UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway felt the wrath of the New York State Athletic Commission more than anyone during a wild UFC 223 fight week in April.
Holloway stepped in for an injured Tony Ferguson to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title, only to be removed from the card the day of weigh-ins by the commission, which cited his large weight cut on just six-days’ notice.
Despite the clash with the commission, Holloway wants to give area fans a show as soon as possible, potentially when the UFC is expected to return to Madison Square Garden in November.
“Hopefully I can come back to New York,” Holloway said. “I owe one to New York, I actually owe two, I was supposed to be in two of the Brooklyn cards, so I think that’s the way of a greater or higher being telling me, ‘you’re not going to fight in Brooklyn, you’re going to fight in Madison Square Garden.’ ”
Holloway (19-3, 15-3 UFC) first has business to take care of at UFC 226 next weekend. He’s scheduled to face Brian Ortega (14-0, 1 NC) for his 145-pound belt in the co-main event on July 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, but he says a fight with Nurmagomedov and a move to 155 pounds could be in the cards if things go well against Ortega.
“I hear New York’s got a big card in November, so I wouldn’t mind coming back, redemption’s on my mind,” the Hawaiian said. “But first things first, we’ve got Ortega up to bat, so I’ll take care of the flavor of the month with that cupcake and see who’s out there next.”
Holloway said rescheduling a fight with Nurmagomedov, who beat Al Iaquinta for the lightweight title at UFC 223, makes the most sense from a financial point of view for him and the UFC.
“It’s funny cause Dana at that press conference actually said that the fight with me and Khabib was trending higher than [UFC] 205, that’s a million-buy pay-per-view,” Holloway said. “So business-wise, it was pretty crazy that he said that and I was kind of blown away. I wouldn’t knock that fight out of the water yet. . . . Business-wise, behind the scenes all the UFC guys, they keep talking to me. So we should ask people who they want to see next.”
Holloway attributed his issues with the commission as “growing pains” for an agency still getting used to regulating mixed martial arts and didn’t fault its handling of the situation.
“They just came to the room the morning of. They said they’d come check on me randomly, came a bunch of times, the last time they came they said, ‘look, we’re going to call it, we just don’t like the way you look.’
“We pretty much could’ve made weight and they still were not going to clear me to fight,” Holloway said. “I was a little bigger, and they like to see things at certain times, but that doctor was checking on me religiously throughout the week. We took the fight on six days, so it happens man, it happens. I’m not going to knock him for doing his job.”
The UFC quickly moved to schedule a fight with Ortega after Holloway was pulled from the Barclays Center event, slotting the bout just before a superfight between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier for the heavyweight title at one of the promotion’s tentpole events.
The matchup gives the champion his first true title fight against someone other than Jose Aldo, and fresh blood alone has the man nicknamed “Blessed” ready to go.
“When they call it a superfight, I don’t think they’re only talking about the heavyweight title shot, I think they’re talking about the co-main event, too. I think it’s a big fight for the sport and a big fight for my division. For the last 10 years, it’s finally somebody whose name is not Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, [Chad] Mendes or even Conor [McGregor] in it, so it’s an amazing time right now.”
Holloway was impressed when Ortega became the first fighter to finish Edgar in his last bout and believes he has a great team behind him, but the champion plans to keep his focus on himself when fight night arrives.
“It’s no secret what I want to do — I’m going to go out there and punch you in the face, it’s what we do,” Holloway said. “There’s no secret behind it, man, why fix something that’s not broken? We don’t change too much. Everybody agreed that this guy is a fit competitor and he’s one of the best and he’s the best guy out there right now so that’s why I wanted him. I just can’t wait to test myself.”