TORONTO — The tributes were quick to roll in after featherweight champion Max (Blessed) Holloway’s bloody, brutal and lopsided TKO win over No. 1 challenger Brian (T-City) Ortega at UFC 231.
“What a fight … You are a great champion,” tweeted lightweight title-holder Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“Feels like he is gonna run this division about as long as he wants,” added UFC welterweight Ben Askren, a former One Championship and Bellator champion.
“He possibly could be the greatest (featherweight) ever,” summed up UFC president Dana White.
Brazil’s Jose Aldo, who defended his WEC and UFC titles nine times, was long considered the gold standard of MMA featherweights. Holloway beat him twice, leaving him a bloody mess.
If White has his way, Holloway (20-3-0) will turns his sights on the lightweight division next. White wants the Hawaiian to move up to 155 pounds to avoid the gruelling weight cut to make 145.
“I think he’s done everything he can do at 145,” he said.
Avoiding the Blessed Express will have UFC featherweights heaving a sigh of relief. And likely help their health.
Coming off a year-long absence due to a variety of ailments, Holloway silenced any doubters with a masterful striking performance Saturday night before a soldout Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,039.
And he did it against a quality opponent.
The 27-year-old Ortega arrived unbeaten in 15 fights. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who can tie opponents up like a pretzel without going to the ground, the laid-back Californian can also punch. He handed former Frankie (The Answer) Edgar his first stoppage loss with an uppercut that literally lifted the former lightweight champion off his feet while turning out his lights.
But Ortega (14-1-0 with one no contest) had no answers for Holloway, who battered him for four rounds until the doctor stopped the beating.
Ortega’s left eye was virtually closed, his nose likely broken and his face a bloody mask. It was a testament to Ortega’s toughness that he made it that far.
“One of the sickest fights I’ve ever seen … What a fight,” said White, who applauded the doctor’s decision to halt the bout.
According to FightMetric, Holloway connected on 290 of 490 significant strikes — a UFC single-fight record — and by the end they came in bunches, hammering Ortega’s face like Rocky and the side of beef.
The two fighters combined for 400 significant strikes landed (Ortega connected on 110 of 292 attempts), erasing the UFC single-fight record of 334 set by Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone in a 2011 three-round bout.
Holloway moved into first place in all-time significant strikes landed in the UFC with 1,627, passing Michael Bisping (1,567) and Edgar (1,463).
When the dust settled, Holloway had won his 13th straight, tying Georges St-Pierre, Demetrious Johnson and Jon (Bones) Jones for second in UFC history behind Anderson Silva’s 16.
“Surprise, surprise, the King is Max,” Holloway said with a cackle as he met the media early Sunday morning.
Ortega did not take part in the news conference, no doubt receiving medical treatment.
A volume striker, Holloway has befuddled fighters with his standup skills. Able to control the distance and dictate the standup game, he has overwhelmed one opponent after another. His right hand hit the left side of Ortega’s face like a piston.
His superb takedown defence, meanwhile, robs rivals of many of their skills. Prior to Saturday night, Holloway had not been taken down since an August 2014 win over Clay Collard, who landed one of 10 takedown attempts. Holloway had repelled all 27 takedowns attempted in his nine previous bouts since then.
Ortega was credited with two takedowns, out of 11 attempts, but Holloway quickly got back to his feet both times.
A showman, the champion danced at one point. He invited Ortega to hit him another time, dropping his hands. When Ortega landed a punch, Holloway nodded as if to give props. Then he hit him back repeatedly.
As for who is the greatest at 145 pounds, the 27-year-old Holloway still references Aldo.
“When I’m 30 or 31 or his age (32), then you ask me if I’m the greatest featherweight of all time,” he said. “But at the end of the day I want to be the pound-for-pound No. 1.”
Holloway went into UFC 231 as No. 5 in the UFC pound-for-pound rankings behind light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, Nurmagomedov, Jones and bantamweight title-holder T.J. Dillashaw.
He is likely to climb when the new rankings come out.
A happy go-lucky Hawaiian whose ever-present six-year-old son is dubbed Mini-Blessed, Holloway admits to going through depression earlier this year when doctors could not explain concussion-like symptoms that forced him out of a planned UFC UFC 226 date with Ortega in July.
White believes the issue was due to the weight cut.
Restored to health, Holloway picked up an extra US$100,000 in bonuses for fight and performance of the night. And his bank account is likely to keep growing if White convinces him to move up in weight.
“Dana White is the boss. The boss is looking for super-fights,” Holloway said.
There are plenty available at 155 pounds from Nurmagomedov to Conor McGregor, who handed him his last loss in August 2013. No. 1 contender Tony Ferguson has already volunteered his services.
“I ain’t picky,” said Holloway. “Feed me. They all can get it.”