Max Holloway told fans they were entering the "blessed" era when he defeated Jose Aldo at UFC 212 in June. At UFC 218, he sent out a not-so-friendly reminder that it's still his time in the featherweight division.
The reigning champ successfully defended his belt via third-round TKO in the main event from the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Saturday.
Whereas Holloway waited for Aldo to initiate in the first round of their first meeting, the champion was more aggressive in the opening frame this time. The Hawaiian established his range with the left hand, while Aldo made the round close with his counterpunching.
Bloody Elbow scored the frame for Holloway despite some hard strikes from Aldo:
Bloody Elbow @BloodyElbow
Right uppercut to left hand from Aldo to close the round. Best strikes of the round. Still likely 10-9 Holloway. #UFC2182017-12-3 05:22:03
The challenger went back to his infamous leg kicks in the second round. It was an element of the Brazilian's attack that was missing in the first bout; however, it didn't do much to dissuade Holloway from opening up in the second round.
Freelance MMA reporter Simon Head summed up the round:
Simon Head @simonhead
Superbly contested second round goes to the champion. Holloway took a few Aldo leg kicks, but adjusted well and outstruck the former champ. 19-19 after two. #UFC2182017-12-3 05:29:01
UFC Canada passed along some of the action from the frame:
UFC Canada @UFC_CA
They are TRADING @BlessedMMA vs. @JoseAldoJunior at #UFC218 https://t.co/5iOmhBCF8K2017-12-3 05:28:34
Much like in the first fight, Holloway's pace and distance management turned out to be too much for Aldo. The third round started with back-and-forth exchanges that soon became one-sided for the champion.
Aldo fired counters, but the punches didn't stop coming from Holloway. Once the champ broke through, he drowned Aldo in punches to the body and head until Aldo went for a desperation takedown. He almost survived to see a fourth round, but Holloway drew the stoppage with nine seconds left in the frame.
After the bout, Holloway showed nothing but respect for his opponent in saying he has a while to go before he replaces Aldo as the best featherweight of all time, per MMAFighting.com:
Holloway on surpassing Aldo: The man got all the numbers. I gotta catch up with the title defense record and then we can talk about it. #UFC2182017-12-3 05:38:28
The win cements Holloway's position atop the division, and he appears primed to be the man who can bring stability to the weight class.
For nearly five years Aldo lorded over the division until he lost the title to Conor McGregor. The Notorious then held the weight class hostage while he chased after lightweight glory. From there, Aldo was once again crowned the champion and subsequently lost the strap to Holloway.
He's emerged as the man to beat in the division. He's the first person to successfully defend the featherweight title since Aldo did it against Chad Mendes in October 2014.
Holloway isn't planning on going anywhere, either. The 25-year-old is in his prime and has plans that go beyond just gaining notoriety in the fight game.
"I don't want to just be [considered] the greatest fighter of all time," Holloway said, per Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports. "I want to be [considered] the greatest athlete of all time. I don't want to be the next LeBron James. There's already a LeBron James. I want to be Max Holloway."
Certainly if it just comes down to fighting ability, the champion has more than proved himself to be a star. The win is his 12th straight victory, with the last two coming against the most dominant fighter in the history of his division.
This result also puts Aldo's future in question. Scarface has been a dominant champion and only has four losses, with Holloway and McGregor the only two to beat him in the last decade.
Perhaps the time has come for him to move up a division and take on interesting opponents in the lightweight class.
This is no longer his division. That distinction belongs to Holloway.