Max Holloway heads to UFC 251 after 'challenging' no-sparring training camp

Max Holloway says he trained for UFC 251 on Zoom (2:24)

Max Holloway explains to Ariel Helwani the difficulties he encountered because of COVID-19 during his training for his rematch vs. Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 251 on Fight Island. (2:24)

Max Holloway traveled Wednesday from Hawaii to Las Vegas. At the airport was the first time the former UFC featherweight champion has seen his coaches in person for months.

Holloway told ESPN's Ariel Helwani on Friday that he didn't go to the gym or see his coaches during his UFC 251 training camp. Holloway had no training partners and did not spar. The team was taking precautions -- legal and otherwise -- during the coronavirus pandemic, which included a stay-at-home order in Hawaii.

On July 11, Holloway will attempt to regain the featherweight title against champion Alexander Volkanovski in the co-main event of UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi. In lieu of in-person training at his Gracie Technics gym, Holloway did his training at home over video call.

"Everything we were doing [was] through Zoom," Holloway said. "If you got caught at the gym, because there was lockdown and stuff, we all could have gotten arrested. It was a little bit more of a sacrifice for me on my end if I went out there. You know [the authorities are] gonna make a point. [They] see my butt out there, 'Yeah, let's get this guy. Let's make a point and put fear into people.'"

Holloway and his team arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday, along with the other fighters from the United States going to UFC 251. Everyone in the traveling party was tested for COVID-19 on Thursday and then made to quarantine at a hotel. The UFC fighters, corner people and staff members will board a charter flight to Abu Dhabi on Friday night.

Holloway said his unique training camp was "challenging" and "difficult." He also had to homeschool his son, Rush, with schools being out of session due to COVID-19. But in the end, Holloway said it was a success and "one of the best camps I've ever had," without the typical bumps and bruises of a typical training camp.

"There's always [those] nagging injuries," Holloway said. "But I didn't get no new injury. Every camp, I usually get a new injury. I usually tell you guys I don't have none, because that's just us fighters."

Not being able to spar was one of the toughest things for Holloway, who admits to being a huge proponent of sparring in preparation for a fight. But he said not being able to do so changed his philosophy.

"I love sparring," Holloway said. "But this camp actually opened my eyes. We don't really have to spar that much anymore. We're at that point in my career, I know how to punch, I know how to kick. I know how to apply it."

Volkanovski went through a similar issue. He wasn't able to travel to City Kickboxing in New Zealand from his native Australia due to restrictions and quarantine rules. But Volkanovski did get to train and spar at Freestyle Fighting Gym close to his home near Sydney. Holloway wasn't even able to do that.

Despite the issues, Holloway said there was never any thought to pushing the fight back.

"Delay the fight for what?" Holloway said. "We're true fighters. Everybody likes to call us modern-day gladiators. A lot of fighters like to call themselves modern-day gladiators. But when it's time to fight, it's time to fight. I didn't see no gladiators back in the day being like, 'Oh wait, the lion I was training with was weak, so I need to go find a stronger lion.'"

Holloway (21-5) dropped the featherweight title to Volkanovski at UFC 245 last December by unanimous decision. The Hawaii native had three title defenses prior to that and has been considered among the best -- if not the best -- featherweight fighter of all time. Holloway, 28, has dropped two of his past three fights, but the other loss was at lightweight in an interim title bout against Dustin Poirier.

Holloway noted that Volkanovski was the one calling for a rematch, even though Volkanovski won the first fight.

"Nothing has changed to me, to be honest," Holloway said. "I still feel like I'm the champion, I still get love like I'm the champion. I need to go out and fight like a champion."