MMA

UFC 294: Alex Volkanovski’s short-notice title fight is really a quest for wall-worthy fame

UFC 294: Alex Volkanovski's short-notice title fight is really a quest for wall-worthy fame

UFC featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski is a +225 underdog Saturday to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in their rematch in the main event of UFC 294. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Zuffa LLC)

My office has pictures and paintings on the walls, mostly but not entirely of the legendary boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, which depict him competing in his biggest fights against the likes of George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston. I also have a painting of the 1980 classic welterweight title fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.

Alex Volkanovski brought those up while attempting to explain why he would choose to accept a fight against Islam Makhachev on Saturday in the main event of UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on just 11 days' notice. He's not giving himself the best chance to win by doing that. He admits his cardio won't be the same as it would have been had he had a full camp to prepare for the rematch of their classic bout at UFC 284 in February.

Volkanovski, the UFC's featherweight champion, believed he won that bout though the judges scored it for Makhachev, who retained his lightweight title. Makhachev was scheduled to defend the belt Saturday against former champion Charles Oliveira, but Oliveira was cut above the right eyebrow last week and forced to pull out. Volkanovski immediately said yes the second the bout was offered.

He's brimming with confidence that he'll not only beat, but knock out, Makhachev and in the process become just the fifth fighter in UFC history following Conor McGregor (featherweight, lightweight), Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight, heavyweight), Amanda Nunes (bantamweight, featherweight) and Henry Cejudo (flyweight, bantamweight) to hold two titles simultaneously.

He's never hesitated to take mega-fights and never will. Money, of course, is a part of it. The bigger the fight, the bigger the payday, but it's about more than money for Volkanovski.

"That's exactly what it's all about, doing things so you will be remembered," Volkanovski told Yahoo Sports. "A wise man once said, 'Dare to be great.' We're going to keep doing what we're doing and if we do that, well, that's when special things happen. It's never going to be up to me to tell you, 'I should be on your walls,' but when you take these kinds of historic fights and you do them one after the other after the other, it changes things.

"These are the kinds of moments people talk about forever. And I want to do the kind of things in this sport so that five years, 10 years, many, many years from now, people will remember them. Basically, I want to be doing the things that make people want to put me on their walls."

The task he faces is enormous, and the odds reflect that. Makhachev is a -275 at BetMGM while Volkanovski is at +225. Makhachev is at only +150 to win by decision.

After spending 25 minutes in the cage with Makhachev, Volkanovski knows him as well as anyone and he's quick to dismiss any notion that Makhachev is anything but elite.

If he defeats lightweight champ Islam Makhachev on Saturday at UFC 294, featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski will become the fifth fighter in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously. (Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Makhachev is a well-rounded fighter who is above-average in all areas of MMA, but he's known for having Olympic-level wrestling. Volkanovski never hesitated when asked if Makhachev's wrestling lived up to the hype.

"He is [an Olympic-caliber wrestler], absolutely," Volkanovski said. "He is as good as they say. No doubt. He's fantastic. A lot of people are going to discredit him now, but no, he is that good. What they saw is because I was in front of him, but he is as good as he was billed to be. But people just underestimated me. They hadn't seen that side of me and I was able to show that. He is so good, though, let's be honest.

"When I was watching, I was saying, 'I don't think he's as strong as people say; I think it's his technique.' And if there's one area, it's strength. Don't get me wrong: He's strong; very strong. But I don't think he had that freakish strength I heard about. I think his technique was so good and we had mad scrambles. I did mad counters and he did counters to the counter. … People want to discredit him now and that's just not right. He is that good. You have to remember, that was me in front of him. I don't think anyone else makes him look like that."

If Volkanovski wins, he's probably going to see Makhachev at least once more, given that would even the series. Volkanovski, though, believes a win will make him 2-0 given his fervent belief he won that UFC 284 bout. Nothing he's seen since has changed his mind.

He has big plans for the bout Saturday, so he's not so convinced there will be a trilogy bout between them, or at least not an immediate rematch. He said he'll do whatever the UFC thinks is best, but said a featherweight title defense against No. 5-ranked Ilia Topuria seemed to make sense.

"I was thinking about this before, because I'm used to trilogies and I like trilogies anyway," he said. "But you have to look at it how everyone would look at it. Wait a second. I plan on knocking him out on Saturday night. If I do that, and a lot of people consider me the winner of the last fight anyway. So would people want to see the trilogy? That's going to be the big question. If I go out there and make it look easy on 12 days' notice, people probably won't be interested [in a trilogy]."

He paused and then grinned widely. He is all about putting on the fights the fans and the UFC want to see most, and said he's open for anything.

He then shook his head with a knowing smile.

"I'm down to fight anyone, obviously, anywhere, any time, any place, whatever," he said. "I just want to keep doing the things to get my picture hanging on people's walls."

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