Alexander Volkanovski’s coach Eugene Bareman admits to being impressed by Max Holloway.
This Saturday, Volkanovski faces Holloway in a featherweight title trilogy bout as the co-main event of UFC 276, and having already spent 50 minutes coaching against him, Bareman is acknowledges that Holloway impressed him with his improvements between fights.
“I’ll just say that I think both improved since their fights,” Bareman said when asked if Volkanovski or Holloway had improved more. “I think they’ve both improved quite a bit. Look, Max showed me, in that second fight, something that I didn’t think he was capable of. He was able to quickly pick up things which takes your average fighter — and he’s not your average fighter, I guess that’s what he showed me — a lot longer to learn. Max was able to do that, and I’ve said this before, we went for a more conservative game plan given the amount of time we had, where we just changed a few subtle things, and left it at that. That’s what we went for and we thought that Max would try and change a lot and he would not be successful doing that. That would be his undoing, trying to change too much in a short amount of time, and we were lucky that we were right, although we were only just right.”
In their first fight, at UFC 245, Volkanovski won a clear unanimous decision victory over Holloway, outworking him on the feet and finding particular success with leg kicks. In their rematch at UFC 251, Holloway came out with a different stance to counter the leg kicks, giving Volkanovski serious problems and winning the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards. The featherweight champion was ultimately able to adjust and won the final three rounds on two scorecards to earn a controversial split decision win, but heading into their trilogy fight, Bareman says that Holloway’s adaptability is now something they have had to prepare for.
“His ability to learn something and then apply it really quickly, within a relatively short amount of time since that [first] fight,” Bareman said. “Now we know that there’s a number of things that Max is now capable of changing now, given that the fight’s been quite a while. We know that Max could have changed a couple of things. You’ve got to remember, some fighters take years to do some things, some of the adjustments that Max was able to do in a relatively short amount of time, a few months.”
Both Holloway and Volkanovski have had substantially more time to adjust their games since their second fight. While the rematch occurred only seven months after their first fight, nearly two years has elapsed since Volkanovski-Holloway 2. In that time, Volkanovski and Holloway each won a pair of fights and looked better than ever. So with that in mind, Bareman says the team has developed a strategy for this fight that will allow them to adjust on the fly as need be.
“We’ve got a strategy, we’ve got some tactics there, and we have to establish those early,” Bareman said. “We at least need to see that strategy early so that we can start to make an assessment on what’s the direction we need to take that strategy, because it can go several places.”
But in the end, however their plans have to adjust, Bareman sees Volkanovski turning in another sterling performance to retain his title.
“A five round master class,” Bareman said. “A shut out. Just like the first fight was for Volkanovski.”
UFC 276 takes places this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.