It’s been only a few days clear of the one-year anniversary of Conor McGregor’s precise land of leather upon the cheek of longtime reigning king Jose Aldo at UFC 194. Although his 13-second knockout of a champion who boasted a 10-year unbeaten streak sent a shockwave throughout the MMA community from its newest heir, little was expected of the featherweight division’s state of hostage in the year to come.
Although the Irishman claimed his weight in gold that night, he let his earnings lay in wait while he spent the next year gallivanting onto other endeavours in different weight classes. Such a decision simply switched off the spotlight he set upon the 145-pound division. Now on year later, it’s been clear in that without the activity of the division’s distracted king, the enticement factor at 145 lost its lustre. It also left its contenders to rely on one another to fight their way to the top of a division with a lock on its kingdoms door.
Once talks inflated of McGregor’s desire to not only hold two championship belts, avenge his loss to Nate Diaz and threaten the most absurd of champions like Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley that the featherweight division would be left on the shelf. And it was there that MMA lost its ability to see a star when it shined. Being too caught up in the unprecedented feats of the UFC’s most extravagant and powerful star kept us away from the ones which were emerging.
At UFC 206, before even stepping into the octagon for a chance at gold against Anthony Pettis, Max Holloway had already proven himself to be well on his way to a future of promise. But with the featherweight division left in the shadow of its captor, even then people failed to notice the Hawaiian’s quiet rise.
It took Holloway a mere three rounds to execute a man who has never been blemished with the word “finished.” In return, the UFC placed the interm featherweight strap around his waist, one that the Hawaiian himself immediately discredited. After screaming into the microphone during the post-fight interview praises and a callout of the newly undisputed champion Jose Aldo, the interim champion roared “Let’s go get the [expletive] real one!”
Overall though, Holloway has a bounty of success to celebrate even if the championship belt he earned is not one he himself and pundits criticized as “real.” At a mere 25 years of age, he stands dominantly on a the coat tails of a 10-fight win streak that puts him in the same category as widely praised greats such as Georges St-Pierre (12), Anderson Silva (16), Royce Gracie (11) and Jon Jones (13). The only man he would have any trouble competing against to build upon that feat is the current and prevailing flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson, who currently sits at 11.
This magnificent list is one littered with the status of legends, icons and men whose careers are now mythical memories when they stood at their absolute greatest. And while the rest of the world are hypnotized by McGregor’s next move, whether it be his counter to Floyd Mayweather, a cheeky post on social media or his interception of power within the UFC, they are missing the stars that are making themselves. The ones whose marketing prowess may not sparkle to the casual eye, but whose success in the octagon speaks for itself.