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Dec 15, 2019
Brett OkamotoESPN Staff Writer
- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS — One of the most impressive runs — at any weight class — in UFC history has come to an end.
Australian featherweight Alexander Volkanovski (21-1) officially ended Max Holloway‘s (21-5) reign over the UFC’s featherweight division on Saturday, as he defeated the formerly dominant champion via unanimous decision at UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena. Judges scored the 145-pound title fight for Volkanovski 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47.
The loss marked Holloway’s first at 145 pounds since 2013 and snaps a 14-win streak within that weight class. It ends his title reign at three successful title defenses.
“It’s what we do,” said Volkanovski, who was a plus-170 underdog at Caesars. “We shoot for the belt. We’ve had great champions in this division. [Jose] Aldo was a great, respectful champion. Max was a great, respectful champion. I promise to be a great, respectful champion.”
Volkanovski, of Australia, executed a picture-perfect game plan against one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He outstruck Holloway 173 to 103, per UFC Stats, in a bout that never once hit the floor. The former rugby player, who used to weigh more than 200 pounds, matched Holloway’s output and beat him at his own game.
Holloway, of Waianae, Hawaii, was gracious in defeat. It marked his second defeat of 2019 — he unsuccessfully moved up to 155 pounds in April against Dustin Poirier — which would have been an unthinkable proposition coming into the year.
“I’m only 28, and I’m only getting better,” Holloway said. “I’ll be back, boys.”
Leg kicks were a major weapon for Volkanovski, as he set a UFC record for most leg kicks landed in a featherweight fight — by the third round. Holloway never looked seriously hurt by the kicks, but he did switch from an orthodox stance to southpaw momentarily in the second and third rounds.
Volkanovski beat Holloway to the punch and seemed to surprise the champ with his effectiveness fighting on the outside. Despite facing a significant height disadvantage, Volkanovski drew Holloway onto his punches and landed clean combinations on the way in on multiple occasions.
Holloway started to turn the tide in the final rounds by targeting the body, but Volkanovski smiled at him in response. At one point in the third round, Volkanovski made it a point to tell Holloway he was “still fresh.”
“I guess it hasn’t fully set in yet, new featherweight champ,” Volkanovski said. “I keep myself so composed so that I can get the job done, that sometimes it feels like it’s not even happening. I thought it was pretty back-and-forth, but my corner was telling me that we were getting the job done, so I just kept at it. As soon as I heard 50-45, I knew that was all me.”
It’s the first time Holloway has lost at featherweight since he suffered a decision defeat to Conor McGregor in 2013. Volkanovski, who trains out of City Kickboxing in New Zealand and has now won 18 in a row, becomes the second UFC champion out of that gym this year. His teammate, Israel Adesanya, claimed the 185-pound title in October.
Adesanya was in the crowd yelling instructions to Volkanovski throughout the fight. He said he knew the decision would go the way of his teammate and had tears in his eyes when ring announcer Bruce Buffer proclaimed, “And new!”
“It shows you what we’re doing,” Adesanya said. “We’re coming back.”