Max Holloway wins BMF with last-second KO of Justin Gaethje

Max Holloway submits candidate for KO of 2024 with epic BMF title win (1:42)

Max Holloway knocks Justin Gaethje out cold in the final second of the BMF title fight at UFC 300. (1:42)

The BMF title is not a real championship, but Max Holloway did the gimmick proud on Saturday night with an explosive last-second knockout of Justin Gaethje at UFC 300 in Las Vegas.

Holloway (26-7), a former featherweight champion competing at lightweight in this bout, was in control from the start, with faster hands and elusive footwork that made it difficult for Gaethje (25-5) to find him. For Gaethje, the defending BMF belt holder, the fight became increasingly difficult after Holloway connected with a spinning back kick to the face right before the horn to end Round 2. The kick busted up Gaethje's nose, and his face was a bloody mess the rest of the way.

Gaethje did floor Holloway with a right hand late in Round 4, although UFC Stats did not credit him with handing Holloway the first knockdown of his career. The punch turned the tide briefly, but Holloway retook control in the final round. As the final seconds ticked away, when all Holloway had to do was avoid a late knockout, he instead walked to the center of the Octagon with 10 seconds to go and motioned for Gaethje to come trade punches with him.

The audacious invitation got the crowd roaring and the two men started slinging big punches at each other. Right before the horn was to sound, Holloway connected with a right hand that sent Gaethje face-first to the canvas. Referee Marc Goddard waved off the fight as a knockout at 4:59.

It was one of the greatest "wow!" moments in UFC history.

"I'm him! I'm him, guys!" Holloway shouted into the microphone during his interview in the cage afterward. Then he pointed toward current featherweight champ Ilia Topuria, who was cageside. "There's 'El Matador.' He's running away from the bull!"

Holloway also called out lightweight champ Islam Makhachev.

After this performance, anything is possible.

"That's why Max Holloway is beloved," UFC president Dana White said at his postfight news conference. "He's got the fight won and in there with one of the most dangerous fighters in the business. That's like movie s---. It's the fight of the year. If something beats that as fight of the year, holy s---."

This was the first time in the short history of the "Baddest Motherf---er" title that a fighter was defending the belt, and also the first time that a real UFC champ was involved. Gaethje is a former World Series of Fighting champ, UFC interim belt holder and two-time challenger for the real belt. Holloway is a former UFC featherweight champion.

The BMF concept began in 2019 with a bout between two fighters with significant street cred, Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz. Masvidal won by TKO, but after that his only BMF involvement was in wrapping the belt around the waist of Gaethje after he knocked out Dustin Poirier last July in the second BMF fight.

That would have made Saturday's fight a title defense for Gaethje if only the BMF gimmick operated under real championship rules. But who knows whether Holloway will be part of the next BMF bout. He might be busy competing for a belt that means something more tangible.