Max Holloway says the interim title is just ‘my way to Jose Aldo’

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Max Holloway is big on respect.

The 24-year-old Hawaiian featherweight doesn’t pay too much attention to the rankings, and he certainly doesn’t care when another fighter claims to deserve a title shot more than him because that’s all part of the game in mixed martial arts.

Where Holloway’s ears perked up was due to comments from current featherweight champion Jose Aldo earlier this year when he said that he preferred a fight with Anthony Pettis because the former lightweight king was a bigger name in the sport.

In fact, Aldo has doubled down on that request while barely mentioning Holloway’s name at all when discussing his next fight in the UFC.

That’s the kind of disrespect Holloway can’t stomach, so when the UFC asked him to fight for an interim featherweight belt at UFC 206 against Pettis, he knew this was finally his chance to win the gold and then set his sights on Aldo next.

"The way I feel about this belt is it’s my way to Jose Aldo," Holloway told the Fight Society podcast this week. "By any means, I’m not looking past Anthony Pettis. I’m not looking past him. I’ve got Anthony Pettis first but this is a step in the right direction. After this the path is really, really clear. Before this it was still unclear with Conor (McGregor) and Aldo and stuff. Now it’s super clear. I get past Pettis and there’s only one guy on the chopping block and he’d be next."

First things first, Holloway knows he has to get past Pettis on Saturday night if he wants to secure the shot at Aldo while hoping to unify the UFC featherweight title.

Long before an interim belt was on the line, Holloway was already preparing for Pettis, so getting bumped to the main event with championship implications doesn’t really change much for him in the end.

The way he thought about Pettis a few weeks ago is the exact same way he feels about the former lightweight champion today.

"He looked just like another fighter," Holloway said about Pettis’ featherweight debut. "I don’t fear no man in this weight class. He’s just another guy on the way to the top. He did good, he did great finishing a tough guy in Charles Oliveira. You’ve got to give him respect. I ain’t no hater. He did great so let’s see how we matchup Dec. 10.

"He came out good, came out strong, faded a little bit and came back strong again. He got back in the win column so you’ve got to give the guy respect. I would say I was impressed, but he’s just another fighter. There wasn’t nothing special about it. He went out there and showed his game, showed some holes so come Dec. 10, I’m looking to exploit those holes."

Throughout his career with the UFC and WEC, Pettis has been defined by his flashy striking and knockout power, which eventually led him to titles in both organizations. Pettis has picked up more than a few highlight reel finishes along with a few more spectacular moments, including his infamous "Showtime" kick where he literally climbed the cage before leaping off and knocking down Benson Henderson in their title fight from 2010.

Still despite those accolades, Holloway has heard plenty of strikers say they will stand and trade with him before yet it doesn’t often happen. He even points out that former featherweight champion Conor McGregor shot for takedowns during their meeting in 2013.

"Every single guy that told me they’re going to trying to see and touch me in my striking, they start shooting. These strikers turn into wrestlers," Holloway said. "It’s the game of MMA but my striking, I believe I’m in the best in the world.

"People call it cockiness or whatever but I call it call it confidence. In this sport you need to believe in yourself because damn sure no one is going to do it for you."

In the end, Holloway just believes his overall skills will trump Pettis on Saturday night and then Aldo has nowhere left to run unless the featherweight champion decides to retire, which he did tease as a possibility earlier this year.

"I’m looking at Anthony Pettis but if everything goes good and I get my hand raised at the end of the fight, we’ll see if Aldo’s going to stick around or not," Holloway said. "It’s up in the air. This guy had a chance to fight me at UFC 205 and there were rumors of us fighting on this card so we’ll see what happens.

"Who knows where that guy’s mind’s at right now. It’s going all haywire. I got that vaccine for him whenever he’s ready that (expletive) (expletive)-itis he has. We’re going to figure out if he wants the vaccine or not on December 10."

Hear the rest of Holloway’s interview along with the rest of the latest Fight Society podcast previewing UFC 206 on Soundcloud or download and subscribe to the show on iTunes.