Max Holloway is in a tough spot, but you wouldn't know it by speaking to him.
The 29-year-old Hawaiian, widely regarded as one of the best MMA featherweights of all time, is on an unfamiliar two-fight losing streak after winning 14 consecutive fights in the division.
The first of those two losses occurred in December 2019, when he surrendered the featherweight title to Australia's Alexander Volkanovski via unanimous decision. The second occurred in the pair's immediate rematch, in July 2020, when he lost a split decision in a fight that many viewers scored in his favor.
With these two losses behind him, Holloway needs to produce a win when he takes on No. 6-ranked featherweight contender Calvin Kattar at UFC on ABC 1 this Saturday, but if the pressure's getting to him, he's hiding it well.
"I feel like the champ," the Hawaiian told Bleacher Report after island hopping from Oahu, Hawaii, to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where the fight with Kattar will go down. "The hard work is done."
"I'm counting down the days," he added. "I wish that we could fast-forward time a little bit. I just want to get in there."
It's not surprising to hear Holloway, who's become known for his gratuitous use of the term "it is what it is," sounding so calm. Yet his calmness is admittedly difficult to comprehend.
Here's a man who's gearing up for a potentially career-altering fistfight—in the midst of one of the most turbulent eras in human history—and he speaks with the mellow tone of a vacationer.
Holloway attributes his remarkable composure to his satisfaction with his accomplishments thus far. Back home in Hawaii, where his young son, Rush, and new fiancee, Alessa Quizon, await his return, he has a closetful of championship belts.
His happiness doesn't hinge on expanding that collection.
"I've got five titles in my house right now, in the closet," he said. "Nobody can ever take that away from me, and that's how we measure greatness in the long run. It's not who won the last championship match, but who did it the most.
"And like I always said, I never needed the belt to be a champion," he added. "A champion is someone who carries himself in a certain way, and that's what I continue to do."
Despite Holloway's adamance that he doesn't need the featherweight title to be happy, that doesn't mean he doesn't want it back. Like all of his peers, his goal is to be a world champion, and a win over Kattar will be a big step toward that end.
He doesn't expect that win to come easy. Ever the picture of class, Holloway holds his next foe in high regard.
"Calvin is here for a reason," he said. "He's saying that I might be overlooking him, or overlooking him would be a mistake, but he deserves to be here, and he's right: Overlooking him would be a mistake.
"A lot of people say he's one of the better boxers in MMA," he added. "The difference between me and him is I've been here and he hasn't quite yet. We'll get to see how that plays out come fight night, and I can't wait to go out there and mix it up."
While a win over Kattar will cement Holloway's status as the featherweight division's No. 1-ranked contender, it won't guarantee him a shot at the title he once guarded so ferociously.
Despite all of his previous success and the competitive nature of his two losses to Volkanovski, the reality is that he's 0-2 against the champion, and a third fight between them is simply a tough sell—particularly given that Volkanovski recently expressed his disinterest in that possibility in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
According to Holloway, however, Volkanovski should be more welcoming of a third fight, given the nature of their last encounter in the Octagon.
"It's hard to be mad," Holloway said, responding to Volkanovski's reluctance to fight for a third time. "Eighty to 90 percent of the world thinks I won [the last fight], and these are not just fans. This is [Georges St-Pierre's] coach [Firas Zahabi], [veteran MMA referee] 'Big' John [McCarthy]—the guy who created the rules. This is competitors like Nate [Diaz], Dustin [Poirier], Jorge [Masvidal]...all of those guys.
"Let me put it this way," he continued. "My mindset is, if all of those guys thought I lost to [Jose] Aldo, I probably would have moved to Brazil and tried to fight him every day to remove all doubts. But that's just me, that's just the way I think."
As complicated as his earning another title shot could be with Volkanovski on the throne, Holloway isn't panicked about the situation. His focus is on defeating Kattar this Saturday and seeing how the land lies thereafter.
While his legions of supporters might be concerned by his apparent lack of urgency, he reminds that, contrary to all the time he's spent in the Octagon, he's still only 29 years old.
Time is on his side.
"MMA is a weird sport," Holloway said. "Anything can happen, so you've got to be ready at all times. I don't know where a win over Calvin puts me [in the division], all I know is I'm going to go in there, do my thing, have fun, and whatever happens, happens. I'll leave it in the hands of my agent after the fight, and we'll go from there.
"The thing is, a lot of people forget I just turned 29," the former featherweight champion added. "I've got nothing but time."