Max Holloway said he delivered the best performance of his storied career against Calvin Kattar in Abu Dhabi early on Sunday, as the former featherweight champion strengthened his case for a trilogy clash with current belt-holder Alexander Volkanovski.
Ranked the division’s No 1 contender, Holloway dominated sixth-placed Kattar at UFC Fight Night in the capital to cruise to a unanimous decision, concluding the first event to be held at Etihad Arena in real style. The opening of three shows on Fight Island "Triple Header", it marked the first time since March that fans have been able to attend a UFC event.
Holloway took the bout 50-43, 50-43, 50-42 and in the process set a number of records, including for significant strikes landed (445, previous 290) and significant strike attempts (744, previous 515). At one point late on, the Hawaiian turned away from Kattar to scream to the broadcast team cage-side that he was the best boxer in the UFC – a reference to pre-fight predictions that his opponent would out-perform him when it came to trading blows.
Asked if it was his best display to date in his 24 UFC fights, Holloway said: “For sure. I was having the time of my life, man. I got to talk to [colour commentator Daniel Cormier] a little bit in there, let him know I'm coming for his job. ... your guys' jobs ain't safe, either. I want it all, baby."
The victory returned Holloway to winning ways after successive point-losses to Volkanovski, with the most recent being at the original Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in July. However, both were considered contentious.
The Australian is set to take on Brian Ortega in late March, and has repeatedly rejected talk of a third match-up against Holloway.
“He doesn’t want a tougher fight guys,” said Holloway, whose nickname is ‘Blessed’. “Let that sink in. He didn’t say he wants a tougher challenge. He knows who’s the toughest challenge; he knows it’s me. At the end of the day I’m not going to force anyone to fight me. I’m going to stay ready, do whatever I’ve got to do.
“We’ll see what happens. I can’t speak to him. I don’t know what will happen. When we get faced with the opportunity then we see. To get my first title, I had to win 10 fights and an interim [title]. Hard work? I ain't scared of no hard work. You know the saying: to be the best, you've go to beat the best. And the best is 'Blessed,' baby, so bring them all."
Speaking just beforehand, UFC president Dana White said Holloway deserved another shot at Volkanovski.
“We have to. I mean, when you’re the champion, you have the top five guys in the world gunning at you. When you’re the No 1 contender in the world, you’ve got the top 10 guys in the world. Sometimes, No 8 is more dangerous than No 3.
“Tonight, he fought a bad dude that a lot of people thought was going to beat him. He went out and treated him like No 6, so he did what he needed to do in spectacular fashion tonight. He deserves to fight Volkanovski again."
On the reigning champion, White said: “Listen, he’s got this Ortega fight coming up. I think for a guy like him to watch this fight tonight when he’s the No 1 contender, the way that he looked, Volkanovski can’t even deny Max deserves another shot.”
The UFC aired on ABC network in the United States for the first time and it was also the first event since 2018 to be broadcast on network television. ABC used to have a strong tradition for hosting the most prominent names in boxing.
"Maybe Muhammad Ali put a little bit of spirit in me, I don't know,” Holloway said, in reference to his ducking and diving when he turned away from Kattar. “That was a little bit of Muhammad right there. I was in the zone.
“I felt great. Just blessed to be on ABC, blessed to have fans back, blessed to be the first card of the year, blessed to be here in Etihad Arena – the first time – to be the first main event and send new numbers. I found out I hit him 700 times or something. That’s really cool. I was in my bag today."