The coronavirus pandemic changed life in many ways for Max Holloway, the former featherweight champion who will rematch Alex Volkanovski, the man who in December defeated him for the belt, on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 251 at Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi.
Holloway said he did not spar during training camp and worked with his coaches via Zoom because his gym was closed and Hawaii had a stay-at-home order in place.
“I’m unrecognizable now with the hair and the mask on, but people in Hawaii see me out there every day and they know where I train,” Holloway told Yahoo Sports via telephone Monday. “I didn’t want to do anything to get my coaches into trouble. That stay-at-home order was serious, and if someone who doesn’t like me saw me coming out of the gym, they could report me and get me into trouble.”
Volkanovski laughed that off and said, “I don’t believe it a bit,” but it’s not the only way that Zoom has played a role in Holloway’s life as schools were canceled because of the pandemic.
His son, Rush, is in second-grade and suddenly, Max had to become his teacher.
“It was difficult for sure,” Holloway said. “Man, bro, I didn’t know how hard second-grade math had become. But it was a challenge and I love challenges. I did a pretty good job of adjusting and making myself the best teacher I could be when that was what I had to do. Nothing is more important to me than doing the best for ‘Mini Bless’ [Rush].
“But [the school district] helped us out a lot. They gave us packets and we had Zoom calls and emails. I felt we had a lot of help and I was able to get the job done.”
Holloway also spent a lot of time working on charities to assist unemployed Hawaiians, particularly those who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
He said he’ll have a big announcement later this week about a charitable program he’s involved with that will help those impacted by COVID-19 in Hawaii.
“Unemployment has gone through the roof and at one point, it was around 33 percent,” Holloway said. “We’re like Vegas and we thrive off of tourists and visitors, and if people can’t come and visit, we have a big problem. That’s what our economy is based upon. I feel like me getting involved in this and doing what I can to help my people who need it is just what I should be doing.”
Amid everything else, he had to prepare for Volkanovski, who, in taking the title from him at UFC 245 in Las Vegas on Dec. 14, handed Holloway his first defeat at featherweight since 2013, when he was beaten by Conor McGregor.
Holloway had won 13 consecutive featherweight fights until he lost to Volkanovski.
Despite being the challenger for the 145-pound belt for the first time in nearly four years, Holloway insisted nothing has changed.
“I still feel like the champion, to be honest with you,” Holloway said. “I mean, everywhere I go, people still call me ‘Champ.’ My mental state is like I’m the champion. I danced the night away after that fight. He kicked me a lot, but I had the edge and outstruck him everywhere else. The only edge he had was in leg kicks.
“He couldn’t take me down. He didn’t hurt me. I had the edge in strikes to the head and strikes to the body. He had the edge in leg kicks, but I’ve been kicked by a lot of guys. Jose Aldo was kicking me in the leg and you know about his kicks, but I lived to talk about it. I’m not worried. I feel like I’m ready. I want to get out there and fight this dude.”
Holloway is among the most relaxed fighters in the sport, and even with a camp in which he had to deviate significantly from his routine, he said he won’t make excuses.
He feels prepared despite the lack of sparring partners.
“You’ve heard Dana [White] say it a lot, and he’s right: Fighting is in our DNA,” Holloway said. “Every one of us has fought at one point in our lives, whether it was a sibling, or a friend or a cousin or someone picking on you at school. Even if it was just fighting the air, we’ve all fought in one way or another.
“The [camp] was different, but it’s not like I forgot how to fight. I know what I need to do, and this is an opportunity because it’s a special event, Fight Island, which people are saying is the biggest event of the year. No other sports are going on and so many eyes are on us. That excites me and I believe I will go out there and put on a show like I do.”
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