Of all the bellyaching that went on prior to UFC 300, one of the more magnified objections was the logic loop that Max Holloway found himself in. The question for Max was why. Why would he want to take a fight at lightweight against a sadistic, soul collecting slur-slugger like Justin Gaethje? Hadn’t he been freed from his featherweight prison now that Alexander Volkanovski was no longer the warden?

Wasn’t he jeopardizing his good standing in the division he once ruled? What about Ilia Topuria? The Santiago Bernabéu? La décima isla? Spain!

Holloway heard the concerns, and he justified his actions before the fight by letting everyone know that he was cut from a different cloth than the critics at large. His question was — why wouldn’t he fight Gaethje? What was everyone so damn worried about?

Given that context heading into UFC 300, Holloway’s night goes down as one of the greatest in the annals of UFC history. That’s not some caught-up-in-the-moment statement made from recency bias. That’s just an astonishing fact. Max showed up without fear of consequences to face one of MMA’s most deranged competitors — up a weight class from his comfort zone — because the man in the serene floral trunks knew he was the consequence. Nothing was happening to Holloway; he was happening to MMA.

On Saturday night he dawned on a generation of gripers. He dusted off the cold hearts of old school fans and gave them reason to smile again. He made all the selective champions out there vying for advantageous matchups look soft, calculated, worried. When the camera found Topuria in the crowd at T-Mobile Arena, he even made the most celebrated Spaniard of 2024 look petrified. 

Crazier still, he rendered Gaethje ordinary. Just snatched the tempest by the tail and threw it on a Hawaiian spit. Gaethje wasn’t a berserker until Max allowed him to be. That came in the last 10 seconds when, comfortably up on the scorecards and already the man of the hour at the UFC’s biggest event, Max pointed to the ground as if to say his chin was open for business, just like he did with Ricardo Lamas at UFC 199. In the middle of an all-out exchange, it was Max who landed the shot heard around the world. Gaethje melted into the canvas, his every violent impulse shut down at the wire, in what was one of the most cinematic ends you’ll ever seen in fighting.

The knockout came with just one second left on the clock.

Caution to the wind? Caution to the ages. Caution to the lightweight division to which he stormed. Caution to Islam Makhachev and Ilia Topuria, and the doubters and haters and anyone who carried fear for Max’s wellbeing. Max doesn’t go in for caution. Six hundred thousand dollars in bonus money showed that the other side of caution is where life can be found. That’s where the fight game’s adrenaline can be tapped. It could have been six million and it wouldn’t have been enough.

The spinning kick that busted Gaethje’s nose set the tempo early. Gaethje never seemed quite right after having his nasal passage shattered, and it’s a credit to him that he was able to squeegee the blood off his face and still come forward in the championship rounds…or the BMF rounds, as it were. Gaethje tried. He tried to rally. To overcome the distortions of his features. He dug deep after being poked in both eyes. He kept rolling in even though Holloway was treating his face like target practice, rearranging the bridge of the nose like a demented Picasso. But Gaethje’s spree of violence came to a halt at the hands of Holloway.

And never has the Baddest Motherfucker designation been as apt.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. We’ve seen Max do unthinkable things before. The 445 strikes he landed on Calvin Kattar live on ABC is packed into his lore just as tightly as the menace in his fists. But there is something about the man who bets on himself and wins, just as faith wanes. After the fight Max tossed out the champion’s names in both weight classes, Islam and Ilia, the most alliterative power structure going. With the UFC giving Dustin Poirier to Islam at UFC 302 in New Jersey, it looks like Holloway might be headed back to featherweight.

A fight between Topuria and Holloway will be big enough to rival Jose Aldo-Conor McGregor for the greatest in featherweight history. One is young and strong and at the very top of his game. The other is the game itself.  

UFC 300 delivered on every level, but by its end it belonged to Hawaii’s finest. And the cult of Max Holloway is stronger now than ever before.

Listen to the reaction from the Ringer MMA show here.