Questions Still Linger over Max Holloway's July Health Scare Ahead of UFC 231

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterDecember 5, 2018

Max Holloway
Max HollowayKathy Willens/Associated Press


It's probably not coming soon to any dictionary near you, but it's how Max Holloway described his condition on the fateful week of UFC 226. That week in July culminated with the cancellation of his featherweight title defense against Brian Ortega, with the official result being "concussion-like symptoms"—revealed on national television, no less.

The term could just as easily describe all of 2018 for the featherweight champ: three postponed or canceled fights, one televised health scare, one ongoing medical investigation and an uncountable number of questions about his physical and mental status.

Given all this, when Holloway said he's just excited to fight againwhich he'll do Saturday at UFC 231 in the rescheduled bout with Ortega at Scotiabank Arena in Torontothere's no need for a polygraph.

"I can't wait to go out there and feel the energy," Holloway told Bleacher Report. "I can't wait to make that walk."

But even as fight night draws near, and reporter after reporter asks him about that week in July, plenty of uncertainty remains over Holloway's health status.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 03:  Brian Ortega celebrates his victory over Frankie Edgar following their featherweight bout during UFC 222 at T-Mobile Arena on March 3, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ortega won by TKO.  (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

Some questions come from fellow fighters, who say Holloway's condition is simpler than the champ lets on. Although Holloway has dismissed weight-cutting, among other factors, as potential culprits, one ex-champ said he showed telltale signs of the dehydration associated with weight-cutting.

"He better hope it's a weight-cutting issue. If not, that's much scarier," said Rashad Evans, the former UFC light heavyweight champion who will cover UFC 231 on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast desk. "He [hides this] because he doesn't want to look unprofessional. He doesn't want to appear to the UFC like he can't cut it. I don't want to call him out or call him a liar, but to me, it seems obvious he wanted to save face a bit, and there's nothing wrong with that."

Weight-cutting issues appeared earlier this year for Holloway when his cut forced his withdrawal from a 155-pound title bout in April with Khabib Nurmagomedov. His preparation began on less than a week's notice thanks to a prior withdrawal, but it was a direct result nonetheless.

In July, Holloway's problems began early in the week. He said he felt a lot of strange symptoms, many of which were unfamiliar to him.

"Something was wrong after my first meal, and it just got worse," Holloway said. "I felt not myself. It was just wild. You could see it in the interview. I was in, like, disbelief. I was super tired. Just a lot of messed-uppery."

If you're just joining us, the interview in question involved Holloway and FS1 broadcasters Michael Bisping and Kenny Florian. As the minutes ticked by, Holloway's face began to sag, his eyes began to droop, his speech began to slur.

Bisping, who is not known for discretion, quickly spoke up.

"Max, you say you feel great, so don't be offended when I say this, but you look like you just got out of bed," he said. "Are you tired? What's going on? How's the weight cut? Are you drained? You look a little sleepy."

The wave of concern was immediate, but Holloway was adamant about continuing. Given the year's two previous cancellationsone a fight with Frankie Edgar and the other with lightweight champ Nurmagomedovthere was clear pressure to compete.

That's when his team stepped in.

"They told me after open workouts to get in the van," Holloway said. "They told me it was media, and the UFC just added it. I got in, and the next thing I know we're at the ER."

After the cancellation came a period of radio silence. The public expressed its concern and ventured its own diagnoses. Concussion or subconcussive trauma? Weight-cutting? A stroke? Holloway shot them all down.

Four months have passed, and there's still no root cause identified, according to Holloway. Hence the ongoing "private medical investigation" he said is working to identify the culprit. That's usually the kind of phrasing reserved for drug company research or criminals, but Holloway said that's the state of things and that he can't comment further on what may be happening.

From the outside looking in, it's impossible to know where the truth lies, especially given the secrecy. What's clear is there was reason for concern. For his part, Holloway has been vocal about mental health and said depression is an ongoing challenge for him and was in full force that week.

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 30:  Rashad Evans, former UFC light heavyweight champion and teammate of Kamaru Usman, reacts after Usman's victory over Rafael Dos Anjos during The Ultimate Fighter Finale event inside The Pearl concert theater at Palms Casino Re
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Cut back to Evans. He readily acknowledged he isn't a doctor, but he was a fighter and had some penetrating observations about Holloway's video, which he said pointed to weight-cutting.

"When I first saw [the video], I thought maybe he looked drawn-out. I thought honestly he was tired and didn't want to there. But then I saw a look in his eyes that he wasn't controlling voluntarily," Evans said. "As a fighter, I can tell when another fighter is having trouble with dehydration, because the eyelids start to stick to the eyeballs, and when you blink they don't move in coordination."

Holloway denied that weight-cutting played any part.

"If it was weight-cutting, that [would be] ridiculous," Holloway said. "I would have been stripped [of the title]."

Once the questions end, Holloway will face Ortega, a well-rounded and charismatic challenger. If Holloway should lose, the questions will respawn, perhaps with even greater urgency. Holloway said he's feeling good and is ready to go. He is not on any medications and credits "time, I guess" to helping him heal.

His recovery is why Evans said fans may see Holloway's best self, as the aggressive and hyper-talented champ attempts to put the issue behind him, at least to the best of the public's knowledge.

"Max is gonna come out and fight to say 'I'm fine, I'm Maxy Baby as usual,'" Evans said. "He wants to throw those emotions, those flames of upsetness, into the blaze of the fire."


Scott Harris writes about MMA and other things for Bleacher Report.


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