Featherweight champion Max Holloway and former women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk have eyed UFC 231 on Saturday in Toronto as their chance at redemption.
Holloway took the first step by making weight at 144.5 pounds. Jedrzejczyk, moving up in weight to face former Muay Thai rival Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight title, says she’s ready, too.
“People might not think 10 pounds is much of a difference, but yes it is … the weight and power of the punches … I’m going to be a completely different animal,” Jedrzejczyk said.
Holloway (19-3) insists he’ll be his same old self in his long-anticipated fight against Harbor City’s unbeaten, top-ranked contender Brian Ortega (14-0) in the main event at Scotiabank Arena. Holloway withdrew from their first scheduled fight in July with what was described as “concussion effects.” It was the second straight time he’s pulled out of a fight, after falling ill in April during the weight-cutting process.
Ortega refused a replacement fight, and his manager, Ed Soares, struck a deal with UFC President Dana White that if Holloway failed to make weight this week, he would vacate the belt and Ortega would stage a rematch with Brazil’s Renato Moicano for it.
As it turned out, Moicano was the one who missed weight Friday, despite being secured to step in as a replacement if needed.
However, Holloway made weight a few minutes after Ortega weighed in at 144¾ pounds, and the champion pressed his right index finger to his lips as if to quiet all doubters.
“I’m good. Everyone keeps on saying it was a concussion thing. We took all these tests. The doctors would’ve told the UFC if it was a weight-cutting thing,” Holloway said earlier this week of his previous withdrawal. “People will believe what they want to believe.”
Holloway said his team launched “an investigation” into his health issues in July, telling another reporter it might’ve been something he ate.
“I’ll be sharp,” said Holloway, who has won 12 consecutive fights dating to a 2013 loss to Conor McGregor. “Why fix something that’s not broken? Some unfortunate events happened. It is what it is. You don’t cry over spilled milk. Don’t worry about it.”
Holloway blamed his April weight-cutting woes for a lightweight meeting against current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov on having less than a week to prepare as a replacement for injured Tony Ferguson.
“I had eight weeks for this and I can’t wait to fight again,” Holloway said.
The weigh-in concern was such that White said Holloway should fight as a lightweight from now on, and Ortega’s boxing coach James Luhrsen said they spent some camp time on the possibility of facing Moicano instead of Holloway.
But Holloway is enthused and ready for the challenge.
“This is a fight for the MMA insiders,” he said. “This fight will be the one people talk about when they say, ‘I wish these two guys could fight … .’ He’s young. I’m young. Both in our prime.”
Jedrzejczyk (15-2) has moved up to 123.5 pounds after her impressive reign as the 115-pound champion ended in two losses to Rose Namajunas. The difficulty of aging and remaining at that minimal weight was an obvious strain on the former champion.
At 125 pounds, she says, “I’m very happy. I trained different. I was full of energy, in a good mood. I didn’t have to starve myself to get to the weight limit. I feel much better. I’ve put on better work each day and I’m very happy I did this move.
“This camp, I realized how bad being on a diet for so many weeks is for me, and how it impacts your body and performance. I said that after my fight with Rose, while my coach has said, ‘Let’s move up. You’re going to feel different, feel stronger and enjoy the process of the cut more.’”
In three Muay Thai meetings between 2006 and 2008, Shevchenko beat Jedrzejczyk each time. Both fighters now are on the other side of 30 and have developed their techniques — wrestling, for example, isn’t permitted in Muay Thai fighting — but Shevchenko still expects a stand-up fight.
“She can say it’s not affecting her. It’s affecting her,” Shevchenko said of their history. “I will use it to help me win this fight. My favorite part is striking. It will be a very striking fight.”
Jedrzejczyk emphasized her experience in five-round championship fights, noting that eight of her 11 UFC bouts have been for a belt.
“Valentina is strong mentally, but I don’t look back, I look forward,” Jedrzejczyk said. “Our fights were 10, 12 years ago. We are two very different fighters. I know I’ve been evolving every day and I will be the better one Saturday.”