UFC 218: Whose Era will it Be in the Featherweight Division?

UFC 218 Jose Aldo Max Holloway
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Max Holloway has quietly become one of the best mixed martial artists in the world today, but former champion Jose Aldo takes the biggest risk of his career in a rematch at UFC 218.

When Max Holloway defeated Jose Aldo back in June, it appeared for all the world that he had ushered in a new era in the UFC‘s featherweight division. In 2009, Aldo was the young upstart who wreaked havoc and was one of the youngest world champions in MMA history. When Holloway won the title this summer at 25 years old, it appeared that the game had gone full circle. Now going into the rematch at UFC 218, the stakes have been raised for what is expected to be an exciting contest.

Holloway has spent the better part of the last two years accumulating wins over several of the top contenders in the featherweight division. He would likely have earned a title shot sooner, except he had to take a step back to the rotation going on between Aldo, Conor McGregor, and Chad Mendes.

His current campaign, however, has many arguing he could be one of the best featherweights of all time. Besides Aldo, he has dispatched top contenders Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, and former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. His originally scheduled fight against Frankie Edgar was supposed to further his case had he won. Besides a fight with the Korean Zombie and a rematch with Swanson, Edgar was one of the final fights left for Holloway to complete a virtual sweep of the featherweight division.

Arguably, the only caveat to his run is his loss to McGregor more than four years ago. “The Notorious” obviously went on to new heights in the sport, but not before he claimed the featherweight title. “Blessed” has said he is not opposed to a rematch in the future with McGregor, but he is also aware that the best move for himself is to dispatch of every contender in the featherweight division rather than join the crowded field vying for a fight with the Irishman.

For Aldo, he is in a precarious spot in terms of his own legacy. He had a firm hold on the title of best featherweight of all-time until McGregor halted his phenomenal run in 13 seconds. The overwhelming popularity of “The Notorious” has had an effect of revisionist history on the career Aldo due to McGregor’s win being so blatantly dominant. The fact that he moved to the lightweight division has many feeling that he was very capable of eclipsing Aldo’s run at 145 had he not moved on to the more marketable opportunities at 155.

The Brazilian phenom is aware of this, and has made no secret that a fight with McGregor is what he wants most for his legacy. Arguably, it is what he needs most. It is the nature of all sports that the next generation eventually breaks through and finds success. But a victory over McGregor ends the argument that he was the best of an era.

In losing to Max Holloway, Jose Aldo faced a younger and stylistically dangerous fighter. He was criticized for his lack of kicks during the bout which many figured would be a huge factor. Instead, Holloway overcame a strong first round from Aldo to control the second and finish the fight in the third. When the referee declared Holloway the winner, there was question of whether or not Aldo would be able to make his way back to a championship ever again.

Stepping in at UFC 218 on several weeks notice, there is no question that Aldo is taking a huge risk. The first loss was a setback, but a second in the same year would be devastating. Virtually, Aldo would likely not get back to the championship unless Holloway were to lose. At just 31 years old, it would leave Aldo in a unique place considering his legendary status.

Due to the first fight having taken place rather recently, the changes to be made are very clear-cut. For Jose Aldo, he needs to improve upon the strong first round he had in June by diversifying his attack. Most obviously: leg kicks. Max Holloway is not a wrestler by nature and Aldo should look to attack the legs. Now, there has been plenty of speculation as to why he has not used one of his signature weapons in recent years. Regardless of the reason for their absence, the fact remains that Aldo will face great adversity to overcome the boxing and length of the champion without them.

For Holloway, he is now aware of a potential early storm from the Brazilian challenger. The key will be to tighten up his defense and pump the jab in the face of Aldo to keep him at bay. Aldo had success when he was stringing his combinations together and coming forward. Holloway should look to pick him apart with better footwork and use his boxing to counter Aldo. He saw in the first fight that he has the power to hurt Aldo on the feet, that should translate into more confidence when throwing strikes and more patience in picking apart Aldo.

With a victory at UFC 218, Jose Aldo can turn the featherweight division back on its head in his favor and add arguably one of the biggest victories by a fighter this year. Max Holloway is a candidate for fighter of the year and a second dominating performance over the best featherweight of all time at UFC 218 would only further his own place in history. Only one man can walk away with the belt, and that man will likely cement a greater place in history when it’s all over.