In elite MMA, there’s a status that exists between the champion and the top challengers. It’s not quite a “gatekeeper” but more an “elite gatekeeper” in that they can beat everyone in the division except the champion.

Unfortunately for Max Holloway, that’s the position he holds in the UFC’s featherweight division. And a win over Arnold Allen at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Allen on Saturday night has done nothing to change that.

It’s not the worst position to be in per se. Holloway (24-7, 20-7 UFC), much like middleweight “elite gatekeeper” Robert Whittaker, is a former champion who represented the division well before running into a stronger, better equipped fighter.

Max Holloway’s path to the title is complicated

After losing to current champ Alexander Volkanovski, Max Holloway was granted an immediate rematch that he lost in a controversial split decision. He was then able to defend his position as top contender against Calvin Kattar and current interim UFC featherweight champion Yair Rodriguez to earn a third fight against Volkanovski, a rare opportunity after losing the first two.

The result of the third fight was the same as the first two but Holloway’s performance put his elite status into question, appearing slow and hesitant in a way he hadn’t looked since losing an Interim UFC lightweight championship fight back in 2019.

A main event against surging contender Allen (19-2, 10-1 UFC), who entered Saturday undefeated in his UFC career, would be one that, under normal circumstances, could have determined whether Holloway is ready for a title shot. It certainly could have meant as much if his British opponent had pulled off the upset.

Instead, for Holloway, the fight was to decide his place manning the gate to the throne, and, to his credit, he defended that position well. Expressing frustration beforehand in preparing for a fighter who has only competed 10 times in 8 years, Holloway used his range and quick combinations to chip away at Arnold over five rounds to win an impressive unanimous decision.

But, as important as the win may have been to Holloway keeping his place in the rankings, it did nothing to change his fate. It did nothing to move him closer to the championship.

The win will not get Holloway a fourth fight with Volkanovski, or at least not one for the featherweight belt.

Max Holloway has faith in a fourth fight with Volkanovski

Before Saturday’s main event in Kansas City went down, Max Holloway laughed at the notion he couldn’t get another crack at ‘The Great’ citing inspiration from Israel Adesanya’s knockout of Alex Pereira at UFC 287 as reason enough to be hopeful that he could find a way to “settle the score” and turn a miserable 0-3 slump into a slightly less miserable 1-3.

That 1 really makes all the difference for these guys, doesn’t it?

Adesanya got what he wanted but it was due to the unique nature of his rivalry with Pereira, one that spanned multiple sports, in addition to the fact that he was just coming off losing the title.

Holloway already got his immediate rematch. Then he was able to earn another crack. At this point, it would take a seismic shift within the division for ‘Blessed’ to get another shot.

Getting the fourth fight with Volk would be more surprising than Blink-182 playing Coachella.

Max Holloway never to be champ again? Say it ain’t so!

I’m not saying Max Holloway can’t get back to the featherweight title but it’s not likely to happen unless Volkanovski moves up in weight. Luckily, that very scenario may be what’s next after a unification match with Rodriguez happens at UFC 290.

If Volkanovski wins, he’ll be in a position where he can choose to continue his reign as featherweight champion, or he can go up to lightweight and challenge UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in a rematch of the UFC 284 clash that Volkanovski feels he won. Considering how adamant he was that the rematch was going to happen, it seems the latter option will ultimately be the more appealing one.

That would open the door for Holloway to vie for and reclaim the crown at featherweight. He’d be holding it knowing he wasn’t able to beat the previous champion but, hey, that didn’t stop Daniel Cormier from having a Hall of Fame career.

If Holloway’s goal in continuing to take fights against top contenders is to get back to the belt, then he may yet be able to do it. With a career as accomplished as his, and with his own lingering questions about giving 155 another try (Max, what’s your record against Dustin Poirier again?), there’s little reason to keep pushing as hard as he is if he doesn’t genuinely believe he can make the impossible possible.

It can be baffling to understand such a mentality but it’s also admirable. Holloway’s determination in the face of such odds shows what it means to truly be an elite fighter, ensuring that the gate to the title stays closed for everyone except himself.

And one day soon, all the small things he does to stay ahead of the pack may finally be enough to get him back to the rock show once again.

About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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