UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway opened up about his battle with depression over the past year, calling 2018 "a tough one."
"It's been a rough year, but it's not how you start the race, it's definitely how you finish," he told ESPN's Ariel Helwani on Monday. "I'm glad we get to finish strong. I'm glad I get to do what I believe I was put on this earth to do and fight. Things happen for a reason. One door closes, another bigger door opens."
Holloway, who will look to defend his belt against Brian Ortega on Saturday at UFC 232 in Toronto, last fought in December 2017 when he defeated longtime champion Jose Aldo by third-round TKO. It was the second consecutive time he did that.
But over the past 12 months, Holloway has not seen the inside of the Octagon.
Holloway was scheduled to fight Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 last March but had to pull out due to a leg injury. In April, he stepped in late to replace Tony Ferguson and fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight belt at UFC 223. With only six days to prepare, he was unable to cut the weight in time, and doctors stopped him from continuing.
This past July the Hawaii native was set to face Ortega at UFC 223 in Las Vegas. Holloway pulled out days before the scheduled bout due to "concussion-like symptoms." He told ESPN he still has yet to determine what happened.
All of this has led to the toughest 12-month period of his career, a year that should have seen his continued rise in the sport. Now just days away from his return, Holloway says he feels "like a champ" and is ready to defend his title.
"I'm focused on the present right now," Holloway said. "What happened in the past happened in the past. I'm not too worried about what's going to happen in the future. One step at a time. I can't wait to make that walk."
Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who himself admitted to nearly committing suicide after battling depression, fought champion Deontay Wilder to a draw this past weekend in one of the year's most epic fights.
His performance and message leading up to that bout resonated with the UFC champion.
"If you're going through hard times, keep pushing through. You're right there." Holloway said. "People always tend to stop when they are right there. They are about to break through, but then they give up and don't see the other side of it. Keep pushing, keep striving, keep grinding and keep working hard.
"The only person who can get you out of that place is you. Get yourself out of there because it's not a great place to stay. Remember to reach out to people. People love you. You can get through tough times. Tough times don't last, but tough people do. Stay strong, keep up the good fight and keep going. We are all human. Even superheroes battle demons sometimes. You're a superhero on your own."