Max Holloway: Adaptability and Body Work

Max Holloway chalked up his tenth victory in a row at UFC 206, stopping Anthony Pettis with a barrage of blows. We examine the ins and outs of Holloway's performance and constantly improving game.

by Jack Slack
Dec 12 2016, 5:10pm

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

The interim title didn't add much to it but UFC 206 held up as one of the better pay-per-views in recent memory with action packed fights and slick finishes from top to bottom. In spite of the general disdain inspired by that trumped up interim title, its new owner, Max Holloway, stole the show. The young Hawaiian, well overdue for a crack at the actual featherweight title, downed former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis with very little difficulty and plenty of creativity. The ever-improving Holloway showed another nice wrinkle in his game as he winded Pettis—the best body kicker in the lightweight division—with body kicks to set up the finish.

Max Holloway has always been an exceptional talent. Many have always considered Conor McGregor's victory over Holloway to be one of his most impressive in light of the talent that Holloway was already showing and what he went on to do in the division. Holloway also holds the distinction of being the sole featherweight to take McGregor to a decision. That bout was anomalous in other ways, as it marked a clear departure from the standard McGregor fighting style. McGregor built his offense off the low line side kick to deal with Holloway's reach and distancing, following with long range Taekwondo switch kicks to get in on the rangy Holloway when he withdrew from the side kicks. McGregor also took Holloway to the mat well before he blew out his ACL attempting to knee slide through Holloway's guard.

Interesting to note through the Holloway – Pettis bout was Holloway's use of the gliding low line side kick to the lead leg. Identical to that which McGregor had used against him, and a means of covering distance and annoying the opponent's lead leg. Holloway would throw out a few of these and occasionally not touch with the kick but use the glide to step into a position with his foot outside of Pettis', perfectly lining up the right straight to the body.

Holloway didn't get much chance to show this because Pettis spent more of the fight in an orthodox stance and Holloway only switched stance on occasion. The interesting thing about teaching a fighter to switch hit is that he gets a lesson in context and understands what he can and cannot do against an opponent in both open guard/position and closed guard/position. Holloway's switch hitting was dexterous and creative against Cub Swanson, but here he stayed mostly in the orthodox stance, instantly identifying what he should be throwing at Pettis by the foot with which Pettis led.

Whenever Pettis stood southpaw Holloway also applied nice outside low kicks with his lead leg into the back of Pettis' lead leg. This kick in particular could come in handy if he ever gets that rematch with the bladed southpaw, McGregor.

Holloway even stepped deep enough to sweep out the back leg on two occasions and it was beautiful.

When Pettis led with his left foot in an orthodox stance, Holloway showed the unusual technique of front kicking the lead shin. Often taught as a self-defense technique (the idea being that no one likes taking the toe of a boot into their shin), Holloway used it well to agitate Pettis.

Pettis showed his usual flash, attempting a rapid Taekwondo multiple switch kick on spot which got a rise out of the crowd. A cartwheel kick later was less successful.

Pettis' best moments actually came with his lead leg side kick to the midsection as Holloway stepped in, and with front kicks to the body and jabs as he pursued Holloway in the second and third rounds. Holloway showed his variety in switching from forward moving aggression to work on the counter and each time Pettis reached out, Holloway did a good job of letting him fall short or land on a guard and then returning with body blows.

The groundwork that Holloway did with the kicks paid dividends whenever he used feinted leg strikes to step in with his hands. The sole knockdown of the fight came off a lazily throw left kick which placed Holloway in range to score a right hand. Also worth noting is Holloway's moving his head immediately off the kick, effectively serving the same purpose as the old 'jab-and-duck', getting him in distance to land a power punch.

The finish came as Holloway took a page out of Pettis' book. As the Taekwondo stylist advanced, Holloway spun for a back kick that caught Pettis coming in. Pettis' offence stalled and he stepped away. Holloway followed with a pair of brutal body kicks and a flurry of punches to finish. It was a truly terrific performance from Holloway who undoubtedly deserves a crack at Jose Aldo, and has for a while now.

While we could heap praise on all of the action at UFC 206 it is worth noting a star performer from the weekend who pulled a hell of an upset out of relative obscurity. Earlier on the same night as UFC 206 Glory hosted its second pay-per-view from Germany and it was a very solid card. In the co-main event the relatively unknown Frenchman, Cedric Doumbe pulled the upset against the long serving Glory welterweight champion Nieky Holzken. Doumbe's performance seemed to be largely inspired by the work of Murthel Groenhart in his first Glory match with Holzken. Unable to stop the pressure cooker that is Holzken from pushing him to the ropes, Groenhart would push off the ropes with ineffective punches against Holzken's guard, but tail each combination with a low kick or two which Holkzen would refuse to check. Doumbe took that to extremes, landing at a very low percentage with his hands, but connecting on over ninety percent of his low kicks.

The smaller Doumbe was also able to throw Holzken off with some gamesmanship. Looking off into the distance to search for missed strikes, throwing in exaggerated bolo punches, and jumping on Holzken as soon as he attempted some hot dogging of his own. Doumbe took a pretty unarguable decision victory over Holzken.

The main event of Glory: Collision was the return of kickboxing's most talented trainwreck, Badr Hari. Hari has been under the radar for a while because with his history of legal trouble outside the ring and his knockout loss to Zabit Samedov meant that it didn't seem like Hari was worth pursuing for Glory. But struggling to make Rico Verhoeven the star that the best heavyweight kickboxer of his generation deserves to be, Glory opted to bring Hari in—trouble be damned. Hari lived up to his reputation of course, he is the omen of trouble. The main event was delayed as both men stood staring at each other across the ring as fights broke out in the audience and ushers and announcers desperately appealed for fans to take their seats. Hari and Verhoeven just kept staring.

The first round was a surprise to most who thought Hari was done, as he proved light on his feet and as fast with his hands as ever. Going from his square stance to a bladed, lancing jab in a fraction of a moment, Hari split open a pre-existing cut on Verhoeven's nose. A few jabs later with a couple of glancing Hari right hands and Verhoeven had the sauce around his left eye too. Verhoeven was having success walking Hari down but was not connecting anything meaningful as he did so, and was eating the jab and body blows as he did so.

The fight came to a strange just a minute and a half into the second round as Hari suffered an injury seemingly from a knee taken on the forearm. It wouldn't be a Hari fight without some controversy. While the result goes down as a TKO loss due to the injury, a rematch is almost certain and with the brief preview of what Hari can do to Verhoeven, and the limited success Verhoeven had up to the injury, tickets will not be hard to shift.

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