Sunday 15 September 2019

Former Conor McGregor foe Max Holloway: 'I thought I would get harassed in Dublin'

Tom Rooney

It may not have occurred to them in that moment, but the August 2013 bout between Conor McGregor and Max Holloway at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston’s TD Garden would have a seismic effect on their respective futures.

For McGregor, quite possibly, the shift proved more profound, considering not all that transpired on the preliminary card contest was positive, at least not immediately.

It was only the then 24-year-old’s second outing with the world’s foremost MMA promotion, but it was clear he had already left an indelible mark on the rough, unforgiving terrain of combat sports.

Just over four months previously, he debuted inside the octagon against Marcus Brimage in Stockholm, and would lay out the American in 67 seconds through a series of pinpoint uppercuts.

For his post-fight interview inside the cage, the Crumlin man’s larger than life personality quickly became apparent as he bellowed out the now immortal line; ‘Dana, 60gs baby!’

He was lobbying UFC president Dana White for bonus money, which he was duly awarded. On top of his paltry show money, McGregor was awarded a life-changing $50k for Knockout of the Night.

After, the wide-eyed Team SBG man was invited to the post-fight press conference; far from the norm for first-timers positioned way down the billing.

But, as is his way, McGregor didn’t disappoint.

He charmed all in concert with stories of still drawing social welfare, and how he was wearing his grandfather’s suit; all this while munching blueberries. A star was born.

He was initially matched with England’s Andy Ogle for the show in Boston, a city synonymous with the fighting Irish spirit. Ogle withdrew and Holloway was drafted in.

Amazingly, a raft of media attended McGregor’s open workout in the infamous boxing gym run by Peter Welch; even at that early stage all his contemporaries seemed prosaic in comparison.

Max Holloway first entered the UFC at the tender age of 20; the baby-faced Hawaiian is three years McGregor’s junior, but on the evening in question, he was undertaking his sixth bout with the organisation.

His five bouts to that point were bookended by defeats; the first was a submission loss to Dustin Poirier on his debut, while the second came at the hands of Dennis Bermudez, two months before he faced McGregor.

The Hawaiian had accrued more elite level experience than his Irish foe but, as evidenced by what unfolded, McGregor possessed considerably greater fighting nous.

As McGregor walked out to the octagon, the lights were dimmed-also normally reserved for marquee stars- and he drew what proved the biggest roar of the night by those in attendance.

In the first round he beguiled Holloway with his fluent, fast-twitch striking, and it appeared as though McGregor would not require the full three rounds to complete his task.

However, in the second stanza, disaster struck. While trying to advance his position on the mat, McGregor tore the ACL in his knee. The injury required surgery and would keep him side-line for the better part of the year.

Many wondered was this too much of a blow for his burgeoning career to withstand, particularly in light of the ailment in question. Many athletes in a variety of codes have failed to return from it, and those that do are often a depleted force.

Yet, all the while remaining firmly in the public consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic, McGregor recovered with great haste and success.

He was awarded a headlining slot for the UFC’s return to Dublin. In 02 Arena that night, he put away Diego Brandao with a consummate ease, but the real story was that Ireland had its latest sporting global superstar. The rest, as they say, is history.

For Holloway, the progression achieved in the interim might not be as prominent to those not fully invested in MMA, but it has been ultra-impressive.

The 24-year-old has notched off seven straight wins since that loss and now stands level with champion Jose Aldo for most consecutive victories in the featherweight division.

Given his age and talent, many foresee Holloway as the future of the bracket.

Especially with McGregor likely to depart for the lightweight class if he usurps Aldo in December. Frankie Edgar is 34, Cub Swanson, a spent force, while Chad Mendes (matched with Edgar) has already failed in his three title tilts.

Though, the prospect of Holloway and McGregor resuming hostilities in the future is far from outlandish. He is, after all, the only man to take the interim featherweight champion the distance.

Holloway is in Dublin this weekend to support his teammate Louis Smolka who, of course, faces Paddy Holohan in the Saturday’s makeshift main event at the 3Arena. Speaking yesterday at the media event, he was pleasantly surprised not to be accosted by McGregor’s acolytes.

“It’s my first time in Ireland and I love it,” he said. “I got to do a meet and greet yesterday; I thought I was going to get harassed, but it was actually quite different. Everybody wants to see that rematch with McGregor here. I thought they’d be harassing me, talking shit, but they’ve actually been really supportive so that’s super-cool.

Regarding his bout McGregor, he claims it to have been educational, though endeavour in training is what should be attributed to his sustained success.

He’s adamant they’ll cross paths again. He faces the dangerous Jeremy Stephens in December at UFC 194, the same night McGregor and Aldo decide the fate of the division.

“It was just another fight I lost. It’s only a loss if you don’t learn from it. I learned a lot of myself in that fight and, it is what it is, he was just a better man that night. I think me and him will face each other a couple of more times as long as we’re both in the UFC,” he said.

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