The Rickety Old Shack

Max Holloway Pulled From UFC 226

article title image

As has become an informal tradition in the MMA world, another major fight has been scrapped only days before it was scheduled to take place. This time, it was the planned title unification bout between featherweight champion Max Holloway and interim title-holder Brian Ortega. To make matters worse, this isn't the usual scenario where injury or illness forced a withdrawal, in this instance Holloway was pulled from the fight due to concussion-like symptoms he had been experiencing since at least Monday. After appearing out-of-sorts — to the point that Michael Bisping pointed it out during an interview — during media appearances, the decision was finally made on the evening of July 4th.

Max Holloway's management released the following statement, detailing how the situation progressed before resulting his withdrawal from the co-main event of UFC 226:

Max's team and UFC staff noticed Max was not normal since late last week. This became obvious to many watching his interviews and public appearances the past few days.

He was showing concussion like symptoms before he even started his weight cut and was rushed to the ER on Monday where they admitted him over night. Initial scans seemed okay and he was released Tuesday afternoon but symptoms still continued.

Max fought with his team to continue with the fight. He showed some improvement over the next day but was still showing obvious symptoms. After open workouts he crashed and was very hard to wake up, when he did he had flashing vision and slurred speech.

This turn of events is concerning for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that Max Holloway is only 26 years old. With luck, these concussion-like symptoms will have some other root cause, perhaps one unrelated to traumatic brain injury. That said, it is not impossible; the careers of many athletes have been cut short by the onset of persistent, post-concussion syndrome. TJ Grant, a UFC lightweight was on the cusp of a title shot following a violent destruction of Gray Maynard — back in a time when that was a laudable feat — in 2013, only to be sidelined ever since with post-concussion syndrome. Similarly, bantamweight sensation Chris Holdsworth has not competed since a victory in 2014, unable to compete since an alleged training incident with TJ Dillashaw (story) left him with lingering post-concussion symptoms.

Those are but 2 examples, and there are almost assuredly thousands of other similarly stories — involving fighters outside the massive stage of the UFC. No one can say for certain how Max Holloway's situation will play out, but everyone should be concerned. It's possible Max never fights again. It's possible fighting again could be the least of Max's worries going forward. It's also possible that it's a treatable issue and, provided rest and recovery, will allow for a full return to fighting. Regardless, one should entertain the very real possibility that this situation could be very dire. Understanding of traumatic brain injury and concussions is still primitive, so if the diagnosis is in that realm, then little else can be done except Thoughts & Prayers™ and hope things improve with time.

This caps off a rough year for the Hawaiian, who was pulled from UFC 222 with an injury, pulled from UFC 223 when the athletic commission halted his last-minute weight cut to 155, and now this. All one can do is speculate, but it seems that Holloway makes a habit of asking too much of himself and is now experiencing the consequences. Holloway is massive for the featherweight division, and had even said recently that he may have to move up to lightweight. The effects of brutal weight cuts and the level of training a UFC champion would be doing make for a difficult grind. Add into the mix a training camp, an injury, a last-minute weight cut to 155 — which George Lockhart said was one of the biggest cuts he'd ever been involved in — then another full training camp, and you have a recipe for disaster. It's at least plausible that Max ran himself into the ground through a combination of hard sparring and depleting himself to get down to his contracted weight.

Situations like this also force fans to grapple with the reality of what we watch, and the conflicting desire of wanting these fighters to be safe and healthy and yet also demanding they demolish each other and perform superhuman feats of brutality. I wish nothing but the best for Max Holloway, I hope he recovers fully and is able to get back to the business of bludgeoning the skulls of other men with his fists. Aside from placating me as a fan, it would — much more importantly — mean that Holloway still has his health.

Combat sports are a cruel master. One minute you're notching a UFC title shot in your most emphatic victory to date, the next you're toiling in a potash mine (story) to support your family because you can't fight anymore. The loss of a quality fight on the UFC 226 fight card is insignificant compared to Holloway's long term health. I don't really care about a replacement fight, I'd just like to know that a young champion hasn't ended what looked to be the makings of a legendary career.

—by Derek

Published: July 5th, 2018.