It wasn't all that long ago that the notion of a fighter winning two UFC belts in different weight classes concurrently was a fanciful one. Conor McGregor blew the doors off that idea, of course, and opened the gates for champions who decided that fame and glory and money resided not in their own division, but in another.
That's what Max Holloway was chasing when he fought Dustin Poirier for the lightweight title at UFC 236 in Atlanta. Holloway, the reigning featherweight champion, lost to Poirier by unanimous decision on Saturday night in a fight to crown the interim champion at 155 pounds.
Poirier's power was too much for Holloway to overcome. He shellacked the Hawaiian early in the first round. And though Holloway rebounded and had plenty of bright spots—just making it to the final bell was a bright spot in and of itself—he had no real answer for Poirier's strength. That is to be expected; Holloway was moving up a weight class, after all.
But it raises the question of why Holloway, as other elite fighters have done before and will again, felt the need to chase titles in other divisions.
Money is the biggest motivator, of course, and rightly so. How many of us would choose a thing because it would help create a legacy, something for people to remember us by? And how many of us would choose something not because we want to be remembered, but because it would bestow upon us a financial windfall the likes of which we never could have imagined? I'll wager the second category far outstrips the first, and for good reason.
Fighters will say all sorts of things when a camera's on them. They'll say the right thing, even if it's not the truthful thing. TJ Dillashaw didn't cheat his way to being knocked out by Henry Cejudo because he wanted people hundreds of years from now to speak his name in hushed tones. No, Dillashaw presumably did it so he could make more money. The sad part? His legacy is now that of a cheater.
And this is the norm, this I'll do anything stigma. Fighters are human, which means they have real human concerns, and finances are almost always at the top of the list.
But then there's Holloway. He says he's chasing greatness. A legacy. I believe him, and I've learned over 12 years of covering this industry when you can believe what a fighter tells you.
But Holloway feels like he's telling the truth. He's not obsessed with riches and living a lavish lifestyle like McGregor. He doesn't really care about owning stuff or about being seen as rich or powerful.
When Holloway says he's chasing a legacy, I believe it. Because to know Max Holloway is to know he is not like the rest of us. He's authentic in a sport that is anything but. He's got that chill Hawaiian vibe. But mostly, he just doesn't seem to be found wanting for the things that appear to drive others in this sport.
This fight was about the hardware for Holloway, and everything that would have added to his legacy, even if it was only an interim title.
Interim titles are a fictional construct designed to give importance to UFC events where a real championship fight did not materialize. And yet, Holloway vs. Poirier felt like more than just your usual window dressing for casual fans. It was a matchup of two of the very best fighters in the world, regardless of weight class, even if neither man would have much of a bountiful night against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
And maybe it's for the best that Holloway wasn't able to win Saturday night. He is an alarmingly good and precise fighter, but Khabib is in a different realm. He isn't infallible, of course, because no fighter is. He is, however, incredibly tough and extremely good at what he does. And he is strong, which is a trait Holloway has trouble with.
Still, Holloway has plenty on the horizon. He has a full division of featherweight talent waiting for him to come back down to his throne. There is also a rematch with McGregor, who may someday return to the UFC, pending the results of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault. McGregor defeated a very young Holloway back in 2013, but any notion that the rematch would be similar is a false construct, especially given the Irishman has fought just once over the past two years.
Every fighter who has won concurrent UFC titles in separate divisions always says they want to defend both belts—this is where being skeptical comes in handy—and thus far, none of them have. And with good reason. Reaching the pinnacle of a UFC weight class is close to impossible. Doing it a second time? It's beyond the pale.
But maybe that'll be Holloway's legacy, someday. That's the one he says he's chasing. Maybe he'll be the athlete to do it, to hold two separate titles around his waist at the same time and keep them. It didn't happen this time around, but he's still just 27 years old, is supremely talented and can do just about anything he wants in the sport, including winning two belts.
And if he can, it's not Max Holloway who is truly blessed.
It's the rest of us.