Max Holloway’s featherweight title defense against challenger Frankie Edgar this Saturday at UFC 240 is a fascinating fight between two of the most well-rounded fighters in the world. On paper, there are interesting contrasts of strengths and physical attributes.
So many intangible factors may very well come into play, here, however. Below, we examine just a few of them in anticipation of this matchup between the two all-time greats.
As is often the case at the highest levels, this area of the fight isn’t really a matter of who is, simply, “better” at stand-up striking. The reality is that neither Holloway nor Edgar have many accidental technical weaknesses on the feet.
Both men have crisp punches, know how to set them up with feints, possess excellent timing and throw in volume to the head and body alike. The differences in the stand-up striking sectors between Holloway and Edgar are still many.
Edgar is primarily a puncher when it comes to striking on the feet. That is to say that he rarely kicks with consequence and prefers to do work with his hands.
Holloway, on the other hand, is a slick puncher but also ends combinations with kicks at all levels fluidly and with power. In the clinch both men are strong, with Holloway showing constantly improving framing and posture control to both defend takedowns and to set up elbows, knees and trips of his own form the inside.
Edgar is phenomenal at being first with strikes upon separation. Holloway has similar technical hustle but he needs to be particularly cautious in this matchup to not back out of clinches standing tall with his chin in the air or too light on his feet, making him susceptible to takedowns off of re-shots from the excellent wrestler Edgar.
Both men are willing to trade strikes in the pocket, slipping and blocking strikes expertly, but they each also are capable of utilizing excellent footwork to angle away from danger. Edgar may have opportunities to land leg kicks on separation should he choose to go that direction and anticipates Holloway’s defensive footwork. No single such kick would likely be devastating but they could accumulate and soften up Holloway’s legs and make it harder for him to sit down on his punches or defend takedowns, eventually.
If Holloway is patient and keeps things at a long range with his feet and jab, initially, the longer defending champ should find opportunities to counter and evade Edgar. Edgar will have a long way to go to get on the inside against Holloway, and even then he’ll have to deal with solid overhooks and framing forearms.
It is likely Edgar will use faked level-changes to feint takedowns and then, if he gets a reaction out of Holloway, instead choose to punch his way inside.
Holloway has more single-shot power at featherweight, but Edgar’s devastating power comes from his timing and accurate punch placement. When those two things come together for “The Answer,” he’s capable of putting away anyone.
Edgar is clearly the more skilled amateur wrestler and poses serious takedown threats against anyone, but Holloway’s MMA defensive wrestling is excellent. He begins his takedown defense with his footwork, not letting most opponents get close enough to him to shoot for takedowns without reaching and exposing themselves to counters.
In his prime, Edgar’s footwork was likely even faster than Holloway’s. Now, at 37 years old and a decade older than the champion, however, Edgar may not necessarily retain that hypothetical advantage.
Edgar will likely find difficulty getting into wrestling range in the fight, and if he does manage to press Holloway against the cage, the Hawaiian will probably be able to use the cage wall well to help himself remain upright.
If the fight does go to the ground, it will likely be because someone was dropped by strikes. In such a situation the pursuing person would clearly be at an advantage.
Should the fight hit the mat because of a takedown, however, with both men in their right minds, things could get interesting. Whoever is on top will be at an especially serious advantage because each man possesses great stickiness on top when they want to, and are adept at not losing position when that’s their focus.
Edgar’s get-ups are more explosive, while Holloway’s are more gradual and will leave him open to peppering shots on the way up. I think it’s unlikely either fighter wins off of his back, unless it is with a choke after a stunning blow to the head was landed.
If both men were in their physical primes and equally fresh in terms of absence of brain trauma, the fight would be hard enough to call. In all likelihood, both men are capable of winning in any case.
Still, things like freshness and age are complicated notions, here. Chronologically, Edgar is so much older than Holloway that it would seem logical to assume that he will have a tad less sharp reflexes at this point, and be a bit more worn, susceptible to going out from shots to the head more than in his earlier years. To be sure, Edgar is in the 14th year of a long and fruitful MMA career, and was knocked unconscious just two fights ago.
So, his health simply cannot be what it was nearly a decade ago when he was lightweight champion and much younger. Still, it isn’t always about the years, and Holloway has plenty of damaging mileage on his brain’s odometer.
Just about three months ago Holloway was battered for five rounds by Dustin Poirier in his lightweight interim title challenge. Poirer’s coach Mike Brown told me shortly after that decision win for “The Diamond” that he was shocked Holloway could stay on his feet after absorbing as many brain-rattling shots as he did from his charge.
His fight prior to that one vs. Brian Ortega was a dominating one for Holloway, but there’s reason to believe that he and his team aren’t exactly protecting his gray matter. Just a year ago Holloway was pulled from a scheduled title defense because of concussion-like symptoms.
He and his team attempted to keep it a secret and go through with the fight, but his movement and speech on fight week gave away that he was suffering. We don’t know how many other times they’ve attempted to and actually “succeeded” in fighting after sustaining serious brain trauma in training.
What we do know is that Holloway may have suffered a concussion just a year ago, just a few months ago took five more rounds of damage to his head and that his speech seems slightly slurred now, at just 27 years of age.
Brain damage doesn’t always negatively impact fighters’ performances noticeably for some time. The truly tragic symptoms sometimes don’t present themselves until years after they’ve finished their careers.
So, Holloway may very well be as fast as usual, Saturday, regardless of what he’ll have to deal with in his later years. Both men have suffered recent brain trauma, and so either may very well be more likely to go down to fewer or less hard strikes than they used to.
That adds an element of unpredictability into this fight that makes reliable prognostication on matters like freshness, reflexes, speed and ability to take strikes, impossible.
If the fight were to happen in a vacuum of perfect health for both fighters, it would be a pick-em, though I’d give an advantage to the larger, longer, more well-rounded striker Holloway in such a case. Sadly, however, we can’t be sure of either’s health at this point, making it especially difficult to predict.
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