In the main event of UFC 212 Max Holloway put on a career defining performance, stopping Jose Aldo in the third round to cement his status as a champion. The most amazing part is that he didn’t just beat Aldo, he broke him. This was no 13 second flash knockout. This was a calculated, strategic performance executed to perfection and marks the third elite fighter to be dismantled by Holloway in the same fashion. During the leadup to the fight we discussed the brutal bodysnatching of Holloway. He brought out that body work against Aldo, along with clever footwork and feints, to take the greatest featherweight of all time into deep waters and drown him. Let’s take a closer look at Holloway’s brilliant approach.
From the beginning of the fight, Holloway got to work with his body jabs.
Holloway’s entire gameplan is subtly foreshadowed in this seemingly simple gif. Each time he goes for his body jab, he feints high first, closes distance to attack, then pulls back and circles out if Aldo is close, or steps forward to stay on top of Aldo if he’s far. Holloway made excellent use of his jab, feints and footwork to keep the pressure on Aldo constantly, even when he wasn’t really doing much of anything. While doing so, he kept chipping away at the body.
Notice the in-out footwork, the feints, the pause just before he jabs to break rhythm and get Aldo to hesitate, the retreat when Aldo looks to counter with a right hand and the circling to the right with his level lowered once he and Aldo are back at the end of each other’s reach. Again, there’s a ton going on in such a little sequence. It’s all in the intangibles: the timing, the footwork, the distance and most subtle of all, the relentless suggestion of danger.
Holloway didn’t just feint high to target the body. He also used the concept in reverse to attack the head.
Jab to the body followed by a jab to the head, though Aldo defends.
After landing several body jabs, Holloway starts feinting them by changing levels and twitching his lead hand as he comes forward. Watch Aldo’s right hand reach to parry on the second feint. Holloway saw that, so he attempted to draw out that parry again and hook around it. Aldo kept his guard up as he circled out because he sensed himself nearing the cage, but the hook clipped him a bit as he circled towards it. This work high and low was present throughout the fight.
Holloway extends his lead arm, occupying Aldo’s vision before changing levels with a straight right to the body. Aldo attempts to counter, so Holloway shuffles back and sticks his lead hand in Aldo’s face to offer a threat. Aldo stops, so Holloway gets back into stance and pushes Aldo back further with a jab, getting back in his face and continuing to paw with that lead hand. He would also do the opposite.
Circling to his right, Holloway tries to get Aldo to step too far and either square up or move to cut him off, either of which will leave Aldo open for his right hand. He attempts to sneak in a 1-2, but Aldo moves with such small, precise steps that he’s not caught out of position and is able to make the attack fall short. However, Holloway stays on him, steps off a little more to his right then jabs to the body as he slips outside a counter jab from Aldo. Keep in mind in each of these examples Holloway’s footwork, his feints and the fact that he stays in Aldo’s face. It’ll all be important soon.
While the majority of Holloway’s body work came in the form of straight punches, he also snuck in a few craftier body punches.
As Holloway advances on Aldo, he squares up his shoulders. Aldo shoots out his jab at the open target, but it was a trap. Holloway slips to his right and comes up with a right uppercut to the body under Aldo’s elbow—one of my personal all-time favorite jab counters. He follows the uppercut with two left hands up high then a right as Aldo circles out. Never one to give an opponent rest, Holloway follows Aldo and presses his momentum with a 1-2, punching his way into the clinch then disengaging. He also set up a nice body hook similar to one he landed on Pettis.
Holloway charges Aldo, pushing him back to the cage. Once there he feints his jab before slipping to the left and coming in with a left hook to the body, overhand right combination, and ending with a right hook as Aldo pivots out. Holloway gets back to working his jab feints.
The spinning back kick to the body we discussed in part one of my bodysnatching series also made an appearance.
Holloway feints with his jab and Aldo pulls back. Holloway feints again with his jab, only this time stepping in deep and turning his lead foot in slightly. Aldo pulls back again, but Holloway turns and sneaks his right heel into the ribs under Aldo’s extended lead arm.
Holloway’s body kicks were also a strong part of his offense, once he realized he could use them to neutralize the head movement and footwork of Aldo.
Here we don’t see a body kick. Instead, we see Aldo looking for the inside slip to counter Holloway’s jab and eventually landing one of his best punches of the fight. Make another mental note of Holloway making Aldo move in response to some of his feints, but for now focus on the fact that Aldo is slipping left. Immediately after this sequence, Holloway tried to catch Aldo slipping.
Holloway throws a 1-2, which Aldo slides back away from, then plants his feet. Holloway jabs and this time Aldo comes over the top with another cross counter. Holloway adapts, feinting with a 1-2 to throw a body kick. Take a moment to appreciate the insane reflexes of Aldo. Aldo first pulls from the 1-2 then starts ducking, but realizes a kick is coming and gets his left arm up high while trying to stand up away from the kick. The man never stops using his eyes and even when he gets tricked, it’s so hard to catch him completely out of position. Anyway, Holloway lands the body kick into the armpit of Aldo and realizes he’s onto something.
Holloway stands in front of Aldo, reaching out with his hands to feint and probe for openings. He attempts to set up an off-beat 1-2, but Aldo pivots out left and throws a check hook. Holloway feints another cross and goes for the body kick. Again, Aldo’s defense is great. He starts slipping when he thinks it’s a right hand, then as soon as he realizes it’s a kick he “answers the phone” with his left hand, lifts his left leg in an attempt to check, and reaches across with his right arm in an attempt to parry. He even attempts to counter with a hard 3-2. Despite biting on the feint and being a step behind, he’s still able to maintain composure and make good defensive decisions where most fighters would panic and get caught. However, Holloway still manages to land a hard body kick—then another body jab for good measure. A very similar sequence played out at the end of the round.
Holloway puts on his best Diaz impersonation, taunting with both hands in the air before leaping in with a Stockton slap, straight right combo. He continues to taunt, feints another 1-2 then blasts another body kick into Aldo’s ribs. This time Aldo scoops the kick across his body with his lead arm, attacking with a 2-3-2 combination and landing the last right hand. This took a lot out of Aldo as he was making a ton of defensive adjustments, swinging hard and getting nailed in the body the whole time. Holloway did a great job chipping away at the body, but that was only part of the gameplan.
As we’ve already somewhat seen, Holloway’s feints played a huge role in the fight. Commonly, feints are thought of as tools to set up your own offense by tricking the opponent. However, they can be more than that. They can be invitations for the opponent to attack, they can be tools to get reads on how the other guy likes to move and react, and they can be incessant reminders of the threat you pose to your opponent. Holloway illustrated this perfectly.
Just look how much time he spends feinting, probing, bouncing in and out and changing levels. While the commentators mentioned that Holloway was throwing with less volume than usual, he was feinting every second that he wasn’t attacking. We already saw him use those feints to set up his offense, but here we see him using them just to make Aldo work and gather information on him.
Here we see Holloway making Aldo dance. As Holloway feints, Aldo shows that inside slip we talked about earlier, a pull, an outside slip, a parry and another inside slip, all while Holloway just prods with his jab. Holloway tries to come in with a 1-2 while he has Aldo reacting and Aldo slips it, but Holloway punches his way into the clinch by shifting on his 2, smothers Aldo’s counter then pushes off and fades back with a right hook. Nobody gets hit here, but the important part is how Holloway had Aldo showing him his favorite defensive moves, which made it easy for Holloway to adapt and smother him once he closed distance. In addition to reading his defense, Holloway used his feints to draw out Aldo’s offense.
Holloway feints with a jab, then steps in to snap one at Aldo’s head. Aldo parries and tries to swing with a hard 1-2, but Holloway is already circling out completely out of range. Aldo misses his attack badly, then as he resets Holloway leaps in with a lead right hand. It misses, but it forces Aldo to pivot hard and throw back when he was trying to reset.
You’ll often hear a corner call for this type of tactic by yelling “touch, pull return”. The idea is to step in with a relatively uncommitted punch, pull back when the opponent swings to counter it, then attack again when the opponent is off-balance and resetting. In addition to often allowing the fighter to catch the opponent out of position, this causes the opponent to drain a ton of mental and physical energy as he swings at air then is forced to react and keep fighting when he wants to be recovering. It prevents the opponent from getting into a rhythm, which makes the fight all the more draining. Holloway was very successful at using this tactic.
He jabs in, uses a pull to make the counter left hook fall just short, sticks his jab back out to measure distance then hits Aldo with a right hand, throws another 1-2 that causes Aldo to turn his back as he tries to get his shoulder in the way, then clips Aldo with a left hook as Aldo turns back to face him. Pay attention to Aldo getting off-balance when he misses the left hook, then scrambling to recover position as Aldo swarms. It costs a lot more energy to be the guy trying to escape than the guy chasing in this situation, and that took a big toll on Aldo. By the end of the fight, Aldo was slowing down and Holloway was getting a great read on his favorite moves and his timing.
The finish is an extremely impressive display of feints, timing and positioning. Holloway starts by extending his lead arm, feinting his jab as he had been throughout the fight. Normally he would extend it then retract it, but this time he extends it, pauses for a split second, then shoots his jab from that ¾ extended position. The feint gets Aldo shifting weight to his lead hip, so when Holloway snaps it Aldo is caught off guard. He slips to his right and tries to come over the top with a left hook, but it falls just short as Holloway pulls back by an inch. Watch Holloway’s eyes. He keeps them wide open, watching Aldo intently. He waits for Aldo to stand up. As soon as Aldo does, Holloway bites down on his mouth piece, finds Aldo’s head with his jab then blasts him with a straight right that catches him square and upright. A gassed, hurt Aldo hits the ground and is beaten until the Big John is forced to step in.
The feints to get him out of position, the broken rhythm to catch him off guard, the perfect understanding of distance to make Aldo fall short while he’s being hit, the timing to hit Aldo as soon as he comes up, it’s all beautiful. Holloway took a fighter with some of the best footwork and head movement in the entire sport, made him stand right in front of him and caught him standing straight up. He did it the same way he’s broken fighter after fighter. Holloway goes to the body early and often, chopping away at the opponent’s stamina bit by bit. He then picks up the pace as he finds his timing and range, eventually overwhelming his prey. Holloway puts holes in your gas tank then forces you to step on the gas.