ATLANTA – Max Holloway believes the path to recognition as the best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC goes through the lightweight division.
That means a move up in weight class. Holloway says he will let his featherweight championship belt “bake a little bit longer” so he can face Dustin Poirier for the interim lightweight title on Saturday night in UFC 236.
The possible reward for the winner will be a date with undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov .
The retirement of Conor McGregor , who was the sport’s most popular fighter, leaves a void in UFC. McGregor held featherweight and lightweight titles but hasn’t won a fight since November 2016.
Nurmagomedov said this month he would like to fight again in September, two months after the end of his Nevada State Athletic Commission ban for his team’s brawl with McGregor’s team following their fight in October.
Holloway (20-3) has won 17 consecutive fights since losing to McGregor in 2013. He knows he must extend that winning streak to claim more of the UFC spotlight.
“To me, the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world should represent dominance, and that’s where I want to go,” Holloway said Thursday. “After the fight I want people to say ‘What or who or where is this kid from?“’
Holloway, 27, from Waianae, Hawaii, is attempting to become the fourth fighter to hold two UFC belts at the same time. He said he’s not worried about the move up to the 155-pound class.
“A lot of the guys that are considered pound-for-pound fighters in the world, a bunch of them are in 55,” Holloway said. “I feel great and I feel like I fit in here. This is what you’ve got to do. If this is where I’ve got to be, that’s cool.”
Besides, moving up in weight class meant eating more cupcakes for the fighter nicknamed “Blessed.”
“That’s easy work,” said Holloway with a smile. “Cupcakes are too easy. I’m Hawaiian Samoan.”
The Holloway-Poirier matchup is one of two title fights in UFC’s return to Atlanta. Kelvin Gastelum (15-3) will fight Israel Adesanya (16-0) of New Zealand for the middleweight interim title.
Holloway made his UFC debut with a first-round loss to Poirier in 2012. Both say the first fight is ancient history and no indicator of what to expect Saturday night.
Poirier, of Lafayette, Louisiana, said he was shocked when recently shown the video of the 2012 fight with Holloway.
“I was just thinking, look at these kids and me as a kid and how far I’ve come, making things happen for myself,” Poirier said.
Poirier (24-5) remembers the young Holloway was unpolished.
“His striking was definitely aggressive and high-paced,” Poirier said. “The takedown was easier than other opponents I’ve fought, but he’s tightened up those holes. Seven years is a long time to get better.”
Poirier said he’s also improved since the 2012 fight.
“You don’t stay on this level by not evolving, by not getting better,” Poirier said. “You fade away if you don’t. So we both just evolved and got better and got smarter and got more experienced and here we are in the championship fight, seven years later.”
Holloway was more direct when comparing his current skills with the young fighter who lost to Poirier.
“Max today would bloody that 20-year-old kid who walked into the octagon,” he said.
Also Saturday night, Eryk Andres (11-2), a former Alabama football player, will face Kalil Rountree Jr. (8-2) in one of two light heavyweight fights. Ovince Saint Preux (23-12) will face Nikita Krylov (25-6) of Ukraine in the other light heavyweight fight.
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