Not long after a July news conference for UFC 226, Dana White slumped back into a couch in a tiny backstage dressing room at the Pearl Theater at the Palms casino and ran his hand over his bald head.
He presided over a news conference that went on without featherweight champion Max Holloway or No. 1 contender Brian Ortega, and then he had to play a large role in the UFC’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the same venue a short while later.
White had just finished meeting with Ortega, who declined to face a replacement opponent when Max Holloway was forced to pull out of the bout with an unexplained health issue. Holloway was slurring his words during an interview with Michael Bisping on Fox Sports 1 and had been taken to a local hospital.
The Holloway-Ortega match is one, White said at the time, that is the epitome of what mixed martial arts would be. Much of the talk in White’s room centered around the loss of the fight. White, rarely at a loss for answers, couldn’t say what was wrong with Holloway, or what the next steps would be. He didn’t know when the 26-year-old champion would be healthy again or what impact this situation would have on his career.
“It’s a great fight,” White repeated, in an almost hushed tone. “It’s a great fight, but that’s what we do: We put on great fights. But this is a kid, a young man, we’re talking about here and we don’t know what’s wrong and why this is happening.”
Speculation regarding Holloway’s condition ranged from weight-cut issues to post-concussion syndrome to even a stroke. It seemed to bother White that there were no answers. A guy who is used to getting things done and making things happen was powerless.
“We’ll figure this out, I guarantee you that,” White said. “He’s going to see the best people and we’ll find what is going on here.”
It’s five months later, and Holloway is days away from defending his belt against Ortega in the main event of UFC 231 on Saturday at the Scotiabank Centre in Toronto. It will be his first appearance since his scary and mystery illness and still nobody knows what was wrong with Holloway.
Even Holloway doesn’t seem to know for sure, though he insists he’s passed all medical tests required of him and guaranteed repeatedly that he’ll make it to the post on Saturday.
But he hinted at perhaps a more nefarious reason for his illness during an interview with Yahoo Sports.
“Something went wrong after my first meal in Vegas,” Holloway said. “That was about eight days out from the fight. I gave it a couple of days and it just got worse. That’s when my team and the UFC sent me to the [emergency room]. I hadn’t started cutting weight. I was actually eating 2,500 calories a day, and all my labs and stuff with my kidneys were fine. If it was a weight-cutting thing, I’m pretty sure the UFC would have stripped me [of the title] because the UFC doctors could see that.
“People thought it was a concussion and we debunked that pretty quick. Someone on my team said to the doc that we should run [toxicology] tests and the doc said, ‘That’s actually not a bad idea.’ Vegas is a crazy place. Who knows what could have been done? But right now, everything is looking good.”
There has to be more than Holloway is saying, because neither the UFC nor the athletic commission would allow him to fight if things weren’t perfectly in order.
He has a right to privacy about his personal medical condition, but he goes out of his way to say there isn’t a thing wrong with him.
The thing he is concerned about is quashing any speculation that he won’t show up to fight on Saturday. In April, he accepted a short notice fight for the lightweight title against Khabib Nurmagomedov, only to be yanked from the fight by the New York State Athletic Commission when he was struggling with his weight.
When he couldn’t fight Ortega in July, it made it two in a row and when the fight was rebooked for Saturday in Toronto, the UFC booked Renato Moicano as a backup. If Holloway — or Ortega, for that matter — falls out for any reason, Moicano will be there to fill in the vacancy.
“I was coming off a great year last year and I was confident I would have an even better year this year,” Holloway said. “Stuff happened, and I don’t know how to explain it really, but it’s one of them things. Nothing else. If someone drops out, it’s not going to be me, I guarantee you that. You can write this down now: I’m ready and I’m healthy and I’m going to prove on Saturday night it’s still ‘The Blessed Era.’ ”
Holloway is confident he’s going to put whatever ailed him behind him and compete at the highest level.
“I knew going into this, everyone was going to be asking about my health and what happened and all that stuff,” Holloway said. “All I want to talk about is what I’m going to do in this career. I want the UFC to feed me the best and boom, boom, boom, boom, I’m just going to make a statement.
“I’m young in this game and I have a long time ahead of me. It takes time to be great in MMA and before I’m through, that’s what you guys are going to be saying about me, that I put in the work and I fought everyone and I was one of the best to ever do this.”
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