The UFC featherweight champion couldn’t have predicted that a rematch with the promotion’s lightweight champion would be in the cards for UFC 297, but Volkanovski was called upon on 11 days’ notice to save this past October’s main event when a Charles Oliveira injury forced the Brazilian to withdraw from the Makhachev fight.
Volkanovski went on to lose in the first round after being knocked out by a dramatic head kick, raising questions as to whether the short notice had a deleterious effect on his performance. During an appearance on Israel Adesanya’s YouTube channel, Volkanovski admitted that before UFC matchmakers called, he had deviated considerably from his usual training regimen.
“It was like a little kick up the ass for me,” Volkanovski said of the loss. “I wasn’t disciplined. I’m known for being disciplined, professional all year around, 24/7, and I just wasn’t that time. So I was really disappointed. I was more upset with who I was in previous months leading into that.
“To be honest, it made it a little bit easier because it snapped me out of it. I was drinking every day for three or four weeks, honestly, I don’t even know. That’s unheard of for me. Like, every day. I’ve never, ever done that. But I was just like, I wasn’t training too much, obviously surgery, and just trying to help around the house. I’m like, ‘May as well have a couple of drinks, they’re going down good.’ So it was going down too good. So every day I went to Cairns with the fam and come back and even then I was like, ‘This has got to stop.’ I ended up saying that the day before I got the call.”
Volkanovski clarified that he wasn’t out partying or misbehaving and that his drinking primarily took place at home. Still, it wasn’t the same routine he’d followed in the past that had shaped him into the UFC champion that, outside of his losses to Makhachev, has been nearly unbeatable for the past decade.
One major concern for Volkanovski was that he ballooned up to nearly 185 pounds, a sign that he wasn’t physically at his sharpest. Wanting to force himself back into proper shape and avenge his UFC 284 loss to Makhachev, Volkanovski jumped on the short-notice opportunity.
“I’ve never been that heavy. Even when I was trying to bulk for Islam the first fight, I never got that heavy,” Volkanovski said. “I was far out, so was like, I’m going to try and eat good. It was like I had a day head start to snap out of it and then I got the phone call the next day for the fight. I’m like, ‘What? I better check my weight.’ I already lost a few kilos — obviously, a lot of it was just water, which was crazy — so I’m like, ‘Let’s do it. I need to snap out of this little rut that I’m in. This is exciting, this is a challenge, this is something that I need right now, let’s do it.’”
Volkanovski still has no regrets over accepting the fight under such adverse circumstances, nor is he embarrassed to share the details of his struggles surrounding the fight. “The Great” continues to support the idea that men need to be more open about mental health issues, a topic he has discussed in the past.
Next, Volkanovski defends his featherweight title against the undefeated Ilia Topuria in the main event of UFC 298 on Feb. 17. The bout occurs just four months after his devastating knockout loss to Makhachev, and while that remains a tough outcome to swallow, it won’t deter him from taking risks in the future.
“It’s always going to hurt, losing’s not fun,” Volkanovski said. “I’m never scared of getting hurt or anything, I’m scared of losing. Even though I love challenging myself, even if it’s 11 days’ notice and put myself in a position where the chances of losing are much higher, I’m still going to do that. That’s just who I am, even with that fear of losing. But that’s just who I am and that’s what made me the guy I am, the champion I am. I’m always challenging myself, challenging myself in the gym every day, and I’m always finding ways to challenge myself and [the Makhachev rematch] was one of them.
“I will always take short-notice. A lot of people got upset with the decision I made to do a short-notice. I’m not. It’s not the decision, it’s just the timing off of it. Any other time in my career, I’m not saying I win, I just know I’m in a better position. That’s all I can say. He caught me and that’s that. I just wish I could pull the trigger and make it more of a fight, and I just didn’t.”