By Pete Hoffman
It took 371 days for Max “Blessed” Holloway to find his way back into the cage at UFC 231. It took four rounds to successfully defend his featherweight belt against Brian Ortega, but it took less than a round to see that the 27-year-old Hawaiian had recovered from a bout with depression and that cage rust would not be a factor.
After Holloway’s record-setting Saturday night, who is next for the featherweight champ? Here are the most likely matchups for Holloway (in no particular order):
Franke Edgar (No. 3-ranked featherweight): The former lightweight champ from New Jersey has successfully climbed toward the top of the 145-pound featherweight rankings. Edgar had to pull out of a scheduled fight with Holloway last December at UFC 218 due to injuries. The bout was rescheduled for March 2018 at UFC 222, but that time an injury to Holloway scrapped the fight. Ortega stepped in for Holloway and finished Edgar for the first time in his career, by first-round KO. It was Edgar’s third loss in the featherweight division, the previous two coming to former champ Jose Aldo.
With a successful rebound win over Cub Swanson in April, the 37-year-old Edgar still sits high in the featherweight rankings. His wrestling skills are elite and can minimize the effectiveness of most strikers such as Holloway. This potentially would be the final title shot of Edgar’s career, and he certainly thinks he is the one who can end Holloway’s 13-fight win streak.
Conor McGregor (No. 2-ranked lightweight): Holloway’s last loss came at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston on Aug. 17, 2013 — to none other than the “Notorious” Conor McGregor, via unanimous decision. There has been recent talk by UFC boss Dana White that he wants to see Holloway in the 155-pound lightweight division. If ever there were a non-title fight for Holloway to take, this would be the one. McGregor is the by far the biggest draw in MMA. McGregor has drawn well over 1 million pay-per-view buys in each of his past six fights (including his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr.). This may not be the best fight for McGregor after losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October, but a lot of MMA fans are pointing at this being the perfect rematch for Holloway.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission’s ruling regarding McGregor’s role in the post-match chaos at UFC 229 is still pending. The hearing has been pushed back to Jan. 29, so this doesn’t seem to be a fight that would be made anytime soon.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (lightweight champion): Last we saw the undefeated 30-year-old, he was jumping outside the cage at UFC 229 after defending his title against McGregor. Nurmagomedov is also waiting to hear from NSAC. Nurmagomedov is expected to be out for some time, so the likelihood of seeing these two champs square off soon isn’t good.
But UFC loves the champ-versus-champ main event, so this could find its way to fruition. In 2018 alone, the UFC announced Daniel Cormier-Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title at UFC 226, Amanda Nunes-Cris Cyborg for the featherweight title at UFC 232, and most recently, TJ Dillishaw-Henry Cejudo for the flyweight belt to kick off 2019 on Jan. 19 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Tony Ferguson (No. 1-ranked lightweight): Ferguson-Nurmagomedov has been scheduled four times already. After the last cancellation at UFC 223, White said “hell no” to booking it for a fifth time. Time heals all wounds. After “El Cucuy” beat Anthony Pettis by TKO at UFC 229, White changed his tune and suggested Ferguson would have the next shot at Nurmagomedov.
It’s safe to say the 34-year-old Ferguson is not looking to risk his No. 1 ranking. However, if a suspension causes Nurmagomedov a lengthy absence, Holloway vs. Ferguson could act as a good interim lightweight title fight.
Dustin Poirier (No. 3-ranked lightweight): Poirier, one of the more underrated fighters in UFC, has successfully completed his step up from featherweight to lightweight. The 29-year-old from Louisiana has lost just one of his 10 fights since returning to the division. Poirier’s last fight in the featherweight division ended in a first-round KO loss to McGregor back in September 2014. Poirier is not too thrilled with the lightweight division being put in limbo by Nurmagomedov
If Ferguson waits around for Nurmagomedov and McGregor passes on Poirier, Holloway could be a reality for him, if a long shot. The electrifying Poirier certainly deserves a big-time fight after beating lightweights Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, and Eddie Alvarez in a row, all by TKO, earning fight bonuses in each outing. And it would be an opportunity for Holloway to avenge the first of just three losses in his pro career.
Nate Diaz (No. 9-ranked lightweight): It doesn’t really make a difference whom Diaz fights. As long as the 33-year-old Stockton native is in the cage, we’ll watch. If all else fails, Holloway-Diaz would be a fun fight for the fans with nothing on the line.
Renato Moicano (No. 4-ranked featherweight): The 29-year-old up-and-comer from Brazil was the on-deck replacement for UFC 231’s main event between Holloway and Ortega in case of emergency. He wasn’t needed, and it’s a good thing: Moicano missed weight, which would have put a damper on the fight. Still, Moicano has done enough to earn a title fight. His lone loss came to Ortega at UFC 214 via guillotine choke in the third round. He’s successfully beaten Jeremy Stephens, Calvin Kattar, and Swanson in three of his past four fights. Is that enough to match him up with Holloway? It makes more sense to give Moicano one more fight — either versus Edgar in a title eliminator or versus Aldo (pending a win over Swanson at UFC 233) — to prove himself.
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