MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst — and aspiring professional fighter — Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC 212’s Max Holloway, who will look to unify the Featherweight crown this Saturday (June 3, 2017) inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Hawaiian striker and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) interim Featherweight champion, Max Holloway, will look to ride his 10-fight win streak to another victory over Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight kingpin, Jose Aldo, this Saturday (June 3, 2017) at UFC 212 inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
At the ripe old age of 25, Holloway has fully completed the transition from exciting mixed martial arts (MMA) prospect to top-notch fighter.
It didn’t happen without some hiccups along the way, though. “Blessed” came up short in his Octagon debut before putting some wins together, but his first real step up in competition resulted in a pair of losses to Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor back in 2013.
Afterward, it all seemed to click for Holloway. His takedown defense shored up further, and Holloway’s kickboxing became both smarter and more dangerous. An astounding 10 wins later, Holloway is absolutely an elite fighter at nearly even odds with a pound-for-pound great.
Let’s take a closer look at this skill set:
Holloway is one of the best switch-hitters in the business. He switches stance constantly and will do it in the middle of combinations. He also mixes excellent pivots and skip steps into his offense, allowing him to quickly take an angle from his new stance and attack.
For a look at some of the different specific combinations he’s worked into his fights, check out this week’s technique highlight on some of Holloway’s switch-hitting.
Holloway’s boxing is the most important part of his striking game. He may fire off spinning kicks and flying knee often enough, but his ability to put together smart combinations — alongside his aforementioned footwork — is what makes him such an interesting and effective striker.
In particular, Holloway uses his jab quite well to control range. Whenever he’s facing off with a shorter opponent — not uncommon for the lanky kickboxer — Holloway is jamming his opponent’s attempts to close distance with frequent jabs and movement. Additionally, he’s showed in his few matches with similarly built or lengthier opponents that he can move in behind the jab, successfully getting into his own range.
Often, Holloway will flash a jab merely to hide his changing feet, as Holloway can really change position in the time it takes for his opponent to react to the feint, which one of the combinations in our above video demonstrates.
Furthermore, Holloway builds off the jab very well. In contrast to his varied kicking assault, Holloway’s combinations are generally fairly simple. He mostly relies on his jab, cross, and lead hook, but Holloway uses feints and high activity to make his boxing more than formidable.
Hooking off the jab is a great technique that allows Holloway to throw a wrench into his foe’s expectations. By going around the guard rather than through it with a cross, Holloway lands a punch that surprises his foe, creating uncertainty. Additionally, hooking to the body directly off the jab is a great tactic to land body shots, and consistent body work is one of the best aspects of his game.
Holloway routinely breaks down his opponent’s defense and conditioning via body shots (GIF). Holloway is one of the most high-volume strikers in the game and rarely slows down, meaning that body work is an especially effective choice for him. Aside from hooking off the jab, Holloway will look to close distance and rip multiple hooks to the body at a time.
The best example of Holloway’s body work came in his most recent win over Anthony Pettis. Early on, the two strikers exchanged pretty evenly, but Holloway’s pace and volume slowly built up while Pettis’ dwindled. As Pettis fatigued, Holloway slammed home some kicks to the body and swarmed his opponent, forcing the first stoppage loss of Pettis’ career (GIF).
One of the other more notable techniques of Holloway is his ability to draw his foe into counters. He’s a very active striker who’s willing to work from the pocket, causing his opponent to expect him to be in range. Often, that allows Holloway to touch his opponent with a long jab or cross before pulling back. When his opponent comes up short, Holloway is in range to counter (GIF).
Additionally, Holloway is a smart kicker with a wide variety of techniques. For the most part, he sticks to smartly set up round house kicks. For example, he’ll get his foe moving backwards or take an angle before chopping at the leg. Additionally, Holloway will take advantage of being in the opposite stance of his opponent and attack with power kicks to the body (GIF).
The biggest addition to Holloway’s game has been his spinning back kick. It’s another excellent technique that works the body, and Holloway sets it up well. Usually, he’ll look for this strike when his opponent is trying to take a breather or is backed into the fence, as he’s more likely to land (GIF). Recently, Holloway has began throwing the spinning wheel kick as well, which builds off the threat of the back kick.
Another interesting technique in Holloway’s arsenal is him jump knee to the body from Southpaw, which he landed on Cub Swanson numerous times. Holloway managed to leap into a brutal strike to the mid-section each time he threw it, capitalizing on his opponent’s crouched posture and head movement. After landing, he would follow up with strikes.
Holloway’s defense has improved alongside the rest of his game. Several years back, he was getting in wild brawls with Leonard Garcia and relying on his chin to keep him upright. Fast forward to modern day and Holloway has gotten very good at covering up to avoid shots and angling off after landing his own punches.
Holloway opened his UFC career by getting taken down and submitted by Dustin Poirier on short-notice as a 20-year-old with four professional fights. He resisted both the takedown and submission admirably, but many thought it was a weakness heading into future bouts. It’s now been two years since Holloway was taken down, and veteran wrestlers like Jeremy Stephens and Ricardo Lamas failed to even come close.
Holloway hasn’t needed to look for takedowns very often in his UFC career, but his two successes came in the clinch. Opposite Cole Miller, Holloway transitioned into a double leg against the fence and dragged his foe to the mat. More recently, Holloway landed a simple trip on Stephens in the final round of their bout, solidifying his win.
In his last bout, however, Holloway mixed it up on the feet to score a couple sweep takedowns. After landing on Pettis’ lead leg quite a bit, Holloway was able to instead step deep rather than kick, causing Pettis to trip backwards over him (GIF).
Holloway’s takedown defense is the more important part of his game, and it’s excellent. Simply put, Holloway does every element of takedown defense very well, and that starts with his stand up. Thanks to his good habits of maintaining a healthy distance — or hiding his ability to close distance with footwork — and keeping his feet under him, Holloway is rarely caught out of position and is difficult to shoot against. He’s constantly fighting at an angle, which makes lining up a shot very troublesome.
When his opponent does get in on his hips, Holloway sprawls well or will get his back against the fence. From there, he continues to widen his base while scoring with occasional punches and elbows.
Finally, Holloway does a very nice job limiting the amount of time he spends on his back. When he is brought down to the mat, he quickly bounces back up or wall-walks. While this does take a fair amount of energy, Holloway has an extremely deep gas tank. Meanwhile, his opponent — who’s likely been eating body shots the whole night — just did a ton of work with very little payoff, leaving him in prime position to eat more punches and kicks.
Since Holloway spends so little time on the mat, much of his jiu-jitsu game is fairly unknown. When he’s on his back, Holloway isn’t searching for submissions, he’s trying to scramble back to his feet. That said, Holloway has demonstrated at least one wrinkle of his submission game inside the Octagon. He’s become very aggressive with his high elbow guillotine choke, which is responsible for two of the wins on his current streak.
The first came at the end of a back-and-forth battle with Andre Fili. After hurting the Californian with a spinning kick to the body, Holloway moved in and fired off a combination. The wounded Fili shot in for a single-leg takedown, and Holloway seized the opportunity by snatching his neck and falling into the choke. When Fili attempted to roll out, Holloway hung on long enough to force the tap (GIF).
More recently, Holloway repeatedly attacked Swanson with the same guillotine. Holloway rocked and dropped Swanson multiple times in their bout, and he usually followed him to the mat and tried to force the choke. In the third round, Holloway finally locked it in and advanced into mount. From there, he cranked on his opponent’s neck and broken jaw until “Killer Cub” submitted (GIF).
Finally, Holloway countered Lamas’ double-leg attempts with his guillotine. He was able to gain top position twice thanks to this submission, and he even attempted a transition into the north-south choke at one point. Defensively, Holloway really hasn’t been tested all that much recently, as none of his opponents have been able to consistently take him down or do anything with their brief top position.
Holloway has already earned a fair amount of great wins and went on a win streak befitting a champion. Frankly, his 10 victories in a row is more impressive than what most official champions have done lately. If he can cap that off by defeating Aldo — one of the Top 5 best to ever compete in UFC — and uniting the crowns, Holloway will really carve out his spot in history.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.