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UFC Fight Night: Max Holloway vs. Charles Oliveira Toe to Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about a prospect showdown between Max Holloway and Charles Oliviera for UFN 74 in Canada.

Max Holloway fights Charles Oliveira at featherweight for the main event of UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Oliveira on August 23, 2015 at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Single sentence summary:

Phil: Two men who have been in the UFC since they were young reach the finale of their own personal Battle Royale


David: Two men less than 26 years old finally get the battle between prospect kin they've been violently dodging since Joe Silva's nightmare on jump street.


Max "Blessed" Holloway
Odds: -220

Charles "Do Bronx" Oliveira
Odds: +180

History lesson / introduction to the fighters

Phil: Sometimes winning a fight can be more dangerous for your career than losing it. Like the young Do Bronx versus Efrain Escudero in 2010. The TUF winner still had some hype left at that point, and when Oliveira dismantled him, it gave the impression that the skinny young Brazilian was ready for prime time. He wasn't, but it took Sean Shelby a while to notice, so Oliveira bounced back and forth between bad losses to peak form veterans and borderline squash matches. Luckily he got some more appropriate matchups and has established himself as a top 10 fighter, becoming as skilled and dangerous as any of his early fans might have hoped.

David: I still chalk up everything about Oliviera to the UFC's lack of real structure and philosophy in how they groom prospects. It's always hard to believe that he's 25. But it's great to see the visceral timeline of a fighter hitting his "prime". Whether that translates into a potential title shot is another matter.

Phil: While Oliveira fought against enormous experience differentials, Max Holloway ended up at the other end of the spectrum, being booked as an action-fighter stepping stone for gifted and relatively unknown fighters to get over on. The first hints of his true potential came when he almost beat Dennis Bermudez, but it was when he upset Andre Fili that it became apparent how well-rounded he could be. He's coming off an shockingly one-sided annihilation of Cub Swanson.

David: Holloway is a prospect kin to Oliveira. He's another prospect that got too many big fights too early. But whereas the UFC bungled Oliveria's growth "by design" so to speak, the UFC bungled Holloway's on accident. I know all prospects eventually experience loss, and they might as well experience it sooner rather than later, but I'm always just irritated that a veteran contender/peak prospect has little to earn in such matchups. It's amazing to think that Holloway is already 12 fights into his UFC career.

What are the stakes?

Phil: This is the only currently-booked fight where someone has a real chance to break into the featherweight top 4, and get close to what may be MMA's most tantalizing prize. Neither Oliveira or Holloway are likely make it to a title shot off this win, but they've got nowhere to go but to a fight against Mendes or Edgar. I guess they could fight Ricardo Lamas...?

David: Pretty high. There's kind of a philosophical stake for both fighters as well, since a win will reflect that nature of prospect development. They may not have been prepared in the typical way to potentially face off against former and current title holders, but they're ready all the same.

Where do they want it?

Phil: Aside from the obvious and reductive striker-vs-grappler dynamic this is a matchup where the first fighter to take a step backwards may be in trouble. Both are offensive chainsaws, and both have been in trouble when they haven't been able to get rolling.

Holloway has been turning into a special striker, and a special fighter in general. He's happy working from either stance, although he's obviously more of a right-side attacker: the right jab or the right straight, or the round and front kicks from the right leg. What impresses the most is how much depth there is to his game. His takedown defense has improved a ton, and is supplanted with increasingly dangerous offensive grappling and a Cerrone-esque stepping knee.

He's a distance fighter who can actually fight long for protracted sessions, because he has what is the missing piece of the puzzle for many: footwork. Rather than tossing out a solitary jab which, when bypassed, allows an opponent to get in, he'll throw a two-piece and then slide out of the way. He'll open and close clinches with short hooks and straights. When his opponent is hurt, he starts unloading with evil six or seven punch combinations, with a nasty emphasis on body work. If I'm gushing a bit, it's because I'm genuinely blown away by Holloway. How did he get this damn good? He fights out of a relatively small gym in Hawaii, but he has the broad, technical and consistent game of a meticulously polished prospect from an elite camp.

David: People always refrain with the line "if only BJ Penn/Fedor/Whoever worked at a proper gym". It's an attractive bit of butterfly effect logic, but it cuts both ways. Maybe something about an environment where you're not under the strict tutelage of someone else can be strategically liberating.

I'm not saying people like Matt Hume, and Greg Jackson don't have value to offer because that's ridiculous. But different fighters respond to different environments. So I can see why Holloway could still be a rousing success. Imperfections are part of a fighter's quality. It's possible for coaches to stifle the pugilism creativity of their fighters in favor of rigid technique computation.

Holloway has indeed looked awesome . He's technically improved while simultaneously becoming more strategically alert. That alertness quickly turns into calculated violence. I happen to think no other fighter incorporates spinning strikes into their arsenal better than Holloway. Some may be technically better, or physically quicker or more powerful. But Holloway does a great job of making the spinning strikes part of his pugilism rhythm, rather than some kind of gimmick, or arbitrary punctuation.

Phil: Oliveira is, as we've mentioned, very much the younger, sped-up version of the Werdum archetype: round kicks at distance, then marching combinations straight into the clinch. In many ways he's an even more exaggerated version- the Go Horse is a bit more comfortable both fighting from a distance with the jab, and closing distance with a double leg, but Oliveira is the purest version of the Muay Thai/BJJ artist we've ever seen. Once inside, he's got vicious knees, snap-downs and elbows in the clinch, very much enabled by his height for the division.

Additionally, he's potentially even more dangerous than Werdum in the clinch simply due to the fact that he's a featherweight: pulling guard is far more effective as a strategy at low weight classes for obvious physical reasons. Namely, it's easier for smaller people to sweep and lift something approximately similar to their own body weight. Once on the floor, he's one of the most ferociously dangerous and well-rounded submission artists in the sport

David: Oliviera is another fighter that's easy to gush about. He's one of the most offensively threatening grapplers in MMA. He's not like the Aoki's and Kitaoka's of the world (fine/or once fine fighters in their own right). Who are predictably threatening. Oliveira is suddenly threatening. And that makes him much more effective. He submitted Hatsu Hoiki, who has been rolling up black belts like tamales for years. Dude's a boss.

But his striking continues to make him a sudden multidimensional threat. From the perspective of mechanics, he's not all there. In fact, he displays some of the flaws on the feet that make me suspect those mechanics will never be there. But even as is, he's got a malicious attack in the clinch, and mule kicks low and high.

Insight from past fights?

Phil: In a fight between two lanky guys, Holloway has had much more experience than Oliveira at fighting this body type. Andre Fili, Cole Miller, Will Chope, even Conor McGregor. At two of them gave Holloway issues: Fili (before he tired) and McGregor (before he blew out his knee) backed Max up with volume and workrate.

Holloway has always performed his best against pot-shotters, but if Oliveira is anything, he's consistently aggressive.

David: Oliveira also got tuned up by Donald Cerrone, Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson. I favor Holloway not because they have much in common, but because there's a common thread, thematically; Oliveira has had trouble with technically proficient strikers. Holloway may not have the power of a Cerrone or Swanson, but he definitely has the technical acumen of an Edgar (who I still consider one of the best technical boxers in MMA, defense be damned), and his power isn't exactly second rate. With his speed and accuracy, I would not at all be surprised to see Holloway make Charles uncomfortable on the feet.


Phil: Oliveira is a big featherweight, but perhaps not so big that he should have missed weight multiple times. Even if he hits his marks (and we'll have found out by the time this article goes to press), I'm a little concerned about his preparation. Although these things are difficult to ascertain, he apparently trains out of his own branch of the Macaco Gold Team, and very young fighters running gyms is almost always a recipe for disaster.

David: Yea, maybe the psychology of both men is the x-factor. Oliveira might have bought into his own hype. Holloway' nickname is "Blessed"; I have no doubt he takes his status as a chosen one seriously.


Phil: Someone with one big advantage against someone with lots of little ones. Oliveira is a much better grappler. However, Holloway is a sharper striker who works at a much higher pace on the feet. He's more fitted to five rounds if it gets there, can fight going backwards and is more durable and defensively sound. All this vanishes if Oliveira gets him down, but Max Holloway by TKO, round 3

David: Yep. Oliveira will be active, and pugnacious early, but even though I see more ways in which Charles can win, I see more ways in which Holloway can't lose. It's the difference between being dynamic, and being sudden. Oliviera can finish in a lot of different ways, but he can maintain efficiency in far less. Holloway will box his way to a decision win. Max Holloway by Decision.