Pre-Fight Thoughts: Max Holloway -vs- Alexander Volkanovski
Of all the fights on the UFC 245 card, this is the one that I am the most unsure about. Even with Max Holloway largely dispelling concerns I had about accumulated damage and rough weight cuts in his last title defence, where he defeated Frankie Edgar at UFC 240, the match-ups aren't getting any easier. Alexander Volkanovski is a legitimate contender, coming off a career-defining win over Jose Aldo and is currently undefeated over the course of a 3-year UFC tenure.
As far as competitive match-ups go, this and the main event are as close as it gets. Two very similar fighters, possessed of excellent boxing skills, throwing down in 4-ounce gloves. I don't know what else one could ask for; this featherweight title fight is going to be a thrill to watch, regardless of the outcome. I think this fight has the potential to be a faster-paced version of Holloway / Edgar, only without even the threat of takedowns. More fisticuffs, less wrestling — the main event will deliver that in spades.
What fuels my indecision on who to pick in this fight is the remarkable boxing skills of Volkanovski. When he smashed Chad Mendes, I was impressed, although the former title contender wasn't a world renouned striker, he had woven a very competent striking game into an elite wrestling base and saw a lot of success with that. Volkanovski just destroyed him, though; Mendes was totally outclassed on the feet. Then, to my surprise, Volkanovski did the same thing to Jose Aldo, the greatest featherweight of all time!
Prior to the loss to Volkanovski, Jose Aldo had only been defeated by Conor McGregor and Max Holloway. Even ignoring the McGregor KO, since it was so quick and surprising — neither a fluke nor any indication how the two match-up in a prolonged contest — the Holloway defeats were definitive, and left no doubt as to the better fighter. Aldo rebounded, racking up violent TKOs over Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano, before Volkanovski slammed on the brakes and routed him 30-27 umamously.
One does not simply outbox Jose Aldo. It takes a tactical mind and elite footwork and athleticism to not only understand how to defeat a legendary talent like Aldo, but execute the gameplan when you are locked in the cage with him. Holloway and Volkanovski have both done this. While MMA math is essentially astrology for fight dorks, this information does tell us that both men are very proficient strikers, and have proven themselves in one-sided wins over the best competition one could ask for.
I am envisioning a very competitive fight; I do not expect either fighter to simply run away with this one. What remains to be seen is how Holloway performs, as he did seem to get stuck in second gear for the entirety of his last fight. There are many potential reasons for this, chief among them being the takedown threat posed by Frankie Edgar. Volkanovski was able to disarm Aldo, avoiding his best shots and close distance on him without suffering much in the way of return fire. Holloway's reach advantage should help him in this regard, but Volkanovski has shown he can be crafted and adapt on the fly.
I honestly do not know who to favour in the stand-up. Both have shown impressive skills and have soundly defeated former champions and contenders alike, without giving any hints of weakness themselves. Holloway had to move up to 155 pounds to finally bite off more than he could chew. Holloway dwarfs almost every featherweight and he will, again, have a height and reach advantage in this fight. If anyone is to overcome that, however, Alexander Volkanovski seems up to the task.
It says a lot for the quality of competition that Max Holloway faces because I always find some way to doubt his chances of winning. And yet, aside from a losing effort in his attempt to capture the lightweight title, he always makes me look foolish in retrospect. There is a strong case to be made for either fighter, and I think this fight will come down to a mixture of savy and experience. For that reason, I lean towards Holloway despite a lack of solid confidence in this pick. I think a decision is the most likely outcome.
From everything I have seen, Alexander Volkanovski is a future featherweight champion. I don't think his time has come just yet, but I look forward to his attempt to prove his doubters wrong. This match-up is also my pre-event pick for Fight Of The Night.
Published: December 14th, 2019.