FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — It started with a textual content message with an invite to dinner. It was the beginning of a friendship arrange by Shane Victorino.
On the time, the two-time Philadelphia Phillies All-Star outfielder did not know Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota and UFC featherweight Max Holloway had by no means met. Victorino did know they have been two of the perfect on the earth at what they did, from the identical island state all of them come from in the course of the Pacific Ocean.
In Hawaii, if you’re that good at one thing there’s an unstated connection. One already existed within the mutual admiration society Mariota and Holloway had from afar. Victorino’s invite modified that.
“It was surprising to me,” Victorino mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘You guys must be greatest pals.'”
Whereas greatest pals is a stretch, the dialog that befell on the since-closed Alan Wong’s in Honolulu in March 2019, manifested in Victorino’s thought. All through the night time, the athletes Victorino assembled — NFL linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and MMA fighter Yancy Medeiros have been additionally included — instructed tales about their lives.
They shared experiences about how they grew up and the way they needed to assist in giving again to the island from which their skilled careers sprouted. What began with a dinner dialog has was a help system, a community and a approach to develop.
At dinner, they talked about successes and the way, in sports activities, failure goes to occur. On the time, neither the 28-year-old Mariota nor the 30-year-old Holloway may have recognized how pertinent the dialog would change into. Mariota was nonetheless the beginning quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. Holloway was within the midst of a 13-fight win streak and was UFC featherweight champion.
Inside two years, Holloway misplaced his title and Mariota his beginning job. By way of the positives and negatives, the 2 understood and leaned on each other.
“Each athlete goes via that,” Mariota mentioned. “And with the ability to perceive and simply be a voice of help.”
IN A CONVERSATION began at that dinner, neither Holloway nor Mariota fairly grasps the sanity of the opposite’s career.
Mariota is perplexed at being hit within the face for a residing. Holloway is baffled at why anybody would wish to be thrown to the bottom by a 300-pound-plus human being. Different types of violence, however a shared respect.
These questions existed earlier than they met as a result of they’d been following one another’s careers. This led to a unique sort of pleasure. Mariota, as is his nature, was calm and considerably quiet. Holloway admits now he was “fanboying” just a little bit, asking Mariota about so many nuances.
Holloway, a Minnesota Vikings fan considering an allegiance change to the Falcons this season, began asking Mariota about rehabilitation strategies getting back from accidents. Mariota was caught on Holloway being hit within the face.
They mentioned their frequent ardour for serving to the youngsters of Hawaii and eager to get entangled.
“A variety of our issues that we treasure, issues that we love and we respect, our objectives and issues we needed to do for Hawaii, all of it strains up,” Holloway mentioned. “It is like, he desires to make a distinction in Hawaii, not solely Hawaii however the world, and I wish to make a distinction.”
Whereas they have not collaborated on something substantial but, each have mentioned it’ll occur sooner or later. A mix of the COVID-19 pandemic and the enterprise of sports activities and life — Holloway lives in Hawaii whereas Mariota would not go to too typically — has made it just a little extra sophisticated.
They wish to assist mentor, each from up shut and afar. Form of how Victorino did — assembly Mariota when Mariota performed at Oregon and Holloway when he fought in Boston towards Conor McGregor in 2013, the final battle Holloway misplaced for 5 years.
“When you grew up there, you grew up from one root and that’s about respect, it is about loyalty,” Victorino mentioned. “… To me, it was like, ‘Man, I want I had somebody forward of me that I may choose up the telephone and name and ask this query or that query.'”
For Mariota and Holloway, they’ve was that for each other.
MOST OF THEIR CONVERSATIONS focus on life, not essentially sports activities. They attain out about as soon as a month to verify in, both by telephone or textual content, to see how the opposite is doing and ask about households.
Typical, regular stuff, actually.
Mariota texts Holloway earlier than and after each battle to want him luck. He attended Holloway’s battle in Atlanta on April 13, 2019 — Holloway’s first loss since McGregor, when Dustin Poirier beat him by unanimous determination. When Mariota sees Holloway stroll out to Moke Boy’s “Hawaiian Kickboxer” it offers the quarterback goosebumps. It is a sense of satisfaction, Mariota says, that Hawaiian athletes carry for themselves and their state.
“Whether or not he received or whether or not he misplaced, I simply instructed him, ‘Yo, you are making us all proud,'” Mariota mentioned. “For all of us, like regardless of win or loss, if you happen to proceed to carry your self to a excessive commonplace and proceed to characterize Hawaii, that is all we actually care about.”
Holloway has angst when Mariota performs as a result of he understands the stresses. He is amazed by what Mariota is ready to do, however the reality is “it is nerve-racking.” He would not like seeing Mariota get hit and infrequently says he needs there was a means for him to take the hit for Mariota.
When Holloway struggled following losses, Mariota inspired him. Holloway did the identical for Mariota as he battled via two years as a backup with the Las Vegas Raiders earlier than getting one other beginning alternative.
Holloway mentioned Mariota has pressured to “belief the method,” an excellent mantra for each their careers and the way they’ve approached coming back from setbacks.
They’ve grown shut, and have additionally bonded over their shared Samoan heritage.
Holloway mentioned Mariota is welcoming and places him comfortable, joking Mariota must be nicknamed “Mr. Aloha” for the power he exudes.
“He may kill me for saying this, however he is like a giant teddy bear, man,” Holloway mentioned. “I really feel like I can inform him my life story or no matter. If I ever want something, I can simply go as much as him and speak to him and textual content him and he isn’t going to guage me.”
Holloway makes certain Mariota is aware of that is reciprocal. They arrive from a spot few perceive professionally and geographically. They get what it is like in Hawaii, the place Mariota mentioned rising up he’d watch the native information and sportscasters would not speak about groups profitable or dropping, however how Hawaiian gamers on these groups fared.
There is a stress, but additionally a consolation and fervour.
“That is what is so cool about Hawaii athletes,” Mariota mentioned. “That is simply the mindset, to assist the subsequent man up.”