The UFC featherweight champion gets a second crack at the lightweight title when he rematches Islam Makhachev in this Saturday’s main event in Abu Dhabi. Volkanovski accepted the fight on less than two weeks’ notice following the withdrawal of Charles Oliveira.
This past February at UFC 284, Volkanovski lost a competitive unanimous decision to Makhachev and he has been calling for a rematch ever since, though he returned to 145 pounds to record his fifth straight featherweight title defense with a win over Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290.
Now that he’s getting a chance to avenge that sooner than expected, Volkanovski has heard the chatter that jumping on the short-notice opportunity is a low-risk, high-reward proposition. It’s a viewpoint he vehemently disagrees with.
“This whole ‘nothing to lose’ type thing is silly,” Volkanovski said at UFC 294 media day. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of pressure on Islam and I understand that, but I have to take this rematch that I want so bad, this lightweight title, we talk about legacy—If I was to lose, my legacy takes a big hit. I don’t get another shot at him. I don’t get another shot probably at the lightweight title. How much longer do I have? You really don’t know these things. There’s definitely still a lot to lose for me. I think he takes a big hit with a loss to his legacy, losing to someone who is obviously the featherweight champ, a division below, coming in on 12 days’ notice. Again, there’s a lot of pressure on him. No pressure on me, I’m not letting there be any pressure, but there’s still a lot to lose for me.
“I don’t want people acting like me doing this is a no-brainer. I guarantee you there’s not many fighters that are going to do this. You heard Islam say, ‘No excuses’ and things like this. One thing I want to say is, put it this way, 100 percent if the roles were reversed, this fight is not happening. I don’t care what anyone says. He’s not fighting on 12 days’ notice. So he needs to remember that.”
Volkanovski’s legacy at 145 pounds is cemented regardless of whether he claims a second title or not. He is one of the top-three featherweights of all time alongside Jose Aldo and Max Holloway, a pair of fighters that he holds wins over (three, in Holloway’s case).
Before he jumped into the Makhachev rematch, Volkanovski was expected to defend his featherweight title against Ilia Topuria this January at UFC 297. It’s an event Volkanovski still wants to headline and he wants everyone to know that if anyone can reign as champion in two divisions, it’s him.
“A lot of people want to talk about ‘Can I keep two divisions busy?’ so let’s talk about this for a second,” Volkanovski said. “I’ve come here to fight. I’ve stepped up for every light and featherweight fight for the last year, over a year. … For the last five or six light, featherweight fights, I’ve been there to fight every single one. Try and tell me that I can’t keep two divisions busy. See me in January.”
Volkanovski added that taking a featherweight fight on 12 days’ notice isn’t tenable, but preparing for lightweight rematch with Makhachev in that same time frame is an opportunity he can’t pass up.
Makhachev has already stated that he is interested in moving up to welterweight for his own shot at a second title, which is another reason Volkanovski felt urgency to chase the rematch.
“I think there’s a lot of things, I want to be that guy, but there’s history here,” Volkanovski said. “Say if I didn’t take this opportunity, he fights Charles and wants to move up and goes there and then I don’t ever get a chance to have that rematch. That was playing on my mind too, that was a big reason why I needed to do this as well. This is an opportunity where I can get that rematch and do something great. So that’s how I’m looking at this.
“If this was just any other fight, probably not, it wouldn’t interest me. This interests me. There’s history. There’s this rivalry. There’s a lot of talk already from the first fight that this fight needs to happen and we’re doing it on 12 days’ notice.”
In the event that it was Makhachev who needed to be replaced as opposed to Oliveira, Volkanovski is adamant that he still would have taken the call to fly to Abu Dhabi to save the headliner. After all, snatching the lightweight title would likely lead to another fight with Makhachev anyway.
“The lightweight title is still a thing that I want though and then I demand the rematch anyway, so I get that rematch,” Volkanovski said. “So that works out. I’m thinking of it all.
“If I was to fight Charles instead of Islam this weekend, I take that belt, when Islam’s back, I get my rematch. So either way, fighting for that lightweight title, probably because of the fact it was the lightweight title I can make weight and part of my legacy I want that second belt, I want that rematch, that still promises me the rematch. That would have been an easy decision for me to do as well.”