Here's the surprising attribute Max Holloway cites as the reason for his UFC success

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Max Holloway interacts with media during the UFC 236 news conference inside T-Mobile Arena on March 1, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)
Max Holloway interacts with media during the UFC 236 news conference inside T-Mobile Arena on March 1, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

You could guess 1,000 times and not hit upon the attribute Max Holloway cites as the reason for his success in mixed martial arts.

Holloway has become one of the best MMA fighters in the world and, if things go his way in his next two fights, it’s not out of the question he could end 2019 widely regarded as the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter.

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Holloway has great diversity in his game, and no obvious weakness. His punching accuracy is terrific and his sense of how to set up his strikes is first rate.

One could go on and on praising Holloway and his ability, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole. He’s that good.

But Holloway, who is poised to become just the fourth fighter to hold two UFC weight class titles simultaneously — joining Amanda Nunes (women’s featherweight and bantamweight), Daniel Cormier (heavyweight and light heavyweight) and Conor McGregor (lightweight and featherweight) — believes it is something else that has begun to separate him from the pack.

The UFC featherweight champion, who will face Dustin Poirier on Saturday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta for the interim lightweight title at UFC 236, believes it is his curiosity that makes him the all-around threat he’s become.

He debuted in the UFC in Las Vegas as a 21-year-old on Feb. 4, 2012, in his fifth professional fight, losing by first-round submission via a mounted triangle arm bar to another fighter who was just beginning to establish a name for himself.

That man was Poirier, who improved his UFC record to 4-0 with that win over Holloway. This is a rematch that no one saw coming, and which Holloway is quick to dismiss.

“We were just babies back then,” Holloway said. “…We’re not nearly the same fighters we are now.”

And for Holloway, he believes it’s his curiosity that’s made him so much better. He not only studies MMA zealously, but he also observes other high-level athletes and successful people in general to see what makes them different.

He wants to find the common thread between successful people from all walks of life and see if he’s able to use that to improve himself in his profession.

“[After a fight], everybody sees us yelling, everyone sees the emotion and they see me pounding my chest after a win and they think that’s the motivation and that’s the drive,” Holloway said. “It ain’t. That’s the exhaust. The fuel is my curiosity. Every time I go into the gym, I am the most curious guy there. It’s how I got to be.

“If you’re the most curious guy in the gym, or the office or wherever you work, success is going to come in due time. You always want to be better and you push yourself to move forward. To keep me motivated, it’s curiosity. It’s one of my core values.”

He said his curiosity pushed him to study other athletes, as well as successful business people. When he heard their stories, and found what made them successful, it was a revelation.

UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (L) and Dustin Poirier during the UFC 236 press conference on Friday, Mar. 1, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)
UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (L) and Dustin Poirier during the UFC 236 press conference on Friday, Mar. 1, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

Holloway said he’s just a hungry guy who most definitely isn’t the best fighter in Waianae, Hawaii, where he lives. But he is the most well-known, and most successful fighter because he has figured out what it takes to get to and then stay at the top.

“When I started hearing the stories of all these famous athletes, I began to trip out,” Holloway said. “I was like everyone else: I put them on a pedestal and I thought they could do this and they could do that. But when it came right down to it, what I found is that they were just like me. Their stories were so similar to mine. We’re kind of the same and I began to understand that these guys were just human and not all that different from me.

“One of my other goals is to be able to go home and tell people, ‘Look, I’m just a kid from the city here, just like you. If I can do it, you can do it.’ I can’t sit here and tell you I’m the best fighter from Waianae, Hawaii, because I’d be lying. No doubt, I’d be lying. I’m here because I made the right choices. I knew what to do and I found the right training stuff. There’s better fighters than me throughout this whole town, but I’m here because of the decisions I made and that’s just because of my curiosity and going to the gym and showing up every day and wanting to find a way to be better than I was yesterday.”

He’s won 13 in a row and counts a long list of elite UFC fighters among his victims. A win over Poirier would put him in position to fight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in September for the undisputed title and inch him closer toward his goal of becoming the sport’s pound-for-pound best.

He cited Cormier as his close friend but said he’d fight him if needed to prove he’s the best.

“I talk to D.C. all the time because I think he’s the best and he’s such a great guy and he’s so smart and I can learn from him,” Holloway said. “But I tell him, ‘D.C., if you get a contract with my name on it, don’t sign it unless you are serious about fighting me, because believe me, I’ll sign it to fight you to prove I am the best.’ It’s how I am.”

He’s uber competitive, and that often leads to memorable battles. He’s won the UFC’s Fight of the Night bonus twice, including in his last bout with Brian Ortega. He’s also won Performance of the Night four times and Knockout of the Night once.

Those awards come with a $50,000 bonus, but Holloway let out a secret: He’d rather not win Fight of the Night.

“Every time, I want to go out and show who I am and display my dominance,” Holloway said. “I don’t want to have Dana [White] give me a bonus for Fight of the Night. I want the people watching to say, ‘Oh my God, what did I just see? Who is this kid?’ I want to be this dominant guy, just ruthlessly going out there and getting the job done. I don’t need no Fight of the Night, man. I just want to leave them wanting to see more.”

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