UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway is no stranger to difficult weight cuts.
Perhaps that was the reason his pale face and distant eyes didn’t set off alarms during Wednesday’s open workout media session at MGM Grand.
About five hours later, on the heels of a lethargic session in front of several hundred fans on the casino floor, the warning signs became clear. Holloway was believed to have “concussionlike symptoms” after handlers had trouble waking him and he was pulled from Saturday’s UFC 226 title defense against Brian Ortega at T-Mobile Arena.
“Max’s team and UFC staff noticed Max was not normal since late last week,” his manager told ESPN in a statement late Wednesday. “This became obvious to many watching his interviews and public appearances the past few days.
“He was showing concussionlike symptoms before he even started his weight cut and was rushed to the ER on Monday where they admitted him overnight. Initial scans seemed OK, and he was released Tuesday afternoon but symptoms still continued. Max fought with his team to continue with the fight. He showed some improvement over the next day but was still showing obvious symptoms. After open workouts, he crashed and was very hard to wake up, when he did he had flashing vision and slurred speech.”
Holloway was taken back to the hospital and was undergoing more tests late Wednesday.
It’s the fourth consecutive year the UFC’s annual International Fight Week pay-per-view event in Las Vegas has been marred by a late cancellation. UFC officials have not determined whether Ortega will remain on the card.
Holloway’s withdrawal brings a disappointing end to a week that began with such excitement for the 26-year-old Hawaiian, who was referenced by superstar rapper Drake on his just-released album “Scorpion.”
It’s the modern-day symbol that an athlete has crossed over into the cultural mainstream, much like a guest spot on Johnny Carson’s couch or a role in a Bob Hope comedy sketch represented in the past.
Holloway had a great deal of fun on social media since Drake released the track “8 Out of 10.” He released a mock cover in the same style as Drake’s cover art for the album and even tried to reach out to the rapper about attending the fight. Fittingly, he had walked out to a Drake track when he first won the belt in the rapper’s hometown of Toronto in 2016.
Holloway — whose nickname is “Blessed” — took the shoutout in stride, much like he has all of the accolades that have come his way during an incredible run of 12 consecutive wins since a 2013 loss to Conor McGregor.
Raised in a working class community on the west side of Oahu, Hawaii, he insists his ability to remain grounded has been one of the keys to his continued success.
“I don’t let any of this get to me,” Holloway said earlier Wednesday. “I don’t have cheerleaders behind me, I’ve got guys that check me. We don’t sit down and reflect about everything that’s happening. This window to do this is so small. The window in all of professional sports is tiny unless your name is LeBron James or something. It’s so tiny that you just have to grab the bull by the horns and ride it until the wheels fall off.”
It’s a philosophy that led him to take a somewhat ill-conceived chance at history in April when he accepted a lightweight title bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov on less than a week’s notice despite needing to drop about 30 pounds.
That ended in a similar manner to what happened Wednesday.
Doctors pulled him 24 hours before that fight, a development that was largely lost in the shuffle of one of the most chaotic fight weeks in UFC history because of McGregor’s attack on a bus at a media event.
Holloway missed out on the chance to chase history with a belt in a second weight class on that night, but he may not have much of a choice after yet another treacherous weight cut.
“When it’s all said and done I want to leave a legacy in whatever way,” he said at the workouts. “If it’s in this division, if it’s fighting big names, I just want to be remembered as one of the greatest all-time to ever do this in the sport. That’s just what I want to do.”
Then it’s likely he will have to make a decision about moving up in weight.
Main card bouts for Saturday’s pay-per-view event at T-Mobile Arena
— Stipe Miocic (18-2) vs. Daniel Cormier (20-1, 1 No Contest), for Micocic’s heavyweight title
— Brian Ortega (14-0, 1 No Contest) vs. TBD
— Francis Ngannou (11-2) vs. Derrick Lewis (19-5, 1 No Contest), heavyweights
— Michael Chiesa (14-3) vs. Anthony Pettis (20-7), lightweights
— Gokhan Saki (1-1) vs. Khalil Rountree (7-3), light heavyweights
International Fight Week Schedule
Free and open to the public unless noted
UFC 226 press conference, 3 p.m., The Pearl at the Palms
“The Ultimate Fighter” Finale weigh-ins, 4 p.m., The Pearl at the Palms
UFC Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 7 p.m., The Pearl at the Palms (ticketed event)
UFC Fan Experience, Noon-8 p.m., Downtown Las Vegas Events Center
UFC 226 weigh-ins, 3 p.m., T-Mobile Arena
“The Ultimate Fighter” Finale, 4 p.m., The Pearl at the Palms (ticketed event)
UFC Fan Experience, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Downtown Las Vegas Events Center
UFC 226, 3 p.m., T-Mobile Arena (ticketed event)
UFC 226 after party, 10 p.m., Hakassan at MGM Grand
Official pool party, 11 a.m., Hard Rock Hotel