Bruce Buffer was still in the midst of announcing Max Holloway as the winner of last night’s UFC main event when the reigning featherweight champion attempted a noble gesture. He and his challenger Frankie Edgar had shared a quick embrace, and as they separated, Holloway grabbed Edgar’s lift wrist, attempting to hoist his arm into the air.
In Holloway’s eyes, Edgar was still a champion. Growing up in on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu, Holloway had admired several fighters. Near the top of the list was Edgar, an undersized but scrappy lightweight who had risen to the top of his division mostly on will. Edgar, as he is wont to do, countered, pulling his arm back down. The way Edgar saw it, Holloway won fair and square and had earned the spotlight. It was his and his alone.
The moment was here and gone in a blink, but put a cap on a refreshing week of class ahead of manufactured flash.
The fight game can be so crass, so cruel, so crushing. Months of work are sometimes reduced to a split-second error; fans and media can be fickle; the paychecks can use another zero or three. It is called the “hurt business” for a reason, yet these men and women persist, driven by some internal desire to measure their courage or express their art or chase greatness.
Throughout their respective careers, Holloway and Edgar have been among the most driven fighters at the elite level of the sport. Edgar was a UFC lightweight champion who has been among the upper tier in two weight classes for over a decade, while Holloway has stood at the vanguard of the featherweight division for a couple of years now. They have also been among the classiest.
Holloway has a nasty sub-tweet game but otherwise never resorts to cheap trash talk. He’s so well regarded that Canada, largely considered as one of the most polite nations in the world, has basically adopted him as one of their own. Scattered among the Rogers Place crowd last night were fans holding signs re-christening him as Max “Hollow-eh.”
Edgar remains one of the most beloved fighters in the game. A no-nonsense professional who has managed to not stay just relevant but to excel through two generations of fighters, Edgar has somehow gone through a decade-long career at the apex of the sport without requiring a single venom-slinging blood feud to do it. Yes he’s had rivals, but they’ve all been earned through competition rather than being manufactured. That’s always been the thing for Edgar; he wants to earn what’s his. That’s why he told Holloway thanks but no thanks, he wasn’t going to be raising his hand in the air this evening. And that’s why the aftermath of the fight was so difficult for him as well. He hadn’t done what he’d come to do.
The emotions of the moment began pulling at him while he was still in the cage. Speaking to UFC commentator Joe Rogan shortly after the fight’s ending, his words were short. There were no excuses. Holloway, he declared, was simply “the best guy in the world.”
For someone as hyper-competitive as Edgar, that admission seemed to bring with it a dose of sudden heartache. He brought his towel to his face quickly to collect himself.
“I got my family here, my kid here. It’s tough, you know?” he asked. Sensing his sadness, the crowd embraced him with a roar. Then, moments later, his eight-year-old son Santino climbed into the cage to support his dad, and the crowd erupted at the sight of father and son standing side-by-side, comforting each other.
It was about as lovely and dignified a way as a man could end a difficult evening.
The Edgars weren’t the only main-event father-son combo bringing humanity to the proceedings. Holloway’s son Rush was omnipresent in his corner through the entirety of fight week. As is the new norm, Rush plays his dad’s hype man, putting on a dance show at open workouts, sitting in the first row on fight night, and celebrating victory with him. He even sat with his dad through the UFC 240 post-fight press conference, rating his performance as “pretty good.” For Holloway, it was about more than that. Last time out, Rush had watched him lose for the first time and was understandably upset. This was not just a fight; it was summer school.
“You don’t really see someone’s character until they get tested,” he said. “If someone is great all the time, and that’s all they know and they never ever had failure, then you really don’t know how great they are. They gotta run into these problems to find out how great [they are] and find themselves, and this is one of those lessons.”
These two families had very different experiences in Edmonton, yet ones that were equally worthwhile. As fans, we got a public glimpse into their private lives. For a sport that chews people up seemingly without a care, it is good to see the other side of the curtain once in a while. And it is good to be reminded that it can be performed at the highest level by people of the highest caliber.