Max Holloway’s Easter Sunday descended into chaos around 3:30 p.m. ET.
That’s around the time Holloway’s manager, Brian Butler-Au, received the phone call that could fast become a turning point in Holloway’s career. The UFC’s nightmare scenario had happened: A freak injury to Tony Ferguson derailed UFC 223’s marquee matchup against Khabib Nurmagomedov for the fourth time in as many tries, and UFC matchmakers wanted to know if Holloway — the promotion’s reigning featherweight champion — had interest in moving up in weight to accept the biggest challenge of his life on six days’ notice.
A fight for the 155-pound title against the undefeated Nurmagomedov with less than a week to prepare? Butler-Au says Holloway didn’t even hesitate in making his decision.
“Max already had his eyes on both Tony and Khabib for some time. He actually said it in the last media thing that we did,” Butler-Au explained Monday on The MMA Hour.
“The only the concern that I had was, can he make the weight in time? I mean, it’s six days away, and he’s got like an 18-hour flight from Hawaii to hop on. So, Max didn’t hesitate at all. He immediately said to me, his exact words were, ‘Let’s f*cking do it, bro. This is how legends are made.’ That’s exactly what he said to me.
“Then I said we’ve got to let (nutritionist) George (Lockhart) crunch the numbers,” Butler-Au continued, “because I don’t want the weight cut — I’m sure he can make the weight; I want him to make it healthy and I don’t want it to have any long-term effects on him. So George crunched the numbers, it took about an hour, hour-and-a-half for George to do all of that, check everything out. Came back, said he can do it, said he can 100 percent do it. It’s gonna be a grind for him, but if anybody can do it, he said Max can and he can do it in a healthy manner. So after that, it was just on.”
Holloway, 26, has been sidelined since pulling out of a March 3 title defense against Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 with an ankle injury, so weight was one of Butler-Au’s chief concerns.
Butler-Au declined to go into specifics as to how far away Holloway currently sits from 155 pounds, acknowledging only that he “has some weight to lose,” however Holloway’s team is confident the Hawaiian can cut down in time for Friday morning with the help of Lockhart.
Ultimately, the chance to become the UFC’s second-ever two-division concurrent champion outweighed the risks involved. And make no bones about it, that’s exactly what is on the line at UFC 223. If Holloway wins, he will be the featherweight and lightweight champion.
“That is what I’ve been told,” Butler-Au said.
“I told (UFC executive) Hunter (Campbell) to make sure that there’s two belts by the cage and he said, ‘Will do.’”
The other main concern surrounding Holloway right now is the status of the injured ankle that just last month took “Blessed” out of UFC 222.
Holloway was initially targeting a return to the Octagon in the summer, however Butler-Au said the injury has healed better than anyone expected.
“He’s okay,” Butler-Au said. “He recovered a lot faster than the doctors expected him to, the treatments that they did on him really took to him as well as they could to anybody. So he has been training and he has been testing it. He’s been pushing it, and so far he’s pushed it pretty hard and it seems okay.
“This is just one of those things where we have to weigh out the options on whether or not the opportunity was worth the risk, and Max wanted to do it. He’s kinda talked about this moment for a long time — we just didn’t know it was going to happen on six day’s notice.”
In total, it’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for both Holloway and his team. The fight against Nurmagomedov is about as high-risk/high-reward of a challenge as one could imagine.
If Holloway somehow pulls off the upset at UFC 223, his accomplishment would instantly go down as a legendary moment in the sport’s history.
But would it mean the end of Holloway’s featherweight reign, just as it meant the same for the UFC’s other two-division champion, Conor McGregor?
“Knowing Max, actually, I don’t think so,” Butler-Au said. “I think he wants to do what the other champion didn’t and make a statement, make a point that way. So I don’t know. I do know that his time as a 145er was probably going to be on the clock soon, but he had full intentions to defend it two or three more times before he made any moves. So my guess from knowing Max is he’s going to want to do something that hasn’t be done.”
As the saga of UFC 223 proves all over again, chaos is never far away in the sport of mixed martial arts.
An unexpected turn of events suddenly has Holloway on the doorstep of making history, and Butler-Au acknowledged that the next five days are going to be a difficult hill to climb for Holloway and the whole team. But if anyone can do it, he is confident that Holloway is the one man up for the challenge.
“Max is a different breed,” Butler-Au said. “Knowing him, all I need to do without even letting him know is I’ve just got to shield him and let him stay focused. He probably won’t skip a beat. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does his normal week. But as his manager and as his teammate would say, we’re just trying to minimize everything right now and get it focused, because we’ve never done anything on this short of notice. He’s going to be ready. He’s ready. He’s extremely pumped. Extremely pumped.”