BLESSED ARE THE UNIQUE

UFC cham­pion MAX HOL­LOWAY ex­plores the outer lim­its of en­durance to find suc­cess in­side the oc­tagon, says PHILSON CHOI

#Legend - - #FITSPO - Pho­tog­ra­phy / Karl Lam Art / Lin Guocheng Styling / Kieran Ho

THE CROWD CHEERS at the men­tion of his name, not yours. This is his home, not yours.

You fight. You get hit. The crowd cheers. Your op­po­nent is the great­est feath­er­weight in mixed mar­tial arts his­tory, José Aldo. He is a fan favourite, the bookie’s favourite and odds-on to win. You’re los­ing. Two rounds in, what do you do?

It sounds like a night­mare, but it was re­al­ity for Max “Blessed” Hol­loway in his UFC 212 feath­er­weight ti­tle match in June. With the weight of the hopes of the United States, his home state of Hawaii, friends and fam­ily on his shoul­ders, Hol­loway walked into round three, locked eyes with a fa­tigued Aldo and landed a punch to drop the champ. A bar­rage of sav­age blows bat­tered the grounded Aldo. Over.

Hol­loway, now the UFC Men’s Feath­er­weight Cham­pion, vis­ited Hong Kong, ad­mired the statue of Bruce Lee in Tsim Sha Tsui and spoke with #leg­end.

UFC 212 was one of the most im­por­tant fights of your ca­reer. De­scribe it.

It was crazy. Like I said be­fore, kings go to other kings’ vil­lages and de­throne them. That’s what I planned on do­ing and that’s what I did. Es­pe­cially fight­ing him in his own back­yard, no­body wanted to fight him in Rio. But I’ll fight any­where, with open arms. I would fight him in an al­ley as long as he signs my cheque. We went there and got the job done. I’m the 145-pound undis­puted king.

That un­der­dog come­back; how did it feel?

To the un­trained eye, it was a come­back win, but that was our game plan. I’ve got mas­ter­minds be­hind me. Ev­ery­thing went to plan. We planned out how the en­tire fight would play out. We prac­tised all the moves, set­ting traps. He took the trap, the cheese, he got greedy and we took ad­van­tage of it.

What hard­ships did you face grow­ing up?

I was raised by my grandma and grandpa – great peo­ple – and most of my cousins were raised by them. I didn’t have a rough life but I didn’t have a great one ei­ther. My grand­par­ents made sure I had a roof, that I was safe, had three meals a day, snacks and clothes. I never had a fa­ther grow­ing up. My mum was a drug ad­dict, but now she’s clean and sober.

You

come across as one of MMA’s classi­est fig­ures. How im­por­tant is hu­mil­ity?

I think be­ing hum­ble and be­ing a good sport is very im­por­tant. It’s funny, you know. I’ve been going through this change ever since I won the ti­tle. I see my old class­mates and they act weird to me and in­tro­duce them­selves again. I’m, like, “I re­mem­ber you from school”. I’m not going to win a belt and for­get peo­ple. I’m hu­man. I’m just like every­body else. When I talk to kids, I tell them that. At the end of the day, we both bleed blood, ex­cept I fight peo­ple in front of mil­lions of peo­ple. I’m no bet­ter than any­one.

What is the best ad­vice you’ve been given?

I’m big on self-be­lief. Teach­ers say, go af­ter your dreams and don’t let no­body tell you what you can’t and can do. My grandpa al­ways said, if you ever wanted to be anything in this world, you’ve got to have hard work and dis­ci­pline in what­ever you do.

What don’t young fighters hear enough?

Suc­cess isn’t a straight line going up. A lot of young fighters think that, “Oh, I’m fight­ing. I should be paid this and that.” The road ain’t pretty. Every­body thinks suc­cess is a steady, lin­ear in­cline. You take big falls, you take big leaps and some­times you might even get set back to rock bot­tom. Stay grounded, stay lev­el­headed, work hard and keep push­ing un­til you get the job done. If you dig deep in­side you, you can get it done.

What do you think of McGregor ver­sus May­weather?

I’m not say­ing Conor’s the guy or that he’s going to win, but in box­ing, they train one way, you do these steps, you get there. No one beat him going that way. Forty-nine have tried to do it that way – May­weather did it – and 49 have failed. You might need some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent to shake the world up. I’m in­trigued. It’s a money fight, it’s a spec­ta­cle and it’s a cir­cus. I think the win­ner out of this will be UFC and Dana White. I think their pock­ets will be much nicer af­ter this.

Will we see you in a re­match with McGregor?

A lot of the fans want to see it hap­pen. I want to see it hap­pen. I got three losses on my record and I want to get them all back. I’ll prob­a­bly be fight­ing at 185 at the end of my ca­reer. I’m only 26. There’s a lot of time. I think that fight will hap­pen. He’s a money guy. I think one of the money fights will be be­tween me and him. Let’s see what hap­pens when we’re both healthy and fresh.

How do you deal with losses? How do you keep going when times are tough?

Those are the best times. Be­fore this cham­pi­onship and the 11-fight win streak, I was on a two-loss streak. A lot of peo­ple can be the man when they’re win­ning. It takes a true cham­pion to hit rock bot­tom and come back. You can’t judge a per­son when times are good. You see some­one’s true colours when times are tough.

Who would you love to spar and train with?

The man I met to­day: Bruce Lee. He was a true mar­tial artist. He was about hon­our and that’s what I want to learn. He knew ev­ery­thing. I’d love to pick his mind.

Tell me about your work ethic and prin­ci­ples.

I’m from a small town called Wa­ianae in Hawaii, which is on the west side of Oahu. We were just sup­pressed, talked down. Noth­ing great comes from our city. I saw kids with God-given tal­ent throw­ing their dreams down the drain. I never wanted to be the “what if” kid. There were more tal­ented fighters in Wa­ianae than me, ex­cept I sac­ri­ficed. I didn’t go to par­ties or hang out. You’ve got to recog­nise who you want to be in life. I wanted to show the world that Wa­ianae can pro­duce great peo­ple. I went back to my old school. I told the kids, I sat there and said if I can suc­ceed, why not you? Self-be­lief, dis­ci­pline, goal-ori­ented hard work beats tal­ent when tal­ent doesn’t work hard. I’m not the great­est ath­lete. Look at Aldo; he’s a bet­ter ath­lete than me. It’s also how you treat peo­ple. A true cham­pion is shown in how he treats peo­ple. All the great kings treat ev­ery­one equally. They don’t care if you’re in his court or you’re a peas­ant. A true king treats ev­ery­one well. A bad king will fo­cus on how he’s greater than ev­ery­one. Help peo­ple – peo­ple that can of­fer noth­ing to you. Suc­cess is about be­ing a good per­son.

What im­pact do you want to have on the world?

It’s cool hav­ing this belt and be­ing a cham­pion, but I want to make sure my son is set. I want him to go to col­lege. I don’t want him to fight. Fight­ing is in­sane. When all things are said and done, I’m re­tired and chill­ing with my grand­kids at home, I want a kid – ei­ther by mail or a knock on the door, what­ever – to tell me that, “I re­mem­ber you talk­ing to my class when I was at rock bot­tom and, af­ter hear­ing your story, I’m the cham­pion of the world” – cham­pion of what­ever: fight­ing, the best at some­thing, fash­ion, medicine, busi­ness­man. If I changed peo­ple’s lives for the bet­ter, that would be amaz­ing. You come into this world and you want to leave it bet­ter than it was.

How do you re­lax? What are some of your hob­bies?

I play video games. I also livestream on twitch – twitch.tv/blessed­mma. Or going to the beach with my five-year-old son. He loves the ocean. I also like go-kart rac­ing and surf­ing. I make the most of my free time. Train­ing camp is just gym, home, sleep. We also en­joy rid­ing dirt bikes, going to the park, play­ing games. That’s what’s life is about, you know?

So you’re a com­pet­i­tive guy in­side and out­side the ring.

Yeah. You know, we make lit­tle jokes. It’s all a com­pe­ti­tion. Some­times I try to get into the restau­rant be­fore my friends be­cause I’m com­pet­i­tive. You’ve got to win the race.

What got you into mar­tial arts?

There were fights in school – fist fights.

I just wanted to pro­tect my­self. I got into kick­box­ing and three days later won my first fight. That was in grade 10, when I told ev­ery­one I’ll be a K-1 kick­boxer. I grad­u­ated and be­came a UFC fighter. The rest is his­tory.

The UFC will be held in main­land China for the first time, in Shang­hai. What do you think of more events there and of Chi­nese mar­tial arts?

It’s ex­cit­ing. It’s an hon­our. True mar­tial artists were from here. We’ll see what kind of love we’ll get. I’m still get­ting to learn about the cul­ture. With the fight com­ing in Novem­ber, I think fans are pumped. Peo­ple were hit­ting me up when I was hold­ing a sem­i­nar in China. Hope­fully, this can be a big thing.

What do your tat­toos mean?

My right one down my arm is Blessed – pretty self-ex­plana­tory. It’s my nick­name. And what’s going to hap­pen to peo­ple when they fight me? I’m just jok­ing. My back tat­too has that yin-yang vibe. They’re wings but it’s two dif­fer­ent wings: an­gel and devil. The left side in­side my arm is of the street I was raised in: Momona Place, area code 96792. The right side is my son’s name, Rush. My chest tat­too is the most spe­cial piece. It stands for hon­our and pro­tec­tion over my fam­ily. My tat­too guy put a sword down the mid­dle that stands for fight, and be­ing a war­rior. It looks cool.

It’s a Poly­ne­sian tat­too. It’s not to­gether yet. Ev­ery­one asks why it’s bro­ken up? It’s be­cause if the tat­too is done, the story is done, and my story is not done. I’ll fin­ish it off when it’s done. My first tat­too is my last name, on my stom­ach. I didn’t know how to spell my name for my SATs, so I got it down.

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