UFC 276: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will fight for more than a belt at UFC 276 on Saturday in Las Vegas. The winner of their co-headlining bout can fairly be called the greatest featherweight in UFC history.
It will be the third time the two stars have met. The Australian champion Volkanovski won the first encounter in late 2019, swiping the title from Holloway with a unanimous decision. He also won their immediate rematch in July 2020, defeating his Hawaiian rival via split decision, although there's a reasonable dispute on who actually won the second fight.
While that brought the Aussie to 2-0 in their rivalry—not your typical foundation for a trilogy fight—both of his victories were extremely close, and the second was downright controversial.
A "tiebreaker" has been justifiable since the last time the two featherweight greats were in the Octagon together. They made it unavoidable by scoring two wins apiece in the time since. Volkanovski defended the title with a decision win over Brian Ortega last year and a lopsided TKO defeat of Chan Sung Jung in April. Holloway rattled off a pair of thrilling decision wins over top contenders Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez.
Those victories reaffirmed they're two of the best featherweights in UFC history. Saturday, we'll find out which guy is the best.
Volkanovski and Holloway are both excellent strikers, but they have different styles.
Volkanovski is a technician via great muay thai and solid defense. Holloway is a long-range boxer who features nice kicks to the body and head, and places, shall we say, little importance on trivialities such as defense.
Both guys had plenty of striking success in their first two meetings. Volkanovski landed 157 of 303 significant strike attempts in the first fight, while Holloway landed 134 times on an identical 303 attempts.
Volkanovski also outstruck the Hawaiian in the rematch, but again by a thin margin, landing 137 of 272 attempts, while Holloway connected on 102 of 268 attempts.
They are evenly matched on paper.
Still, we've got to give the slightest of edges to Volkanovski, because the numbers don't lie. He was the more effective striker across his and Holloway's first 50 minutes in the cage together.
There's no reason to assume he won't be the same in the third fight. In fact, his striking has recently been looking better than ever, which is no surprise given that he's been rubbing shoulders with ONE Championship featherweight muay thai king Superbon Singha Mawynn in Thailand.
Neither Volkanovski nor Holloway is known for submissions, and neither guy shows that side of his game often.
Volkanovski has earned just three of his 24 career wins by submission, while Holloway has earned just two of 23 in that fashion. Those are submission rates of 12.5 and 8.7, respectively. Neither man seems especially interested in changing that, either. Volkanovski has attempted just 0.2 submissions per 15 minutes since joining the UFC, while Holloway has attempted a slightly higher 0.3 per 15 minutes.
That doesn't mean either guy is bad at jiu-jitsu. Volkanovski, a black belt under Joe Lopez, proved that side of his game is in good working order in his decision win over submission specialist Brian Ortega in September, while Holloway, a brown belt under Rylan Lizares, once submitted BJJ black belt Cub Swanson.
It's another close matchup on paper. Still, we've got to give it to the guy with the higher belt ranking and the higher submission rate.
If there's one area of this matchup where Volkanovski has a clear edge, it's the wrestling. Statistically speaking, Holloway has him beat in terms of takedown accuracy (66 to 36 percent) and takedown defense (84 to 70 percent), but those figures don't tell the complete story.
Wrestling is simply much bigger part of Volkanovski's strategy, and that's reflected by one key stat: He completes far more takedowns per 15 minutes than Holloway does—1.95 to 0.31. In other words, his takedowns don't always work, but he doesn't stop trying until they do.
His second fight with Holloway was a great example of this, as he completed just three of nine attempts. That doesn't look like a lot—because it isn't—but in a close fight, a few takedowns can be a big factor.
Holloway's X-Factor: Durability
Max Holloway has one of the greatest chins in MMA history, but he has taken a tremendous amount of damage throughout his career—particularly in his recent fights with Yair Rodriguez, Volkanovski and Dustin Poirier.
Sooner or later, that damage will catch up with him, and he will no longer be able to count on his iron chin—at least, not with the same certainty that he has in the past. He better hope his durability doesn't fail him in this fight with Volkanovski who, while not exactly a knockout puncher, has shown that he packs plenty of power when he loads up. Just ask Chad Mendes.
Volkanovski's X-Factor: Patience
There's a lot of pressure on Volkanovski. He is well on his way to cementing himself as the greatest featherweight of all time, but he is still dogged by the controversial nature of his first two bouts with Holloway—particularly the second.
That may lead him to chase a more decisive outcome in the third fight, particularly if he believes Holloway's durability is fading. If he gets overeager, which admittedly seems unlikely, he could fall into any number of traps.
This is one of those matchups where one fighter—in this case, Volkanovski—seems to have all the tools to beat the other but still can't be guaranteed a victory. As different as they are in some respects, Volkanovski and Holloway have proved to be the equal of the other both in the cage and on paper, so there's really no telling how the third fight will end.
Still, we've got to go with the champ. It all comes down to context. He won the first two bouts—close as they may have been—and has looked better than ever in his last two fights. Holloway, meanwhile, has been winning grueling decisions that, while impressive, have to have taken a toll.
Maybe this won't be the fight when Holloway's legendary durability fails him, but it's not going to help.
Prediction: Volkanovski by unanimous decision