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Max Holloway is slowly getting people to speak his language (and it’s all good, braddah)

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

TORONTO – It took Gegard Mousasi a few years for his soporific charm to win people over, but it happened when he stopped caring in the ordinary sense. His Dutch brand of naptime aloof took on needed appeal when he started collecting scalps and running out of f*cks to give. It’s been a fun turnaround to say the least. The more he shrugs his shoulders and blurts out a resigned "what the f*ck" to end statements, the more we appreciate him.

Something like that is going on with young Max Holloway, too.

The pike-like Hawaiian fighter puts together some strange sentences that fall between pidgin (it was him who invented "marlarkiness") and street (where he peddles a black market vaccination for "pussyitis"), yet he puts fools to rest with his fists and these things go together well. Holloway has crept out of his shell a little bit since the one that lost to Conor McGregor in 2013 — or even the one that choked out Will Chope, or KO’d Akira Corassani.

Maybe it’s more noticeable with him inheriting Saturday’s interim title shot against Anthony Pettis, but he started speaking his mind somewhere in the midst of his nine-fight win streak. And you get the sense it’s only going to get better as time goes on. He’s just 25 years old, and he’s got a good set of peeves built up. One of his primary targets has been newly rechristened featherweight champion Jose Aldo, whom he is on a collision course with, if he can get past Pettis at UFC 206

So I asked him about it on Wednesday at Massey Hall, the 120-year old comedy cathedral that gave Holloway good acoustics to sound off in. I asked him if he felt himself nestling warmly into the fight game conscience, if he was aware of such things.

"It’s funny, this side has always been there for me," he said. "It’s just blunt. Just being real and stating fact. My manager [Brian Butler] and stuff, he knew how I really was, and the way I talk, and some stuff I say, and he just laughs at me all the time. But yeah, this is the true Max Holloway. No success, no nothing, no belt, no person can change the way I act, the way I feel. And no success is going to get me to being an asshole. I don’t care."

The first thing Holloway did when he landed in Ontario was go after some poontang. Or, poutine, as they call it in Canada. He was so close. In any case, Max’s one of those cats you get the impression would be fun to have around at parties. A few beers in him and he’s the life of the party.

Yet he’s also quick to remind you that he’s mortal, in case you didn’t know.

"If someone came into this building and decided to shoot it up, guess what, I’m going to die just like everyone else," he says. "I’m a human just like anyone else, and I understand that, so at the end of the day, you’ve got to stay humble. You got to keep your feet on the ground and it is what it is."

Of all the clichés that Holloway employs in his island patois, the "it is what it is" is a go-to favorite, much in the same vein as Mousasi’s "what the f*ck." He also is fond of mentioning that there’s clarity to be found "at the end of the day." That the deeper truths to all our common travails can be boiled down to essences once the day goes away.

It’s been Holloway’s domain here in Toronto. He’s been posing for pictures with Emil Meek and Meek’s sword. He went to the Maple Leafs game and swapped jerseys with Wendel Clark. He was the last fighter to go through his open workout routine, and he even brought a kid up to shadow box with him who was wearing a Pettis shirt. The kid said he was quick. Holloway said that Pettis would think so too.

No, there’s something about Holloway — his native strangeness, his spreading network of tattoos, the "Blessed" nickname, his ability to obliterate opposition in the cage — that makes for an interesting fellow.

And now that he’s added "outspoken" as a new wrinkle to his game? It feels like we’re in for a ride.

"That Aldo thing, it is what it is," he says. "It’s just that things happened this way. Like, events happened, and he said certain things, and he did certain things where you kind of scratch your head. This guy go and say he want to fight Anthony Pettis because Anthony Pettis is an easier fight, and he can get more money with Anthony Pettis, and then he comes, and then the next week over, he says, ‘oh, I don’t want to fight, I don’t care about money, I want to fight for my legacy.’

"And I’m like, motherf*cker, make up your mind. You change your mind in one week? What the hell is going on, you know? The UFC needs to send his ass to the Cleveland Clinic. That’s what he need to do. They need to go check his brain. They’ve been sending me to the Cleveland Clinic, but that’s one of them guys they should be sending, so that guy’s mind is all over the damn place."

Holloway can rattle on in such a way for minutes, hours, whole weeks. He isn’t filtered, or even concerned about grammar. If you even bring up syntax he’ll hit you with malarkiness, like it was a cold dead fish. He’s got material, and he’s using it. There are fighters he doesn’t like these days, too, which is glorious. He’s on the verge of winning a title at 25 years old, and he’s one of those guys that you feel like it’s all come together for at exactly the right time.

"I’m going to come and be real and I’m going to state facts," he says. "I state facts all the time. I’m here. This is my 15th fight in the damn division. People don’t realize that."

They do now, Mr. Holloway, because you’re telling them. It’s taken a while, but you’re telling them.

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