<
>

Is Max Holloway the greatest featherweight ever?

play
Holloway defeats Ortega to defend title (0:56)

Max Holloway breaks down the highlights of his TKO victory vs. Brian Ortega at UFC 231 to defend the featherweight title. (0:56)

Max Holloway's dominant performance on Saturday -- a fourth-round TKO win against Brian Ortega -- has led some to anoint the Hawaiian the best featherweight ever. After all, Holloway has won 13 consecutive fights, including two against his top competition for the honor: Jose Aldo. The Brazilian, though, reigned supreme in the division for a decade. And what about Conor McGregor, who defeated both of them?

Our panel of ESPN MMA experts -- Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim, Phil Murphy and Chamatkar Sandhu -- gave their take on which featherweight deserves the title as best in history.


Okamoto: It's still Jose Aldo for me, guys. Maybe I just don't like change, or I'm a slave to that "Aldo came first, so he'll always be first" way of thinking -- but I gotta say, the Aldo era at 145 pounds (which spanned more than five years) is right up there with one of the best things I've ever covered in this sport.

Look at it this way: A big part of the reason Conor McGregor turned into the Conor McGregor we now know him as (and how it happened so fast), is because he had such a dominant champ to put a bullseye on. If you remember, what really got McGregor's attention early, were his ridiculous callouts of Aldo. It's one thing to call out a UFC champion before you've even cracked the top 10, but it was another to call out Aldo at the time McGregor did. The man was completely invincible.

There's a chance Holloway might be the best fighter on the planet right now and the most entertaining. He's building a resume that might stand among the greatest we've ever seen when it's all said and done. But at this moment, he still has a little ways to go to catch Aldo in my opinion.


Wagenheim: One plus one does not equal two. Nope, not in MMA math. So while Max Holloway did knock the stuffing out of Jose Aldo, then put his lights out a second time, that does not add up to "blessed," getting my blessing as the greatest featherweight the Octagon has ever seen. Not yet.

Holloway is surely the most deferential ever, though. After his inspiring victory Saturday night, he didn't allow the moment to go to his head.

"I still believe the greatest featherweight of all time is Jose Aldo," he insisted.

It's all about the old math: Aldo amassed 18 straight wins, made nine title defenses and owned one decade. From 2006 through 2015, he was untouchable. Just ask Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes (ask them each twice).

None of this is to suggest that Holloway is second tier. He just hasn't yet had time to reach his peak. With just two title defenses so far, he's that .350 hitter who doesn't have enough qualifying at-bats to be recognized as league batting champ. Holloway is relentlessly moving forward, though, just like in his fights. And if being the featherweight GOAT is a goal Max deems worthy of sticking around at 145 pounds to pursue, there's nothing the Aldo legacy can do to stop him.


Murphy: Anointing Max Holloway as the all-time greatest featherweight confuses trajectory with résumé. Even Holloway conceded that post-fight at UFC 231, saying, "[José Aldo] set the bar, and I'm chasing that bar."

Holloway has defended the undisputed belt twice? Cool. Aldo defended it nine times. Holloway has won 13 straight since dropping a decision to Conor McGregor? Outstanding. Aldo went 18-0 over 10 years before 13 seconds smeared his legacy.

Holloway turned 27 last week. The style he employs historically lends to a chin that fades prematurely. As long as Max avoids that -- which I think he does -- he'll be the 145-pound GOAT by age 30. Feel free to book tickets aboard the Blessed Express.

Choo. Choo.


Sandhu: While Max Holloway believes Jose Aldo is the greatest featherweight of all time, I respectfully disagree.

Let's start with the stats and records. Holloway's 13-fight win streak is tied for the second longest in company history, alongside Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Demetrious Johnson. Only Anderson Silva is ahead of that group with 16. That's some pretty good company. This win streak is also the longest among active fighters in the UFC. He also has the most wins in UFC featherweight history. That's just some of the numbers, but here's probably the most important one. He's only 27 years old.

What he has been able to do so early in his career is just insane, and it's incredibly exciting to think that his best days might be ahead of him.

When you look at both their respective records side by side, yes, both men beat the very best of their generation (Conor McGregor not included), but the most important victories when comparing their resume and results is when they fought each other. Holloway beat Aldo. Twice. Not only did Holloway win, but he finished the Brazilian legend on both occasions. This wasn't some over-the-hill fighter nearing his 40s. Neither was Aldo, who just turned 32, so it's not as if he was a shadow of his former self. The only losses on his UFC/WEC record have come at the hands of McGregor and Holloway, which speaks volumes.

Even if you still consider Aldo the GOAT at 145 pounds, for now, with the career trajectory Holloway is on, it won't be too long until there's no argument at all. The best is blessed at featherweight.