Max Holloway turned back a challenge from rising star Yair Rodriguez on Saturday, winning a thrilling bout by unanimous decision to defend his place in the UFC featherweight title pecking order.

Holloway Rodriguez Edwards Cyborg
Max Holloway (right) defeated Yair Rodriguez in a brutal battle on Saturday night between the featherweight contenders. (Image: Chris Unger/Zuffa)

Holloway scored a 49-46, 48-47, 48-47 win, but the bout was far more exciting than the lack of finish might suggest.

Holloway remains No. 1 contender

Fans and observers hailed the fight as one of the best of 2021. Both men suffered bloody injuries as they traded blows throughout the bout. The two combined for 389 significant strikes – the third-most ever in the UFC fight.

“Insane,” UFC president Dana White said, to describe the contest. “It was one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.”

Holloway (23-6) came in as the No. 1 contender in the UFC’s featherweight division, and figures to retain that position – and earn a third fight against Alexander Volkanovski – with his win.

“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Holloway said after the fight. “And the best is ‘Blessed,’ baby.”

Meanwhile, Rodriguez (13-3) only improved his status by going five brutal rounds with one of the greatest featherweights of all time.

“Anybody who’s off two years, I never expect this kind of performance from them,” White told reporters. “His speed and accuracy and how he kept going for the calf kick. You couldn’t look any better than Yair looked tonight. He looked incredible. His chin, heart — just everything. Everything was there.”

Edwards slams Masvidal for UFC 269 knockout

Leon Edwards was looking forward to a fight against Jorge Masivdal at UFC 269 on Dec. 11. Masvidal withdrew from that fight last week, citing an undisclosed injury.

That explanation doesn’t sit well with Edwards, who says Masvidal never wanted to fight him.

“I heard some news coming back that he was looking a bit fat, he was looking chubby still,” Edwards told ESPN. “I don’t think he was training for it to be honest. I always knew he was going to run away. It’s been three years since the incident in London and he’s been dodging me ever since.”

Edwards was referring to a backstage fight between the two at a UFC London event in 2019. The two have traded words periodically since then.

Edwards says he’d now like a fight with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.

“I feel [the UFC] sees it,” Edwards told ESPN. “They now believe I am well-deserving. There is no one else for Usman to fight … I’m the guy fighting. I feel the promotion and I am on the same page, let’s say that.”

Cyborg crushes Kavanagh, ready for next challenge

Cris Cyborg easily defeated Irish fighter Sinead Kavanagh, knocking out the featherweight challenger in just 92 seconds to retain her title at Bellator 271.

Kavanagh tried to rely on her boxing background to trade with Cyborg. That approach quickly resulted in trouble, as Cyborg floored Kavanagh with a right hand, forcing referee Jason Herzog to stop the fight.

After the bout, Cyborg alluded to a number of potential opponents, including two-time PFL lightweight champion Kayla Harrison and former UFC title challenger Cat Zingano.

“I leave it to [Bellator president] Scott Coker,” Cyborg said. “I don’t choose fights.”