The main event of Sunday night’s UFC Fight Night 74 is a terrific featherweight contest between #5 ranked Max “Blessed” Holloway and #7 ranked Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira. Both fighters come into this contest on long winning streaks and will attempt to make a strong impression on the rest of the featherweight division. Max Holloway (13-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC, -220 favorite) Holloway is one of the most exciting young fighters in the UFC. The 23 year old has made huge improvements since he made his UFC debut in 2012. While his debut did not go his way, Max has since racked up nine wins in the UFC’s featherweight division. He is currently riding an impressive six fight winning streak, a streak that includes finishes of five of his six opponents. Holloway made a real breakthrough in his last fight, a dominant victory over top contender Cub Swanson in April. He outstruck Swanson for three rounds before submitting him with a guillotine choke in the third round. Max holds notable wins over Swanson, Cole Miller, Andre Fili, and Leonard Garcia. He will look to notch his seventh straight win and possibly earn a matchup with Frankie Edgar, who is sitting on the sidelines while Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor take care of business in December. Holloway is a striker by trade, though he has rounded out his game in recent years. He switches between a southpaw and orthodox stance seamlessly, which constantly gives his opponent new looks. Most of his best work, however, has come when he uses a southpaw stance. Max works a solid jab and straight left hand, which he combines with a right hook and slapping leg and body kicks. From the orthodox stance he prefers to use his jab and powerful straight right hand. Holloway is also proficient in the clinch, as he fires strong elbows and knees to the head and body of his opponent. The area where Holloway has improved the most is on the ground. To start off, he has strong defensive wrestling and takedown defense. He is adept at winning the underhook battle, which is often the key to staying on his feet. When he does get taken down Max utilizes a very active guard and will regularly attempt submissions and throw elbows from his back. His jiu jitsu from top position is underrated, as some of his recent opponents have found out. He passes well and throws hard ground and pound, especially when in a dominant position. From an offensive submission standpoint, Holloway has a decent arsenal of submissions, including a nasty guillotine choke. Strong endurance and chin are other positive aspects of Max’s game. Charles Oliveira (20-4 (1 NC) MMA, 8-4 (1 NC) UFC, +180 underdog) Like Holloway, Oliveira is one of the most talented up and coming fighters in the UFC. The 25-year old Brazilian is a grappling phenom that has seven submission wins in the UFC. While he has had his ups and downs in the UFC as both a lightweight and featherweight, Oliveira has found his groove in recent years and has managed to put together a four fight win streak. He holds notable victories over Nik Lentz, Hatsu Hioki, Jeremy Stephens, and Darren Elkins. Oliveira is truly an amazing fighter to watch. He is very aggressive, both on the feet and on the mat. He will jump on a submission very quickly and is not afraid of giving up position to do so. On the feet Charles uses a high guard and likes to come forward with sharp punch-kick combinations. He has a nice jab and straight right hand, which he combines nicely with front kicks to the body and standing elbows. Additionally, Oliveira does solid work in the clinch by utilizing his sharp elbows and knees. The striking attack of the Brazilian has really improved in recent years, though he still relies heavily on his grappling. Oliveira has also improved his wrestling in recent years, which is obviously very important because he relies heavily on his submission game. He has added a nice single leg to his game, as well as trips and tosses from the clinch. From top position Charles is a swift guard passer and lethal submission threat. He has a vast array of submissions at his disposal, which is evident by the six different submissions he has finished fights with. One of the few concerns I have about Oliveira is with his weight. He has struggled on a few occasions to make the featherweight limit of 146 pounds and often does not look very healthy at weigh-ins. He misses weight in December but still went on to handily beat his opponent. Thoughts: This truly is one of the best fights the UFC can make in the featherweight division. Both guys are young, hungry fighters that are trying to make their mark in this sport. Additionally, both fighters have picked themselves up after big losses and managed to put together their current winning streak. While the best is still ahead for these two, only one can walk away from this fight as the winner. Holloway will look to keep this on the feet and avoid going to the ground at all costs. He would like to replicate what Donald Cerrone did to Oliveira, which is win exchanges on the feet and ultimately knock him out with superior firepower. While Oliveira is certainly a capable striker, he is not as refined or powerful in that area as Holloway. Further, Holloway’s improved takedown defense should allow him to keep this on the feet. One thing I worry about is Oliveira pulling guard and then either sweeping or locking in a submission. Oliveira has pulled guard plenty of times before, so Holloway will need to be very careful if this fight hits the mat. Even though Holloway has improved his ground game, he will still be outgunned on the mat by the crafty Oliveira. If Holloway manages to stick to a smart gameplan and work from the outside, I really like his chances of winning this fight. I see him getting the better of Oliveira on the feet and knocking him out sometime before the final bell. The Prediction: Max Holloway defeats Charles Oliveira by knockout (round 4)
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