Used to fighting for UFC gold, Max Holloway is preparing for a pretty gilded moment come Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
The former featherweight champion, 29, takes on dangerous Calvin Kattar in the headline bout at UFC Fight Night, which opens the promotion’s third Fight Island series in the capital.
It checks off a series of firsts, actually. It’s the first UFC event of 2021, the first show at the gleaming new Etihad Arena, and for the first time in the promotion in what feels like years and not 10 months, fans will be able to attend. It will also be beamed live on network TV in the United States – a return to American masses for the first time since late 2018.
So, belt or no belt, Holloway’s excited.
“What a time to be alive,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I can’t wait. We got to find out we got fans, we found out that we’re on ABC and then we also find out that I’m the first main event in that new arena. It’s a bunch of pluses. Fighting is fighting, but I can’t wait to go out there Saturday night and do my thing.”
And for someone whose past eight fights have all been for a strap, the fact there's no title up for grabs doesn't dim the glow one bit.
“No difference at all,” Holloway said. “Every time I had the belt with me I said that is just a piece of fabric to let people know who I was. I wasn’t too crazy about it. It was a belt to let people know I was a champion. But I always told myself I would carry myself like a champion and that’s what I’ll continue doing.
“This is a huge fight. I’m just excited that I get to be in this opportunity and I can’t wait to go out there and do my thing.”
Given his opponent, he'll most likely need to do his thing to the best of his ability. Kattar sits as the division's sixth-ranked challenger - Holloway is still No 1, recent foe Alexander Volkanovski the champion - who impressed greatly during his past two victories. Like Holloway, his last outing came on the original Fight Island, in July.
So, for now at least, a trilogy fight with Volkanovski can wait, despite the fact both decision defeats were hugely contentious.
"First things first I’ve got Calvin," Holloway said. "I’ve got my hands full with that, but I’ll go there and do my job and we’ll see after that."
Still, considering how the two clashes went down, Volkanovski casts a long shadow.
“I don’t know [if a third encounter comes after victory on Saturday],” Holloway said. “The only thing that I can do is go out there and I can control what happens in the octagon. I get the job done.
“And outside the octagon? That’s why we’ve got managers. He better go do his job after this fight. I’m going to do my job come Saturday night and he’s going to take care of his after the fight.”