Monday Mailbag: UFC 294 fallout and where Alexander Volkanovski goes from here

UFC 294 is in the books and wow, do people want to talk about it. Islam Makhachev iced Alexander Volkanovski in the first round, Khamzat Chimaev scraped out a win over Kamaru Usman, and a whole bunch of other weird stuff happened. I got the most questions this week I’ve gotten all year, so let’s hop right in and answer as many as we can.

Alexander Volkanovski

My single biggest takeaway from UFC 294 isn’t that Makhachev is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world (he is and I already knew that), it’s that I am deeply concerned for Alexander Volkanovski.

After the fight, both in cage and in his presser, the featherweight champion was pretty open about some mental struggles he’s been facing, saying that the reason he wants to stay active is when he’s not training, he was “doing my head in.” I’m not a psychologist but I have some experience with depression and it sure seems like Volkanovski might be dealing with that.

Speaking personally, having achievable objectives and structure — like a fight camp provides — are good tools to help work through episodes, and can certainly distract you from the symptoms, but it doesn’t address the underlying issues. By definition, fight camps end, and then you’re back to square one, and at some point, you’re body will break down in this cycle, and then were does that leave you?

There’s no shame in seeking professional help in these circumstances and I hope Volkanovski does. And I also hope that despite the UFC’s fiscal concerns and Volkanovski’s own wishes, they do not book him to fight in January. Volkanovski is 35 years old, has already fought three times in eight months, and is coming off a pretty nasty knockout loss, all while dealing with some concerning issues. There’s no reason to rush this man back.

What’s next for Islam Makhachev?

I’m not even going to take the bait on the trilogy bout. This rivalry is done. Makhachev won five of six rounds and stopped him inside three minutes. Short notice absolutely hurt Volkanovski, but my second biggest takeaway from this fight is that we all talked about him much Volk wanted to “right the wrong” of the first fight, but it sure felt like Makhachev really wanted to do that himself.

Personally, I would prefer the Justin Gaethje fight. I’ve long been on the record as hating immediate rematches and believing that if you lose a fight, win two to get back. Charles Oliveira beat Beneil Dariush, which is an exceptional win, but I’d rather us not just have Makhachev keep beating the same two dudes over and over again. Gaethje has done enough to earn his shot, and a fresh matchup for the champ would be ideal. Oliveira can fight Mateusz Gamrot (man, feels like we should’ve let Gamrot do his backup duties now, doesn’t it?) for the next title shot after that.

Sean Strickland vs. Khamzat Chimaev

I’ll tell you what, I am giving Strickland a MUCH better chance at beating Chimaev today than I would have last Monday. And this is not a matter of judging Chimaev on harsher standards, it’s a matter of what my eyeballs tell me.

Chimaev has had seven fights in the UFC. In five of those, he has run roughshod over his competition, conceding five total significant strikes. That’s remarkable. But against by far the two best fighters he’s ever faced, Chimaev has looked substantially less impressive. Yes, he beat both Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns, but he did it in fundamentally the same way — barnstorming them in the first round, and then hanging on to his lead over the next two. There’s a pattern developing.

I understand there are reports that Chimaev may have broken a hand, and that certainly could help to explain some of how he fought against Usman, but I think the more obvious and likely answer is the one that’s right in front of us: Chimaev goes hard early, and if he doesn’t win, he slows sharply. Now, to his credit, he doesn’t fall of a cliff, but he isn’t the same beast after five minutes. And against a guy like Strickland, who never slows down, that’s a very risky proposition.

Could Chimaev double-leg Strickland and rinse him on the mat in three minutes? Absolutely. That probably is the most likely scenario still. But if Strickland can survive five minutes, the dynamics shift dramatically and all of a sudden “Borz” isn’t the hammer anymore. I’d love to find out.

Dricus du Plessis

Arguably the biggest non-Makhachev winner of Saturday didn’t even compete on Saturday.

One month ago, du Plessis found himself unexpectedly screwed in the middleweight title picture. Despite being undefeated in the UFC and having demolished Robert Whittaker in July, du Plessis was probably third in line to fight Strickland, behind an Israel Adesanya rematch and the winner of Chimaev vs. Paulo Costa (the original plan for UFC 294). Now? Adesanya is taking an extended leave from the sport and Chimaev just eked out a win over a welterweight in such an uninspiring performance that neither he nor Dana White made a big push for a title shot and Strickland is actively negging the idea. By process of elimination, DDP now has the inside track to get the title shot that should have been his all along. Funny old world, innit?

For Chimaev, assuming he doesn’t get the title shot next, re-booking the fight with Costa makes the most sense. The two have beef, Costa is a legitimate title contender, and Jared Cannonier recently revealed he’s out of the Roman Dolidze fight with a torn MCL. Chimaev can fight Costa and the winner gets the winner of Strickland vs. DDP.

Kamaru Usman

Credit to Usman who, like Volkanovski, took a fight up a weight class on short notice, but unlike Volk didn’t at least have the upside of winning a belt attached to it. Given the circumstances, Usman performed more than admirably and I suspect will hang around 185, unless Colby Covington beats Leon Edwards in December. And if that’s the case, there’s only one fight that makes sense for him: Robert Whittaker.

Whittaker is pretty well outside of the title picture at middleweight at the moment and he’s already beaten most of top guys in the weight class. Does he really want to defend his ranking against the Ikram Aliskerov’s of the world? No, just set up a superfight between him and Usman. Whoever wins is then one win away from a title shot and the loser doesn’t lose that much face. Easy.

The Curse of Magomed Ankalaev

I believe that at this very moment, Magomed Ankalaev is the best light heavyweight in the world. And there is a very real possibility that we will never get to know if that’s true or not, because someone has put a hex on him. Ankalaev’s fight with Johnny Walker was supposed to set him up for a title shot. Instead, he illegally knees Walker, things get weird, and we have a no-contest on our hands. Once again, Ankalaev is left treading water.

I have to assume the UFC simply re-books this fight for as soon as both parties are able, and hopefully Ankalaev can get a clean result for the first time in a long time.

Ringside doctor

Speaking of things getting weird, the ringside doctor who called off Ankalaev vs. Walker caught a lot of heat on Saturday, and for (mostly) good reason. His behavior during the Javid Basharat vs. Victor Henry low blow fiasco is pretty inexcusable, but at least it ultimately didn’t affect the outcome. His behavior in the feature main card fight, much less so.

I am not a medical doctor, so at some point in this, we ultimately need to err on the side of safety and the opinion of medical professionals. But, like, that was pretty clearly not handled optimally. It’s fairly standard procedure to assess mental faculty by asking basic questions of fighters, and as Luke Thomas pointed out, asking someone to state where they are is not a high bar to clear. In fact, it’s basically on the floor. If you don’t know where you are, then buddy you’ve got some issues.

That being said, where the doctor screwed up is in the execution of that question. The entire sequence was rushed and didn’t need to be. You have plenty of time and you’re dealing with two people conversing in not their primary languages. Walker’s English is very good, but in the middle of a fight, in a loud arena, where he just caught a knee to the cranium? Probably a little less so. An extra three minutes of recovery time isn’t going to change the status of a concussion, but taking an extra minute to get a translator in to clearly and effectively communicate the questions should be the expectation.

Muhammad Mokaev

I am high on Mokaev and remain so because he’s supernaturally talented and he’s an elite athlete. Those two things almost always coincide with winning UFC titles, particularly when they are found in 23 year olds. But if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that Mokaev is missing one very important piece of the puzzle: Dude ain’t mean enough.

In five UFC bouts, Mokaev has landed a combined 65 significant strikes. That ain’t it, boss. He’s winning via positional grappling and late-round submissions, but that doesn’t work on everyone. There’s a reason Khabib Nurmagomedov functionally trademarked “smash,” because sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do.

This is not the ADCCs, you have to hurt people in the cage or you will lose. Mokaev very nearly fell victim to that on Saturday as he was down on the scorecards before the third-round choke. Tim Elliott is scrappy as (Mike) Heck, but that choke isn’t going to be there against Brandon Moreno or Alexandre Pantoja. And at some point you’re going to have to learn a committed and serious striking game, and be willing to use it on the feet and on the floor, or else Mokaev is capping out at a top-10 guy.


By my count we had six Dagestani fighters compete on Saturday, with five wins and one no-contest. That sounds about right, given how Dagestan has come to dominate the MMA world since Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov opened the floodgates. Right now, only one of them holds the title though, and I’d be a bit surprised if any others joined him by the end of next year. That’s not to say they don’t have the ability, just that the timeline doesn’t work out.

As mentioned above, Ankalaev is cursed (though he’s still the best bet to join Makhachev), so that’s a question mark. Mokaev is still way back from the title picture (though I believe he’ll be champion one day), as is Aliskerov. The next closest option is Umar Nurmagomedov, but people already don’t want to fight him, so I’m not sure how he gets a title shot in the next 12 months.

But yeah, the Dagestani Knuckle Game Cartel keeps winning.


Makes absolutely no sense. I say it a lot but in MMA, there is no such thing as cheating, there is simply fighting smart and fighting stupid. UFC 294 should have driven this point home for every fighter moving forward.

Some quick back of the napkin math says that UFC 294 featured 347 “illegal” maneuvers, resulting in a total of ZERO points deducted. In two fights, we did end up getting no-contests, but in the others, nothing happened except a fighter gained a clear advantage over their opponent with no downside whatsoever. Straight up, Muhammad Naimov doesn’t beat Nathaniel Wood without cheating, but he did and nothing happened to him, so now Wood doesn’t get his win bonus. Maybe next time he’ll square his opponent right back in the balls.

Referees are never going to change. The should, but they simply won’t. And if they aren’t going to enforce the rules, then they aren’t really rules at all, just guidelines. For a group of athletes absolutely obsessed with killing themselves to gain an extra pound in the hopes that will provide an edge, the number of fighters leaving free percentage points of value on the table by not bending the rules three times a fight is remarkable. You’re telling me if the NFL stopped penalizing offensive holding, teams wouldn’t immediately do it all the time? Of course they would. I know this because it actually happened and the league set a billion scoring records!

Cheat. Cheat early and often. Cheat all the time. Cheat until the referees do something to make you stop, and then cheat some more and see if they’ll stick to that. They probably won’t and you might get double your salary as a result.

Meshewlin Stars

Of course Meshewlin stars can be handed out retroactively. We know more things. The pre-fight rating on UFC 293 was zero stars because Sydney is a pretty cool place and that was a pretty lame fight card. After the fact though? Being present for one of the great upsets in MMA history is always fun, so that gets bumped to a one-star card.

For UFC 294 though, it won’t make a difference. Heading into the card, it was a One Meshewlin Star card; the short-notice nature of the fights made them less appealing and the rest of the card was thoroughly uninspiring. Leaving UFC 294, it’s still a One Star card. We’ll probably talk about the main event for awhile, but it still isn’t as good as a full build for that rematch could have been, and it’s ultimately a result that leaves you wanting a little bit. If I was in Abu Dhabi, I’d have gone to the card, but I’m not taking a trip to see it.

Oh, and go check out the latest episode of DAMN! They Were Good, where we talked all things Anderson Silva (and Steven Seagal).

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again and see y’all next week.

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