Post-Fight Thoughts: Alexander Volkanovski -vs- Max Holloway 2
As soon as the judges' scorecards were read, declaring Alexander Volkanovski the winner over Max Holloway at UFC 245 (Fight Notes), it was expected that the UFC would try and run the fight back. There was no reason to do this, the outcome of the fight was only controversial in the mind of Max Holloway. The reality was that Volkanovski put on a masterful performance, Holloway staked a claim to precisely 1 round in their fight. Regardless, Holloway's tenure as champion and fan-friendly status was sufficient for the UFC to promote a rematch.
I had hoped that Holloway would take some time off; perhaps take a tune-up fight before fighting Volkanovski again. I know, MMA doesn't do tune-up fights — that has historically been and will continue to be a problem in the sport. Nevertheless, Holloway is a stubborn man and I can respect that, although I raised an eye-brow at the claim he had no training camp and was working with his team over video conferences. It's one thing to take an immediate rematch against a dangerous opponent, it's another thing entirely to do it in the midst of a global pandemic with limited access to training resources.
How much of a camp Holloway had was thrown into question almost immediately as he showed a relaxed attitude and new wrinkles in his stand-up. Holloway turned in 2 very good opening rounds, staying out of range for most of Volkanovski's strikes, avoiding the leg kicks that troubled him in the first fight, and landing effective jabs. Holloway exceeded even the best case scenarios I had in mind, as far as adjustments from the first fight are concerned.
The champion would not be handled so easily, though; Volkanovski, again showing his capacity for adapatation and learning on the fly, was able to solve Holloway's attacks, begin to accumulate volume to the head, body and legs, and turn the tide of the fight. The scoring of the entire fight is very contentious, but the first 2 rounds were clearly Holloway's. The problem is that Holloway won roughly 7:30 of the fight and Volkanovski won the other 7:30, and everything hinges on how much one weights specific instances in the back half of the fight.
Holloway was prevented from building to a smothering wave of oppressive volume, while Volkanovski had more bursts of effective offence than the sustained periods of control and bait-and-counter exchanges like in their first fight. Max adapted a lot more than I expected he would, and there's little to critique in his performance — and it's far from clear that he lost! Rematches are almost never this good or different in such nuanced ways from the initial encounter.
Aside from the obvious physical dangers, the risk of rematching Volkanovski so soon is that a second consecutive loss to the champ could keep him out of the title picture indefinitely. Featherweight is a very deep, dangerous division, although Max probably lost in the best way possible. There is a significant chance that the UFC opts to do a third fight between these two, since the outcome of this rematch is so hotly contested. In my initial watching, I gave Holloway the first 3 rounds; the next day, I felt it was 4-1 Holloway and I've since read compelling arguments for all manner of scoring of rounds 3 through 5. That alone is a good argument to run this one back ... again.
The scores are highly debatable, but the facts of the fight are: Alexander Volkanovski now has a wins over Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo, and Max Holloway (twice!) — in that order. That's an impressive resumé right there, and Volkanovski is still young. Whether or not you scored the fight for him, Volkanovski's durability, mental fortitude and composure under fire are the stuff of legend. It doesn't diminish Max Holloway to lose here, this was an amazing fight between two of the very best fighters to ever compete. Holloway's ability to learn from his initial loss, train through quarantine and just narrowly lose by some arbitrary scores only further adds to his legacy and overall mystique as a fighter.
Loathe as I am to admit it, it feels like there is still unfinished business. I don't see any other fight except a third encounter between these two, hopefully with both fighters afforded training that ressembles old values of 'normal' as much as possible.
Published: July 13th, 2020.