LAS VEGAS — UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway’s representatives say he is dropping out of his title defense against Brian Ortega at UFC 226 this weekend due to apparent concussion symptoms.
Holloway’s management team announced the decision in a statement issued Wednesday night, three days before the bout.
The UFC confirmed the news Thursday afternoon and said Ortega will not fight on its biggest show of the summer. Derrick Lewis vs. Francis Ngannou becomes the co-main event, and Paul Felder vs. Mike Perry moves up to the main card.
“Max’s team and UFC staff noticed Max was not normal since late last week,” the statement from Holloway’s camp said.
Holloway’s camp indicated the champion stayed overnight in an emergency room Monday before he had even started his weight cut for the bout. Holloway was taken to an emergency room again Wednesday after awakening groggily from a nap following an open workout for fans at the MGM Grand.
“Max fought with his team to continue with the fight,” the statement said. “He showed some improvement (from Tuesday to Wednesday) 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.”
In an interview earlier Wednesday, Holloway (19-3) said he was particularly excited about fighting on the UFC’s International Fight Week card, held annually in Las Vegas near the Fourth of July holiday. He was eager to fight in front of a large group of fans traveling to Vegas from his native Hawaii.
He was also excited to fight on a card with Daniel Cormier, his close friend and the UFC light heavyweight champion, who is moving up to challenge heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic in the main event.
“Glad to be back in action,” Holloway said. “Glad to be rocking and rolling. This week is going to be special. ... I feel blessed. It’s a huge fight for sure, and I’m just so grateful and so thankful to be part of a week like this. People don’t understand. This is the Super Bowl of the UFC. There’s two fight cards you want to get on: The International Fight Week or the end-of-the-year card, and I got on one of them.”
The 26-year-old Holloway is one of the UFC’s most dominant and most charismatic champions, but he has been pulled from three prospective bouts this year due to three apparently different health problems.
Holloway initially was scheduled to defend his belt against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 on March 3, but he was pulled from the bout in early February due to a leg injury.
Holloway then volunteered to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight belt on six days’ notice in early April after Tony Ferguson dropped out of the much-anticipated title bout with an injury. But Holloway couldn’t make the weight cut in time, with doctors pulling him from the show one day before the weigh-in when he showed distress.
Holloway last fought in December, when he stopped former champ Jose Aldo for the second consecutive time. He won the interim featherweight title by beating Anthony Pettis in December 2016, and he took the undisputed title with his first victory over Aldo last June.
He has won 12 consecutive fights since losing a decision to Conor McGregor in August 2013.
Ortega (14-0) was up next for Holloway after the Los Angeles-area native extended his unbeaten career in March with a knockout victory over Edgar.
The UFC’s International Fight Week show has lost a major fight due to injury for the fourth consecutive year, including three straight years during the week of the fight.
Last July, bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes dropped out of her bout with Valentina Shevchenko just a few hours before the show with an illness.
In 2016, Jon Jones was scheduled for a light heavyweight title rematch with Cormier, but Jones was pulled three days before the show due to a violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy.