Max Holloway opens up on rough upbringing: ‘I had to endure so I can get my story out later on’

Max Holloway did not have the easiest upbringing.

On a recent episode of The MMA Hour, Holloway spoke about how watching Israel Adesanya’s documentary “Stylebender” helped him realize he needs to be more proactive about his mental health.

Speaking with Ariel Helwani, the former UFC featherweight champion spoke about a childhood where his father was not part of his life. Holloway wanted different for his son.

“I really didn’t have both of them – I didn’t have a dad at all,” Holloway said. “And it was funny, it took my wife to explain to me, ‘Yeah, you had father figures, but that’s not the same.’ My grandpa was my father figure. She had a hard time explaining it. ‘He’s like me dad!’ ‘But he’s not! He’s still your grandpa.’ And it finally hit me, he was a father figure, but he wasn’t my actual father. So if I can give my son a father and mother, it would be great.”

Holloway added he later met his father and doesn’t have any lingering issues. But the two still aren’t in regular contact despite living on the same island.

“Not really at all,” Holloway said of seeing his father. “It is what it is. I sorted that out quite a while ago. When I was growing up I wanted to contact him, and for some reason my mom had her reasons and was always like, ‘No, no, no.’ Finally I was of age, I did it my side, tried it out, it didn’t really work out. It’s cool. I understand. I’ve got not ill will toward the guy. I’ve got to send love his way. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today.”

It wasn’t just his relationship, or lack thereof, with his father that was hard on Holloway growing up. During his childhood, his mother battled addiction.

“I go home, I grab this bandana — thinking at that time you wanted to be a ninja, you put it on your head or you put it on like a cowboy — pulled this thing off the shelf, and a freaking crack pipe hits the ground,” Holloway said. “I see it, and I’m like, ‘Holy s***. What the hell?’ I’m putting it together, like ‘Wow.’ At first I was like, what is this? I fixed it, put the bandana back, and one year later, sixth grade is [where] the [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] program [is taught], and I found out like, ‘Holy s***. That’s a crack pipe. What the hell is going on?’ I didn’t know [what was going on with my mom].

“It was insane, but I saw some stuff you’re not supposed to see. Like my mom fighting with her siblings and stuff in front of us when we were kids. … To me, this is normal. This is normality, because I see this, so I’m not questioning it, and then when you watch these movies and stuff you’re like, ‘This is fake. There’s no way a family can be like this.’ At the end of the day, there’s just things I feel like I had to go through, I had to endure, so I can get my story out later on.”

Holloway said his mother would “disappear” for days at a time, leaving he and his siblings in the care of his grandparents, whom he said “pretty much raised us” along with several cousins.

It was only after his older brother was grown and on approaching fatherhood that Holloway’s mother was able to get clean.

“In my mind, who the hell do I tell? I just have to live with it,” Holloway said. “I lived with it forever until I was in high school, and we could actually question about it. I have an older brother, he’s like four years older than me, and he was telling them stuff. He was graduating college, and he’s having a kid, and I remember him telling my mom, ‘You’re not going to be a part of your grandchild’s life if you don’t [get] clean.’ That was the thing that pushed her, and she’s been good ever since.”

For Holloway, the experience drove him to make sure he didn’t go down the same path.

“Everybody asks me all the time, ‘Why this, why that?’ I saw what drugs did to my mom,” Holloway said. “I know drugs are a key point of why my dad wasn’t around. I see drugs, what they do to some of my close friend’s families, and I saw what drugs do to people that I saw were around and were older than me. I wouldn’t say friends, but I see this guy around, and then you end up seeing him on streets tweaking…

“Seeing that, I was like, I don’t want to go down this train. I don’t want to be another person in a stat book somewhere toward bad stuff. If I’m making stats, I want to make them in the most positive way they can possibly be. Punching someone in the face is not too positive, but it’s a legal way. [Laughs].

“At the end of the day, that was the main thing. I saw where these guys go, I saw what happens to family members, family member’s friends. I saw this, and I was like, ‘This is not for me. I do not want to do that.’ I just wanted to be great at something. I didn’t know what it was, but in my mind, whatever thing I did, I wanted to be the greatest at it. And keep going. Try to change the generation.”

Holloway has done his best to be a positive influence on his community. In 2021, Holloway was given the Forrest Griffin Community Award for his charitable efforts in Hawaii. And so his message to anyone who is struggling is that it’s never too late.

“I saw the bad road, and I saw the good road,” Holloway said. “I saw people take the good road and then go back to the bad road, too. It wasn’t always all bad. And I’ve seen people doing bad, and then they hit the good road, and I see people doing great now. At the end of the day, it’s never, ever how you start the race, it’s how you finish. So I always tell people, finish strong. Finish strong.”