LOS ANGELES — Rush Holloway, decked out in a new sport coat, struggled to hold back tears following the main event of UFC 236 when, after a spectacular battle, Dustin Poirier captured the interim lightweight title with a victory over his dad, featherweight champion Max Holloway.
First, Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal tried to console 7-year-old Rush, to no avail. Then, in the backstage area, Poirier himself greeted his opponent’s son.
When Max Holloway finally fulfilled his post-fight obligations, he greeted his crying son.
“When I finally got to see him, I asked him, ‘Why are you crying? Are you crying because Dad has a cut on his face?’” Holloway recalled. “He said no. I said, ‘Well, are you crying because Dad was getting punched?’ He said no. And so I was like, ‘Why are you crying?’ He was like, ‘Because you lost.’ The biggest smile came on my face.”
He then explained to his son that losing is as much a part of sports — and life — as winning. Whenever there’s a winner, there is also going to be a loser, as well.
He brings his son to as many of his fights as he can because he wants to teach him about life, and there are so many life lessons that can be learned in such situations.
“I wanted him to understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” Holloway said. “Sometimes you plan something and it doesn’t go through. That’s life, Rush. Dude’s only 7. He’s turning 8 soon. Hopefully, he’ll take these life lessons and he’ll remember this kind of stuff that makes him a better human being.”
Holloway, who will defend his featherweight title Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against Alexander Volkanovski in the co-main event of a stacked UFC 245 card, isn’t the most natural or eloquent speaker, but he delivers lessons that many of his peers could stand to hear.
Volkanovski is the latest in a string of elite opponents Holloway has faced. Every opponent he’s faced over nearly five years has been ranked in the top five or higher in their division. The last time he fought someone who wasn’t top 10 was Feb. 14, 2015, when he fought Cole Miller.
Since then, he’s faced, in order, Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo twice, Brian Ortega, Poirier and Frankie Edgar.
He would have faced lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov if the New York State Athletic Commission had let him, but they pulled him from the fight out of concern for his health as he was cutting weight.
Many of his peers call out Conor McGregor or the biggest money fight in their division, and they beg the UFC for a big bout or a bigger contract. Holloway said they’re going about it the wrong way and making the case to the wrong entity.
“We’re in a time where everybody’s trying to get big-money fights,” Holloway said. “They’re trying to cut the line in front of so many things. They’re trying to shortcut it. They want that one [big] fight and they’re good. But that’s not sustainable. I’m about building a legacy and living a legacy and letting the ‘Blessed Era’ continue. All these money fights are going to come. It’s going to come. It’s going to happen.
“You have to do your job and keep winning, and that’s what I keep doing. It’s kind of funny because everybody says, ‘Who’s next after this? Who’s next after that?’ I don’t know. That’s my job, but every two weeks in this sport, we’ve got a new face that’s popping, popping out of nowhere.”
Holloway said he always asks to fight the best possible opponent, even if that person happened to be unranked. He said by putting on fights and building a reputation for fighting the best and being exciting, fans will demand to see you.
He pointed to the boxing match in 2017 between Floyd Mayweather and McGregor as an example of a major fight that was built out of fan demand.
“There’s a crazy thing going on that a lot of fighters don’t understand: They’re trying to negotiate with the UFC,” Holloway said. “You’re doing it wrong, my friend. You’re doing it wrong. You want the fight to happen, you go negotiate with the fans. The fans are going to make whatever you want to happen, happen. Go negotiate with the fans. They’re going about it wrong when they negotiate with the UFC, this and that. That’s wrong. The fans want to watch fights.
“Never in a thousand years did I think that an MMA guy would fight a boxing guy, especially for that amount of money. But guess who made it happen? It wasn’t the UFC or nothing. It was the fans that wanted to see it happen and it came to fruition. You sell the fans on something and if they believe it, they believe it and they’re going to buy in. Soon enough, you get enough people talking about it, it happens.”
Holloway just turned 28 and he’s wise beyond his years. He’s not one to complain about a decision and he’s not one to ever duck a fight.
It’s made him one of the most popular fighters in the world already, and he’s still got a lot of room to climb.
He’s fighting on the deepest card of the year, with two other title fights and a number of bouts that could be main events on other cards. Yet, his is the one that is among the most hotly anticipated.
There are, as he said, life lessons to learn in MMA. His peers would be wise to pay attention not only to what he says, but most specifically, to what he does.
Few get it like Max Holloway gets it.
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