With eight-straight wins behind him, Max Holloway is riding the longest active win-streak in the UFC featherweight division. Yet the 24-year old Hawaiian is also a victim of circumstance: he is galloping into his competitive prime at a time when there is downright gridlock at the top of his division. Indeed, it could be argued that if things were just a little bit different, he'd already have earned himself a featherweight title shot and perhaps even usurped the divisional throne.
Unfortunately for Holloway, hypotheticals mean nothing in the fight game. Though the Hawaiian could have earned a title shot in a slightly different world, this is just not the way things have panned out in reality.
Instead, Conor McGregor sprinted ahead of all other featherweight contenders to earn a title shot and win the belt, only to head up to the welterweight division for a now infamous scrap with Nate Diaz. During McGregor's absence, Frankie Edgar, who has accomplished pretty much everything possible to earn a second featherweight title shot, has been pencilled in for an interim title bout at UFC 200. The other half of this interim belt fight will be former champion Jose Aldo, who was given the honor on the strength of his being one of the most dominant champions our sport has ever seen—that is, until he ran into McGregor's legendary left hand.
While all this madness as unfolded, Max Holloway has been left to kill time, swatting away prospects, journeymen, and top contenders alike.
To recount: The Hawaiian has not lost since 2013, when he became the first and only featherweight to survive to a decision against Conor McGregor. After this loss to McGregor, he rebounded nicely with a second-round TKO of Will Chope. Next, he scored a come-from-behind submission win over Andre Fili. Then came a TKO over Clay Collard, and a blistering first-round knockout of Akira Corassani. Next up, he battered Cole Miller to a decision, before closing out 2015 with huge wins over elite foes in Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, and Jeremy Stephens.
In a less chaotic division, a streak like this would almost certainly have produced a title shot. Yet as we all know, the UFC featherweight division is currently as chaotic as divisions get.
Yet should Holloway pass his next test, a scrap with long-time contender Ricardo Lamas on the main card of UFC 199 this Saturday, a title shot is going to be nigh impossible to deny him. This is simply because there will be little else for him to accomplish at this juncture of his career.
Of course, Holloway's defeating Lamas this weekend is far from guaranteed. In Lamas, he'll face one of the division's top wrestlers; a protean athlete who backs up his wrestling chops with a growing arsenal of submissions and an ever-diversifying stand-up attack; a competitor with wins over top-flight foes like Cub Swanson, Erik Koch, Dennis Bermudez, and most recently Diego Sanchez. No, a Lamas victory this weekend should not shock anybody.
That said, Holloway is not without his strengths and advantages. He will walk onto the canvas with a distinct advantage in striking technique, and a newly realized punching power that is more than capable of levelling Lamas. He'll also be the taller man in the Octagon and thus, the more difficult target. Finally, contrary to his being a decade Lamas' junior, Holloway is also only two fights less experienced than his foe. Needless to say, the Hawaiian has a well-stocked arsenal and has plenty of paths to Saturday-night glory. The fight's betting odds, which have him floating around a -300 favorite, reflect the strength of this possibility.
Yes, should Holloway do as the odds-makers suggest and earn his ninth consecutive win this weekend, he'll almost certainly emerge as the man to challenge the winner of the featherweight division's McGregor-Aldo-Edgar clusterfuck. He'll have paid dues, jumped through hoops, moved mountains and more to do so, but if the young Hawaiian ousts Ricardo Lamas on Saturday night, it appears that he will—finally—earn himself a shot, whether it comes against Aldo, Edgar or McGregor.