Leaving the Octagon after his second fight for the biggest promotion in the world of mixed martial arts, Knoxville’s Scott Holtzman thought to himself: “Everybody says that you learn more from a loss than a win…how am I gonna bounce back from this?”
Sixth months after that defeat to UFC veteran Drew Dober, Holtzman’s first as a professional cage fighter, he demonstrated exactly how by overcoming Cody Pfister (12-6-1) via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night: McDonald vs. Lineker in Sioux Falls, S.D. last Wednesday.
A former University of Tennessee club hockey player who played two games for the Knoxville Ice Bears during the 2007-08 season, Holtzman (9-1) debuted as a UFC fighter last Aug. 8, when he choked out Anthony Christodoulou in Nashville during an event that was headlined by his friend, former Tennessee football player Ovince Saint Preux.
The January loss to Dober was a frustrating hurdle in an otherwise outstanding career for the 32-year-old Holtzman (also known as “Hot Sauce” among his friends and fight fans). A latecomer to mixed martial arts, the Central High School graduate began training at Shield Systems MMA in West Knoxville in 2009 and eventually became a lightweight champion (155 pounds) for Xtreme Fighting Championships. In 2014, he signed a four-fight deal with the UFC.
“The fight against Pfister wasn’t really about who was standing in front of me, it was all about me,” Holtzman said. “I changed my mindset after the loss to Dober. I began to approach every day with a relentless sense of urgency—every repetition, every drill, and every set. I looked at it like my job was on the line, and I was motivated to show that I wasn’t gonna make the same mistakes again.”
Holtzman is a complete modern fighter: He trains in boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. His specialty is moving trickily around the cage, sliding in to throw hooks to the liver and chin, and landing elbows with his opponent backed up against the fence. Against Pfister, who traditionally relies on a wrestling-heavy style, the gameplan was simple: “keep the fight standing and don’t get put on your back.”
The approach was successful for Holtzman. In the second round, he hit Pfister with a headkick that knocked him onto his backside, and looked to have ended the fight.
“He was out and he was kind of looking at the ceiling and then he snapped back to it.” Holtzman said. “He yelled ‘Oh shit’ real loud when he hit the ground, and I tried to hit him with a few punches but he got back to his senses real quick.”
Eventually, Holtzman took the victory on all three judges scorecards, almost doubling the amount of strikes landed by Pfister. But he wasn’t totally satisfied with the victory after losing dominant positions on the ground.
“I’m a perfectionist,” Holtzman said. “One mistake can win or lose you a fight, especially in the lightweight division, which I believe is the toughest division in any promotion in the world. Anybody can beat anybody.”
Holtzman doesn’t just expect perfection for himself. He sets such a high standard because of the seriousness with which he sees his role as an ambassador for MMA in his home state. One of four current UFC fighters to represent Tennessee, alongside St. Preux, Luke Sanders (Nashville), and Dustin Ortiz (Nashville), his support continues to grow in Knoxville, even partnering with Hard Knox Pizzeria to run a pizza special after his second UFC fight—his special pie, “The Haymaker,” consisted of habanero chicken with bleu cheese, pineapple chutney, and white sauce.
“It means a lot to be from here and I still put that I’m fighting out of Knoxville every time I fight,” Holtzman said. “My first trainer (Ben Harrison) still goes with me everywhere. The few of us in the UFC carry the torch for Tennessee MMA and that’s an honor for me.”
Entering the final fight on his original contract, Holtzman expects to receive a renewal offer in the coming months. Recently, the UFC made headlines for its $4 billion sale to talent giant WME-IMG, and many fighters on the roster voiced their opinions on receiving a greater cut of the profit in their fight salaries. Holtzman understands he doesn’t heave much leeway, without any wins in the top 15 of a division that has 108 fighters on record—the second-most of any division, male or female, according to UFC.com. For right now, he is willing to pay whatever dues necessary to reach the sport’s pinnacle.
However, he is more vocal when it comes to the second biggest headline in MMA at the moment: the increased testing for performance-enhancing drugs that has seen even huge stars like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and Brock Lesnar get into trouble. Longtime light heavyweight champion Jones, who defeated St. Preux for an interim title at UFC 197 in April, blamed “tainted supplements” for testing positive for PEDs in a test administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in June.
“I’ve always been clean and I want every guy out there who is cheating to get caught,” Holtzman said. “Fighting is not like hitting a round of baseballs over the fence. You’re hitting human beings in the teeth. There’s potential for long-term damage to the body and brain. If you’re not lying about taking PEDS, and you really don’t know what you’re putting in your body, then you’re still at fault. I take plenty of supplements and I get them all checked out by USADA beforehand.”
Before returning to Glendale, Ariz., where he holds training camps at The MMA Lab, the home gym of former lightweight champion Benson Henderson, Holtzman will take the next couple of weeks to relax with family and friends, maybe hit the beach, and eat some junk food before he gets back on a strict diet.
“I really like those Coconut Dreams from Keebler, but even some chocolate chip cookies will do the trick,” Holtzman laughed. “The whole time around the fight is so stressful, and it takes so much out of you mentally and physically. I’d like to sit and decompress; be normal for a little bit.”
As to finding that ultimate hot sauce sponsor to capitalize on his fan-friendly nickname while he’s back in town, Holtzman said he is still holding out.
“I’ve had some offers already. But they weren’t all that hot.”
Featured photo by Tyler Oxendine.
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