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UFC champ Max Holloway feeling at home in Las Vegas

UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway will fight in Las Vegas for the first time in more than four years when he puts the belt on the line against Alexander Volkanovski in the main event of UFC 245 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.

He hopes to make it a much more frequent occurrence going forward.

“After Saturday night, I think Dana White and the UFC will see this is where I need to be fighting,” the 28-year-old Hawaiian said Thursday. “Right here in the ninth island, the fighting capital of Las Vegas.”

Holloway has often used his platform as one of the most popular fighters in the organization to publicly lobby for the UFC to finally host an event in his home state, though politics and logistics have proved too difficult to overcome. He still hopes to help facilitate an event someday, but sees Las Vegas as the next best option.

“We’re just bringing UFC Hawaii to the ninth island,” he said. “You can go to the California Hotel downtown right now and see how flooded it is with Hawaiians. The flights on Hawaiian Airlines I’ve heard have been crazy the last few days. Downtown is flooded. I think it’s going to be a lot of crazy Hawaiians out this weekend. You’re going to see a lot of flags in T-Mobile Arena come Saturday night, and I’m excited for that.”

Holloway is well-versed on the connection between Hawaii and Las Vegas. He broke down for out-of-town reporters the story of Sam Boyd building a pipeline between the two tourist destinations in search of new customers for his fledgling downtown hotel in the 1970s and how the relationship has remained strong.

“The owners would go to Hawaii and find out what they like to the point they started bringing in rice cookers to get Hawaiians to stay there,” he said. “This is not made up. That’s how it happened. We’re loyal people, and the California Hotel made us feel like we were home.

“Every time you see a commercial where you can win a trip from Hawaii to Las Vegas, you’re staying at the California. That’s how crazy it is. It’s amazing.”

It’s also pretty remarkable how far Holloway’s career has come since the last time he fought in Las Vegas, a decision win over Jeremy Stephens on the UFC 194 card at MGM Grand in December 2015.

Two fights later, he captured the interim featherweight title and then knocked out longtime champ Jose Aldo in two consecutive fights to solidify his spot as the best 145-pounder in the world.

Holloway’s popularity has grown exponentially as he has defended the belt twice sandwiched around an unsuccessful bid to move up and fight for a piece of the lightweight title.

He’s 14-1 in his last 15 fights and continues to seek new challenges. The latest is Volkanovski, a powerful and athletic former professional rugby player who hasn’t lost since 2013 and is coming off a win over Aldo in Brazil.

“I’ve been saying I have a sweet tooth and all these guys are cupcakes,” Holloway said. “I can’t wait to taste this one. Supposedly, this one packs a punch. If I had to guess the flavor before I had it, I’m thinking a little bit of white chocolate with some habanero. That excites me.

“This guy poses a lot of questions. Hopefully, we have the answer on Saturday.”

Volkanovski believes he’ll not only end Holloway’s title reign, but his time in the division. While Holloway has flirted with moving up to lightweight and did take the one crack at the belt, Volkanovski hopes to give him a reason to make the move more permanent.

“I’ll make that decision easier for him,” Volkanovski said. “I don’t mean that with any cockiness, but I’m confident I’m going to get the win. He was a great champion at featherweight, but now it’s my time.”

The fight is one of three title bouts on the card, and Holloway is just fine playing a supporting role to the welterweight title headliner between Colby Covington and champion Kamaru Usman.

“I actually wish I could be the first fight on the card,” he said. “You get out and do your work then go to the green room. Usually, by the time I’m done I’m fighting, it’s closed and all the junk food is gone.”

He hopes by that point to be full on cupcakes.

More MMA: Follow at CoveringTheCage.com.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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