Alexander Volkanovski | Photo by Paul Kane/Zuffa LLC
With a win at the Feb. 12 pay-per-view in Perth, Australia, Volkanovski would capture the UFC lightweight title and earn champ-champ status, score arguably the biggest win of his career in his home country, and knock off a name that’s currently one spot behind him at No. 2 in the MMA Pound-for-Pound Rankings.
It’s that last achievement on the list that has Volkanovski particularly excited about his next fight, especially given Makhachev’s perceived invincibility and close ties with lightweight legend Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“No disrespect to them, but that’s why this fight is so big to me,” Volkanovski said on Michael Bisping’s Believe You Me podcast. “It’s the Dagestani wrestling, no one can figure this out, they’re on a roll and all that. Khabib’s there. Islam, what he’s been doing his last few fights. All that. I was chasing the champ-champ, that’s what motivated me before I knew who I was fighting. As soon as Islam won and the people talked, something was just like, bang, that’s all that I cared about is taking out Islam.
“It wasn’t even disrespect. All that stuff just made this fight so much bigger. Me accomplishing this goal — not only the champ-champ, it’s obviously going to be incredible, having two belts — but not just that. It’s, while doing that, taking out someone like Islam. Especially being a featherweight going to move up to lightweight, then fighting not only any lightweight, you’re going to Dagestani-wrestling Islam who’s known to just walk and control and throw around all these lightweights. ‘How’s Alex going to deal with that?’
“This just makes when I get my hand raised, it just makes it so much bigger. So that’s what’s motivating me right now, the fight itself. It’s going to be extra special getting both belts on them shoulders, but [also] who I’m taking out in the process.”
Volkanovski erased any doubts that he is one of MMA’s greatest champions with a 2022 campaign that saw him dispose of “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung with relative ease, then close out a trilogy over former featherweight champion Max Holloway by pitching a shutout at UFC 276.
Since joining the UFC in 2016, Volkanovski has compiled a 12-0 record and won 22 straight fights overall. He has no reservations about putting those pristine numbers on the line against Makhachev.
“Do I think this is going to be easy? No,” Volkanovski said. “Does it need a lot of preparation? Yeah, it does, definitely. It is a challenge. But just because it’s a challenge, should I protect my record, protect this pound-for-pound spot, do all this? Nah.
“Take it on. It’s going to make you a better fighter, and honestly, I’ve still got under eight weeks left and I’m already twice the fighter I was, just because of how I’m taking this fight. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.”
As he takes on a challenge in a higher weight class, the featherweight division continues to move with Yair Rodriguez vs. Josh Emmett set for an interim title bout at UFC 284. With fresh challengers lining up for a shot, one could question whether it’s wise for Volkanovski to jump up to fight Makhachev as opposed to racking up title defenses at featherweight.
That question only makes Volkanovski more excited about the upcoming clash of champions.
“Pound-for-pound and all that, it’s really good, champ-champ,” Volkanovski said. “But I was really chasing him because you knock off your goals, what’s next, what’s next, the champ-champ’s next, but as soon as it was Islam and people telling me — I love people doubting me.
“Seeing people, like, ‘He’s going to be too big, too strong,’ and all this. The challenge, the opponent that I’ve got, that excites me more. Going for this champ-champ and taking out someone like Islam is really what people are going to remember. A lot of people think he’s unstoppable right now, but I’m going to show you that he is stoppable and I can’t wait to go out there and do my thing.”