11 Oct - 
After battling depression, Max Holloway now ready to take on Brian Ortega – and Daniel Cormier

UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway admits the past few months haven’t been easy.

After medical concerns ruled him out of a planned title defense at this past July’s UFC 226, Holloway has been working with doctors to try and determine what caused him to have concussion-like symptoms in the days leading up to his fight.

Getting answers hasn’t been easy.

“Everybody keeps saying it was a weight-cut issue,” Holloway told MMAjunkie. “Everybody keeps saying it was a concussion issue. They knocked that off the list, so they ain’t got no smoking gun. … I’m just glad that they crossed out the big things. The big things that they thought it was, it wasn’t, so I’m happy for that. But on the opposite side, they don’t have answers, so as long as the symptoms stay away, I’m good.

“I feel great. I can’t wait. The symptoms never, ever came back ever since. We’ve been getting after it in training, too, so I feel great.”

Holloway said he continues to work with the UFC’s preferred doctors, as well as specialists recommended to him, as well. It was only after receiving medical clearance from all parties that Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) could rebook his planned title defense with undefeated challenger Brian Ortega (14-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC). The two now meet in the main event of UFC 231, which takes place Dec. 8 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

“They had me on a plan before I could even take this fight, with how I could train,” Holloway said. “They were monitoring me. I was coming in, and no signs of symptoms, so I feel great. I just can’t wait until December comes around, and I get to remind everybody who’s the undisputed champion.

“I just can’t wait to fight, man. It’s been one hell of a year, and I can’t wait to finish it off with a bang.”

While the excitement in Holloway’s voice is palpable, he admits that’s only a recent phenomenon. With his fighting career in limbo since July, the generally upbeat Hawaiian found himself dealing with an unfamiliar set of emotions.

“I kind of found out what depression is,” Holloway said. “I was at a point where I came home from July, and I didn’t talk to no one. If I wanted to talk to you, I would call you, but if you tried to reach me, I didn’t talk to no one. I was in my own zone.

“It was crazy – I’m a Raptors fan, and it hit me hard when DeMar DeRozan talked about it. He talked about depression, how he wishes everybody in the world … could understand that depression is a real thing. It was crazy. I can talk about now because I’ve been though it, and I can tell people, you know, don’t cut yourself off from other people. Your family, your friends, someone is there. Reach out and talk to them about something. If you’ve got something on your mind, go talk to them.

“I learned a lot about myself this year, and I just can’t wait to get things back to normal and get back to the ‘Blessed Era’ and this fight in December.”

Armed with a new level of self-awareness and a different perspective on life, Holloway is no longer in a dark place. In fact, while he admits he doesn’t fully understand the lessons fate intended for him, he does believe his medical scare happened for a reason.

“I’m glad obstacles happen,” Holloway said. “I’m a big believer in ‘things happen for a reason,’ and I believe this thing happened for a reason. I believe I got slowed down around this time for a reason, and now we’re going to pick it back up, you know?

“People told me I fell off – well tell me where I left it, because we’re about to go back up, and people are about to find out why I’m one of the best fighters in the world and why I’m going to be No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world someday.”

Holloway, 26, will certainly be tested against Ortega. The 27-year-old submission ace is one of the best in the world in the grappling department and has shown a penchant for incredible comebacks in his UFC tenure, as well.

Despite Ortega’s jiu-jitsu prowess, Holloway believes labeling the affair as striker vs. grappler doesn’t give him enough credit for his well-rounded attack.

“A good magician never shows his tricks,” Holloway said. “Just because I didn’t show certain stuff in my game yet, people keep calling me out on it. Why dig deep in the bag when you don’t have to go that far into it?

“I can’t wait to test him. I think this is the perfect time for this fight. We’re both young guys, both hungry. A young lion vs. a young shark.”

Holloway also isn’t bothered by the recent revelation that Ortega has been promised a title fight on Dec. 8, whether the champion walks in the cage or not. While it seems the UFC has made arrangements to strip Holloway of his belt should he have further issues making it to the cage, “Blessed” said those backup plans won’t be needed.

“I heard that, the same thing as you, and it doesn’t bother me at all,” Holloway said. “I’m fully focused. Don’t get ready for Plan B. Plan A, the undisputed featherweight champion is going to show up on Dec. 7, make weight, and I’m going to get in that octagon.

“Don’t be worried too much about Plan B. Plan A is ready to go.”

By the time Holloway steps in the cage at UFC 231, it will have been a full year since he defended his title with a scintillating stoppage of Jose Aldo at UFC 218. The champion is planning on an impressive return to action, putting a tumultuous year in the rear-view mirror and going back to chasing his dreams.

With the goal of becoming UFC champion accomplished, Holloway wants to ascend to the title of the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world – and he’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

“I want to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world,” Holloway said. “The No. 1 guy is a friend to me, ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ Daniel Cormier. He knows he can get this work if he really wanted it. That’s it. That’s the next plan.

“First things first is Ortega. We take care of business, then whatever is there, if it’s a move up a weight class that I’ve got to go to show that I’m No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, if it’s stay here at ’45, if it’s to jump to heavyweight, and fight that guy, whatever it is, whatever the UFC thinks, I want to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, no questions asked.”

For more on UFC 231, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.