<
>

Five Rounds: Is Max Holloway the greatest featherweight of all time?

Max Holloway is making a case for himself that he takes a backseat to no featherweight in history. Amber Bracken for ESPN

Max Holloway looked not at all diminished coming off an April loss, cruising to a unanimous decision over Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 240 on Saturday night to retain his featherweight championship. Cris Cyborg also won convincingly in the co-main event, although featherweight Felicia Spencer proved to be no pushover. And earlier in the night, there were some sparkling performances, including an all-action fight in the men's flyweight division.

Our MMA contributors -- Brett Okamoto, Ariel Helwani and Marc Raimondi -- weigh in on the questions that emerged from the fights in Edmonton, Alberta.

Has Max Holloway surpassed Jose Aldo as featherweight GOAT? If not, what more must he do?

Okamoto: Dang. Good question. I know in the eyes of many, he already has surpassed Aldo. I still don't think I'm willing to pass that torch, though. Admittedly, maybe I'm just biased. Maybe I'm old-man biased. Maybe the memories I have of watching Aldo take the belt from Mike Brown in the WEC and then brutalize Urijah Faber with leg kicks in his first defense -- maybe it has clouded my judgment. The bowling ball hematoma he left on Mark Hominick's forehead, the two iconic wins over Chad Mendes. His title reign lasted six years, and he immediately reclaimed the belt after losing it to Conor McGregor.

What does Holloway have to do? A couple of more title defenses and I think I'll finally relent. I don't like change, guys. I'm a softie for Aldo. His era was so great.

Helwani: Holloway is awfully close. He might not have as many title defenses as Aldo (three vs. nine), but I think his résumé, if you include his wins before becoming champion, is on par with Aldo's, especially when you consider he has two wins over Aldo. Look at these names: Edgar, Brian Ortega, Aldo (twice), Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas, Jeremy Stephens, Charles Oliveira, Cub Swanson. He is on some kind of run at 145 pounds. I hate when we start calling people GOAT on a Saturday night right after a fight, but Holloway is slowly but surely creeping into that talk.

Raimondi: I think this Holloway beats Aldo in his prime. That doesn't necessarily make Holloway the best featherweight ever, though. Let's not forget that Aldo defended the WEC/UFC title nine straight times. That's an incredible number, and his reign lasted five years. Holloway is only one third of the way there -- three UFC featherweight title defenses. Aldo's career résumé is surpassed only by the all-time greats -- names like Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Demetrious Johnson.

The one number Holloway does have is 13 straight featherweight wins, which ties Jones, Silva and Johnson as the most ever within a division. Holloway might not have to win nine straight title fights, but he still will have to do a bit more to surpass Aldo.

play
0:43

Holloway looked to send a message vs. Edgar

Tyron Woodley says Max Holloway's strategy in his win vs. Frankie Edgar proved he can win off his defense. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.

Can you envision a path back to title contention for Frankie Edgar?

Raimondi: It is unlikely. There is a potential future in which Holloway and Brian Ortega move up to lightweight and Aldo retires, and that could give Edgar an opportunity to scratch and claw his way up the ranks again. At 37 years old, though, time is running low for one of the biggest fan favorites in UFC history. Edgar already is a surefire UFC Hall of Famer. The former lightweight champion doesn't need to win a title in a second division. If he does manage to make his way back to another chance for gold, it'll be yet another testament to his otherworldly toughness and perseverance. And if we have learned anything over the past 14 years, it's that you cannot count Edgar out.

Okamoto: I can see it. For real, I can see it. Edgar did not look old to me on Saturday. He looked undersized. It's the same story we heard years ago, when he was fighting at lightweight. He is stacking the deck against himself by insisting on being the smaller guy. Do you think Holloway's size had anything to do with his ability to defend 14 of Edgar's 15 takedown attempts? I do. Give Holloway's takedown defense credit, of course, but the size helped. Even at featherweight, Edgar is losing to bigger guys. If he were to drop to bantamweight, which his head coach, Mark Henry, has wanted him to do for years, I could see a path to one more Edgar title shot.

Helwani: Yes, it would have to be at bantamweight. Mark Henry has long believed that Edgar's best weight class is 135 pounds. And I couldn't help but think of that during the main event, with Holloway looking considerably bigger than Edgar. I'm not sure he'd be able to actually win the bantamweight title, but I have no doubt he could hang with the very best in that weight class.

Are you now more interested or less interested in an Amanda Nunes vs. Cyborg rematch?

Helwani: I am all-in on that rematch. But I am also all-in on Cyborg testing the free-agency waters. She deserves to get paid. I don't think she should take a discount just to run that one back. Let's be honest: The relationship between her and the UFC isn't healthy right now. If she is going to re-sign and get that rematch, they need to fix the relationship first because no one wins when the promoter isn't fully behind the fighter. But if they can figure it out, yeah, for sure, it's the biggest fight out there for both fighters.

Okamoto: My interest remains the same as before Saturday's fight. If I'm being honest, though, my interest is waning for the simple reason that I don't think it's gonna happen. For months, I've felt the differences between the UFC and Cyborg -- how the promotion feels her career should be handled and how the featherweight division should be handled -- will ultimately result in them parting ways. Now, the big wrench in this situation is that rematch. Nunes says she wants it. The UFC wants it, because it's a sellable fight. And I do believe Cris Justino wants it. A woman as competitive as Justino? A woman who somehow managed to show up in impeccable shape and fully prepared even at times in her career when it looked like she was in squash matches. I believe Justino cares about her legacy and knows what the loss to Nunes did to that legacy. But I also know that for this fight to come together, some major headway needs to happen in negotiations. And right now, my guess is that will not happen.

Raimondi: I'm probably less interested in the rematch now, though my interest level was extremely high prior to UFC 240. Cyborg dominated Felicia Spencer on Saturday night, if we're being honest. It just wasn't the kind of Cyborg performance we are used to. Spencer lasted the whole way, ate all of Cyborg's big shots and was never really rocked all that hard. Spencer was never dropped. That's a better showing against Cyborg than many have had. Spencer even cut the Brazilian slugger in the first round.

With all due respect to Spencer, if she can take Cyborg's clean blows and still keep coming forward, what does that say about Nunes? Nunes seems to be on another level right now and would be the favorite against Cyborg in a rematch. To be clear, though, Nunes vs. Cyborg 2 is still something I want to see and something that should absolutely happen.

After Felicia Spencer's performance, what do you make of her UFC future?

Okamoto: Very bright. I am a firm believer in Spencer's heart, skill set, potential, maturity -- everything -- coming out of UFC 240. I still don't quite know what to make of the division she competes in. The UFC's efforts to build a female 145-pound division have been nothing short of glacial. UFC president Dana White told me after UFC 240 the weight class is in no jeopardy, even if Justino fails to re-sign. He is a fan of Nunes as a double champion and believes in her ability to defend both belts. That all sounds good to me, but in the meantime, I still don't see a whole lot of competition for Spencer to fight, coming off a loss. As long as the division remains, and it continues to be built, Spencer is going to have a home here. And she is going to do quite well.

Helwani: Her future is very bright. This was one of those fights where no one lost. Both Cyborg's and Spencer's stock went up afterward. I don't think a lot of people thought Spencer would be able to withstand that kind of punishment and dish out her own too, so I can't imagine anyone walking away from that fight and not being supremely impressed with Spencer. Remember, she is just 7-1 and only 28. That was her second UFC fight. Spencer will be here for a while.

Raimondi: No one has eaten Cyborg's clean punches like Spencer did. Holly Holm went the distance with Cyborg, but she didn't get hit as hard or cleanly as Spencer did. It was an impressive display of toughness and chin by the Canadian. Spencer did open up a cut on Cyborg with an elbow in the first round but didn't really mount a ton of offense. Spencer is still young in her MMA career; she has fewer than 10 pro fights. The future definitely seems bright. Most important, she was very poised and composed against Cyborg, more than could be expected of someone so inexperienced.

What performance prior to the main event and co-main impressed you most?

Helwani: There are a few good choices for this answer, but ultimately I will go with Geoff Neal. He is quietly undefeated in the UFC (4-0) and looks better each and every time out. He took Niko Price's best shots and just kept on coming. I feel like Neal is on the cusp of breaking through into the top 15 at welterweight, and he is a part of one of the up-and-coming teams in MMA right now: Fortis MMA. Led by head coach Sayif Saud, that squad is on some kind of roll, and Neal is a big reason why.

Okamoto: Neal is the obvious answer (I think), but I'm gonna go with flyweight Deiveson Figueiredo. Figueiredo was supposed to fight Joseph Benavidez earlier this year, but it didn't happen because a few cards got reshuffled. Figueiredo ended up losing to Jussier Formiga in March, which was a setback for sure, but not the end of the world. Formiga is quite good, after all. I like Deiveson's power at flyweight, and I like his confidence. He is a proven finisher in this weight class. I'm not picking him to beat Henry Cejudo any time soon, but Deiveson's fight stood out the most to me on the card. The next time he fights, I definitely will make sure I'm tuning in.

Raimondi: Gillian Robertson came into UFC 240 with fewer than 10 pro fights and had the confidence to go right into a grappling battle with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion. Robertson ended up out-grappling Sarah Frota, winning by second-round TKO with ground and pound. It was an excellent performance by the Canadian, fighting in her home country for the first time. Robertson has four UFC flyweight wins, the most in the promotion. All of them have come by finish. "The Savage" doesn't have the prettiest record at 7-3, but she is just 24 years old and looks like someone to watch for the future.