Islam Makhachev: If Alexander Volkanovski is smart, he’ll take time off after brutal UFC 294 loss

Before stepping in to face Islam Makhachev on 11 days’ notice, Alexander Volkanovski was expected to defend his featherweight title at UFC 297 against Ilia Topuria.

Makhachev would caution Volkanovski about such a move in the wake of his head-kick knockout win at UFC 294.

“January, he cannot,” Makhachev told MMA Fighting at the post-fight press conference for Saturday’s pay-per-view event at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. “He has a big cut on his eye, and he missed a very good kick, and that’s why he has to take some rest. 100 percent.

“If he’s smart, if his team’s smart, he has to take a couple months’ rest, because this is not me choking him, or a body kick. This is a head kick, and not just his coaches, his doctor and his team has to make the decision.”

Volkanovski said at the post-event press conference that he sought to return against Topuria in January. He spoke openly about his struggles with inactivity and said he accepted the short-notice rematch with Makhachev in part because he grew restless without a fight booking.

The featherweight champ may not have a choice as to whether he fights in January, however. The depth and location of his cut, in addition to his knockout loss, is likely to produce a medical suspension issued by the UFC, which self-regulated Saturday’s event. Typically, the promotion follows the Nevada Athletic Commission’s guidelines for medical suspensions, meaning a knockout loss would trigger a term of 60 days, though in reality their enforcement falls on the fighter and their coaches.

In theory, Volkanovski would be well into December before he was able to train for UFC 297, which is scheduled for Jan. 20 in Toronto.

The UFC 294 setback was Volkanovski’s second against Makhachev following a decision loss to the lightweight champ at UFC 284 in February. He indicated he won’t be fighting at lightweight any time soon, if ever, and planned to fight in his natural 145-pound class.

Makhachev and Volkanovski shared a moment backstage at UFC 294, and despite their rivalry leading up to the bout, they were cordial and respectful of each other in the immediate aftermath of the fight.

“I paid my respects to him, and I gave my thanks,” Makhachev said he told Volkanovski afterward. “He’s a real warrior and a man of his word, and I showed him my respect.”

Makhachev’s respect for his opponent likely played a part in his advice for Volkanovski to give his brain a break.

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