Alexander Volkanovski on UFC 298 challenger Ilia Topuria: ‘I just haven’t seen that elite stuff yet’

Alexander Volkanovski is not impressed by Ilia Topuria’s performance.

Volkanovski returns on Feb. 17 when he seeks the sixth defense of his UFC featherweight title against undefeated challenger Ilia Topuria at UFC 298. While Volkanovski has lost two of his past three bouts up a weight class against Islam Makhachev, including a first-round knockout loss to the lightweight champ this past October at UFC 294, “The Great” remains the class of 145 pounds. Volkanovski holds a perfect 12-0 promotional record competing in the division he’s long called home, and when he takes a close look at the road his Spanish foe has traveled to earn his first UFC title shot, he’s not exactly blown away.

“I think [Topuria] may be [getting] rushed,” Volkanovski said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “That doesn’t mean I’m not saying he’s that good. He could be as good as he’s saying. He could be as good as what everyone’s saying, but he hasn’t been able to prove that yet. So that’s what I say when he’s carrying on like, ‘How good am I?’ It’s like, look, you could be that good. Maybe in February you show me that. But until then, until you’ve [fought] someone at this level … it’s just the same Ilia turning up to all these fights.

“I just haven’t seen that elite stuff yet. He might be able to show that in February, so I’m not trying to knock him when I sit there. It’s just, you’d think the way he’s carrying on that, mate, he’s knocking out everybody or no one wants to fight him. Like, literally the way I got to the title. You’d think he’s just doing what all these other guys [have done], which he hasn’t.”

Topuria, 26, holds a 6-0 record under the UFC umbrella, with five of those wins coming in the featherweight division. His résumé includes first-round knockouts of Damon Jackson and Ryan Hall, a submission victory over Bryce Mitchell, and a dominant decision over Josh Emmett, the latter of which featured a rare 50-42 scorecard in Topuria’s favor.

Topuria’s success has skyrocketed him up the global featherweight rankings. He’s currently tied with Yair Rodriguez as MMA Fighting’s third-best 145-pound fighter in the world. Volkanovski, however, has not been as moved by Topuria’s performances.

“He needs a show us something, because right now I haven’t seen it,” Volkanovski said. “And again, it doesn’t mean he’s not elite. He might be in the gym. He looks like he’s durable, tough, fundamentally very well in all aspects of the game. Durable. He probably gets a lot of guys in there [in the gym], he’s probably always going to be a hard round for these guys. So he’s going to be tough, even if he wants to train with guys a little bit bigger, like I do myself. But then there’s going to be levels where you need more than just needing to be fundamentally sound. Like, he thinks he’s going to be able to out-wrestle me. With just the proof with what I’ve seen? He needs to show more than what he’s done with the wrestling, a lot more, if that’s going to be a threat. Submission-wise, a lot more.

“And if he’s that good, alright, you can show us that, but I haven’t seen him do anything more special than any other of the guys that I’ve faced,” Volkanovski continued. “Doesn’t mean he’s not that good, but he needs to show me that. And then with the striking, again, durable, powerful dude, very fundamentally sound, well trained. But again, just, it’s so much more than that. It’s so much more than that. That’s all. I’ll leave it at that.”

Volkanovski, 35, is one of the most dominant featherweights in UFC history. He is currently MMA Fighting’s No. 2 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world and owns a host of impressive victories over top featherweights such as Max Holloway (x3), Brian Ortega, Rodriguez, Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, and Chan Sung Jung.

However, Volkanovski is also the oldest champion in UFC history under 170 pounds and is coming off the first knockout loss of his career in his brutal outing against Makhachev. Those circumstances have led many to not only wonder whether Volkanovski’s time at the top is up, but also whether promotion officials are pulling for the Spain-based Topuria to pull off the upset and blow open a new market for the UFC.

If you know anything about Volkanovski, however, you know that he revels in hearing that kind of doubt.

“Put it this way, if I didn’t probably do that faceoff with [Topuria], and me mentioning his name, he probably wouldn’t have got it as easy as he did,” Volkanovski said. “But as I’ve made it clear time and time again, I want a No. 1 contender. So I’m pointing out these guys. I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. Next [man up].’ I’m pretty much calling for my next fight straightaway and I did the same after Yair [Rodriguez] and obviously calling out Ilia.

“[The UFC is] obviously levels and steps ahead and that’s just how it works, so I’m sure they’ve got plans. I think [Topuria] mentioned about [an event in] Spain. I reckon that is something, a possibility. I’m sure they want to go over there, I’m sure it’s a big market. He’s got a big following over there. So at least he gets a title fight, he gets to build a bit of hype there. He ain’t getting the belt, so I’m going to ruin all them plans. But at least he gets a boost, a bit of hype over there for the next few months. But I promise you, it ends there.”

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