Pettis’ lack of success felt like a tactical failure, or at least more than usual. If Holloway had a hard time finding success against half-Pettis (it wasn’t until Pettis’ movement slowed to a crawl that Holloway picked his body apart), I struggle to imagine a scenario where Holloway can wade in with his boxing, successfully and consistently, against Aldo in a manner that can gradually break Aldo down. Unlike Hominick, Holloway isn’t a centerline boxer throwing crisp combinations straight down the middle – in some ways perfect for a slow, supposedly infected Aldo. He relies more on letting his general pace and outside attack earn him exchanges inside. Holloway rents close quarter combat. Hominick lives there. So I think that comparison is off even though there’s a general truth worth magnifying.
Phil: I think the Edgar fight put paid to the idea that Aldo had been mentally broken by McGregor. I am curious to see if a long, injury-filled career has taken its toll. For example, he really doesn’t seem to throw leg kicks that much any more. That may be because he fears the takedown, or it may be that he’s damaged his legs over time (recall him breaking his foot against the Korean Zombie).
David: Injuries, infections, and dengue fever; just the usual. Oh right: I forgot dumbass reffing. Somehow, some way, this sport gets actively worse the more “legit” it gets. Recall that either fighter may think it’s okay to knee a ground fighter, and no one will know anything because this is MMA, and rules are made to be broken. Even by those who made them.
Phil: This should be an absolutely riveting fight, one which is poorly served by the mediocre card underneath it. Can Aldo hit hard and accurately enough to scare Holloway off? Can Holloway handle the leg kicks? Does Aldo try for takedowns, and can he get them? Can Aldo keep up with Holloway’s pace? I think this is the key factor for me, together with Holloway’s insane durability. I believe that people also underrate how hard Holloway hits, particularly with his kicks as he can punish Aldo’s legs and body as he pivots. I think that he can wear the champ down over five. It breaks my heart to make this prediction, as I dearly love Scarface, but Max Holloway by TKO, round 5.
David: Well, just as I was with Bisping vs. Rockhold, allow me to draw you back to the wacky reality of MMA with the correct prediction. Aldo will win. Holloway still relies too much on slow (relative to Aldo) leaps forward for certain attacks. Aldo’s head movement and quickness will allow him to counter effectively. Similar to what Pettis was able to do early. Holloway didn’t break range against Pettis until Pettis slowed down (largely by his own accord). Aldo is not a symbol of durability, but his attacks are durable and his cardio is fine. This isn’t a mismatch by any means. It’ll be great. But Aldo’s advantages will be apparent to the judges whereas Holloway’s advantages will require more work with less rewards. Jose Aldo by Decision.