One of the biggest curiosities surrounding UFC 236 is how UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway will adjust to his transition up to 155 pounds.
Top-ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier and Holloway are slated to collide on April 13 at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena in a bout for the UFC’s interim 155-pound championship. For Poirier, an established lightweight contender who has racked up an 8-1 record at 155 pounds since 2015, the opportunity serves as somewhat of a grand culmination after years of grinding away in the sport’s most talent-rich division.
For Holloway, though, UFC 236 serves as an experiment of sorts. “Blessed” has competed in the featherweight division for the entirety of his eight-year, 19-fight UFC career. He is unbeaten and largely unchallenged in the weight class since 2014, having dominated former champions and challengers alike to the tune of an unparalleled 13-fight win streak. In fact, Holloway’s lone excursion up to 155 pounds was a disastrous one — he was forced to pull out of a short-notice fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov for the then-vacant UFC lightweight title at UFC 223 after suffering complications while cutting weight.
Obviously that opportunity was on six days notice, so circumstances will be a lot different for UFC 236. But still, what should the MMA world expect from Holloway when he makes his long-awaited debut at 155 pounds? It’s an answer Poirier is interested to find out as well.
“He’s a big guy,” Poirier told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 236. “He’s taller than me and has trouble making ‘55, that one time he tried to do it on short notice with Khabib, right? They didn’t let him cut the weight. I don’t know what he weighed but he must’ve been a good bit over, so he’s not going to be over-sized [by me]. He could be overpowered, because it takes time to adapt to carrying that weight and competing at that weight.
“But I think he’s going to be the same Max Holloway, maybe even feel better, because he really depleted himself going to ‘45. Like I said, he’s a big guy and I’m sure that’s no fun to get down there, so he might feel the best he’s ever felt.”
Poirier is no stranger to what Holloway is going through. “The Diamond” began his UFC career at 145 pounds and coincidentally enough even served as the welcoming party for Holloway’s Octagon debut, with Poirier defeating the then-teenager via first-round submission in 2012. In total, Poirier competed 11 times as a UFC featherweight before he reached the conclusion that the cut down to 145 pounds had become untenable.
Poirier still vividly remembers his first Octagon appearance after he made the jump to 155 pounds. Without a gigantic cut to wreak havoc upon his body, he felt incredible. He went out, demolished Carlos Diego Ferreira with a first-round knockout, and nabbed a post-fight bonus for his handiwork. Even still today, he stands as the only man to stop Ferreira before the final horn.
Holloway is a massive featherweight, just like Poirier was, so “The Diamond” can understand and relate to what Holloway is about to experience during his time at 155 pounds — both positive and negative.
“There was a little bit of mental relief knowing that I didn’t have to get to ‘45,” Poirier remembered. “And ‘55’s not easy to make either. I’m sure Max is going to feel the same way. After allowing your body to put on the size it wants to and eat the nutrients your body wants to during these hard camps, your body grows and adapts and you fill out even if you’re not trying to add a bunch of muscle. You’re just, your composition changes. It’s hard to really say. And then you find it harder and harder to get down to ‘55 now. I do.
“Like, my first fight at ‘55, it was a good[-sized] weight cut but it was smooth, there wasn’t any problems. Every other fight since then, sometimes things come up, like, ‘oh shit, this is going to be a hard cut,’ or the weight’s not coming off like I thought, or I’m running miles more and still my weight’s not dropping off as much. So a lot of things happen as your body gets adjusted to those weight classes. So the first one was one of the easier ones for me, and I say easier while using that word very lightly. All weight cuts are hard.”
One area where the intrigue surrounding Holloway’s move up to 155 pounds hasn’t seemed to have an effect is the odds. Despite fighting in the smaller weight class, the UFC featherweight champion is listed as more than a 2-to-1 betting favorite to defeat Poirier and capture his second title on virtually every major sportsbook. Those odds have only widened as UFC 236 has drawn closer.
But for a perennial underdog like Poirier, who has needed to scratch and claw and grind like no other in order to accomplish what he has achieved, that’s just music to his ears.
“Every dog has his day, man, and April 13th is going to be no different,” Poirier said. “I’ve been the underdog my whole life. I’m not even supposed to be here. I’ve overcome a lot of things, and oddsmakers make mistakes. I stay focused. Destiny doesn’t make mistakes. And that’s just how it goes, man. Being in this position isn’t strange to me, and the guy is pound-for-pound top 10. He’s a current reigning featherweight undisputed world champion. He beat one of the best ‘45ers in the world twice, finished him. Look at the streak he’s on.
“Look at the performances he’s putting together over and over again. Maybe he should be the favorite, you know? If you put paper to paper next to each other, with his last 10 fights, my last 10 fights, I’m sure I’ve done some impressive things, but he’s defended the belt, beat former champions as well. So it’s just, like he says: It is what it is, my buddy.”
Stylistically, the fight itself is a fascinating one. Both Poirier and Holloway have old-school approaches to the game that lend themselves to aggressive and often wildly entertaining scraps.
Holloway, in particular, has strung together perhaps the three most impressive performances of his career — back-to-back-to-back TKO stoppages over legendary former champion Jose Aldo (twice) and previously undefeated challenger Brian Ortega. Holloway’s approaches in those three outings have been somewhat akin to a snowball rolling down a mountain — an accumulation of pressure and momentum and relentless punches, which builds and builds until it is altogether overwhelming.
But Poirier has stared similar dangers in the face before and lived to tell the tale, having proven his mettle by marching through the fires of Hell against pressure mongers like Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez and emerging victorious, and he knows April 13 will be no different.
“I have the skill set, the cardio, and the muscle endurance to compete with his volume, to compete with his athletic ability, his push,” Poirier said. “He’s going to get a lot of push back, and we’ll see if he can keep it up whenever there’s — you know, it’s not hard to do it when you’re winning the round. Let’s see if he can do it after he loses a couple. Let’s see him come back from adversity. Let’s see, when the rounds go back and forth, who’s going to come out with that pep in their step the next round — and I know that’s going to be me, because I live for those uncomfortable moments. There’s where fights are won or lost.
“A fight like (Justin) Gaethje or Eddie Alvarez, those are my last fights, those are fights that I was mentally prepared to come out bleeding, to come out limping, to come out f*cked up every round and have to push forward. There’s an end goal. There’s 25 minutes, the bell is going to ring. But I’m going to give all of myself, whatever that is that night, and leave it all in there. And I’m willing to do that again with Max. Is he willing to do that? I hope so. If he is, fight of the night, fight of the year, title fight, fans love it — I still think I come out on top. But I don’t know if he is, and I’m willing to find out, and I’m excited to find out.”