Max Holloway was reading Jose Aldo early during their fight at UFC 212. He noticed Aldo was reacting a certain way to things he was doing — and quickly. Aldo won the first two rounds of the UFC featherweight title fight, seemed sharp early and even had Holloway in some real trouble in the first.
“When I was putting my hand out and stuff, every time I’d put it, he would shut it down,” Holloway told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “He would throw something, he would do something reactive. Every time in the beginning rounds when I feinted at him, he was jumping back. I [saw these] big motions from him and he was countering super fast at certain things I was doing.”
At some point, though, Holloway noticed that Aldo wasn’t doing that as much. So he put out a feeler — he began taunting Aldo, waving him in and daring him to throw. Aldo didn’t and Holloway said that’s when he knew the fight was about to turn in his favor.
“I told myself, he’s not firing,” Holloway said. “It’s time to taunt. Let’s taunt. Let’s see if he cracks me. I taunted him — I put my hands up for a couple of seconds. And he didn’t do nothing. I was like OK, I’m gonna do it again. And he did nothing. I was like man, this guy don’t want to fight.”
Holloway ended up winning by TKO in the very next round to win the UFC 145-pound title in Rio de Janeiro. The patient start, he said, was very much a part of the strategy. Aldo, Holloway said, is known for fading in the late rounds and the Hawaiian said he wanted to pace himself.
“These guys are playing checkers,” Holloway said. “I’m out here playing chess. When they figure it out, it’s too late.”
Holloway (18-3) said he thought it was funny that people on social media were saying he had a slow start and Aldo was getting to him early. That was expected, Holloway said. They wanted to bring Aldo into deeper waters.
“I already knew our game plan was gonna work,” Holloway said. “There’s enough tape. Aldo, he’s one of the greatest ever, but it’s just time for a new era. It’s time for the new wave of guys, us young guys are coming up and we’re proving it. We’re showing to the world that we’re here to stay, we’re taking forever. MMA is forever evolving. You either evolve with the sport or you get left behind. I’m trying to lead the back. I’m trying to sprint.”
Holloway, 25, said he told referee John McCarthy not to worry about a cut on his eye in between the second and third rounds, because he was just starting the fight. “Blessed” said he told something similar to his coach Rylan Lizares.
“I looked at him,” Holloway said, “and I said, ‘No worries, it’s starting now. I’m gonna get going now.’ It got going. Everything worked.”
Indeed it did. But Holloway was clear about something else, too. The taunting was not about disrespect. Neither were some of the things he said about Aldo before UFC 212. It was just a part of the strategy and the marketing, respectively. After the fight, Holloway took to social media to heap praise on Aldo, who some pundits were blasting immediately following the bout.
“I felt the need, because people keep f*cking trying to tarnish and throw this guy away,” Holloway said. “You’ve gotta understand what this guy did for all the little guys. He’s a pioneer for the small guys. When you think of the 35 and 45 class, the guys who built it, you think of Urijah Faber, you think of Dominick and you think Jose Aldo. Jose Aldo has been the greatest.”
Holloway now holds that crown of greatest, at least in the current-day featherweight division. It took a little taunting for him to see his opportunity through to get there.
“I’m gonna go out there until you want to give up,” Holloway said. “He opened the door, I just hold his hand and walked him through it and said thank you for the fight. It’s Blessed Era time.”