He may be coming in on less than two weeks’ notice, but Alexander Volkanovski is focusing on the positives ahead of his lightweight title rematch with Islam Makhachev at UFC 294.
When former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira sustained a cut in sparring ahead of the event, the UFC scrambled to find a replacement to face reigning 155-pound king Makhachev. Their solution was a remarkable one, with current featherweight champion Volkanovski agreeing to step in and face the Russian on short notice in Abu Dhabi.
Volkanovski pushed Makhachev to the limit in their first meeting at UFC 284, and looked to be the man in the ascendancy when the fight reached the final bell. However, Makhachev’s earlier work in the fight ensured he took the unanimous decision victory to retain his title, and hand Volkanovski his only loss in the UFC.
The Australian returned to his natural weight class of 145 pounds and produced a typically dominant display to finish Mexican interim champion Yair Rodriguez and unify the 145-pound championship at UFC 290, and Volkanovski was widely expected to face rising contender Ilia Topuria in his next title defense in early 2024.
However, the opportunity to step in and face Makhachev for a second time, with two-division champion status up for grabs once again, was too good to turn down, and Volkanovski has arrived in Abu Dhabi looking relaxed, happy, and full of positivity ahead of a potentially historic headliner at the Etihad Arena.
Talking to ESPN, Volkanovski shared his mindset ahead of the matchup, as he accentuated all of the upside as he makes his final preparations to face Makhachev on Saturday night.
“If there’s no one that can make the adjustments, if there’s anyone that could take this fight, at this short notice, it’s me,” he said.
“And I can use these little pros that we have. The fact that I’m fresh mentally and physically – unreal. I can’t wait to take that in there, You can’t wipe the smile off my face. I can’t wait go out there and shock the world.
“It’s almost feels like a blessing, especially when I go and get my hand raised and get this knockout that I plan on doing. I literally get to go out there, not a mark on me, fresh as a daisy, mentally and physically, with a strict gameplan of what I need to do. I think the bigger the challenge, the more it gets me fired up. So yeah, I don’t know if it’s an ego thing. But again, I’m the right man for the job, and that’s just that.”
The task of stepping in on short notice to face a champion in a higher weight class who has already beaten him once is certainly a huge undertaking. But Volkanovski seems to be relishing the moment, and said he’s mentally in the perfect place to step in and produce a big performance on Saturday night.
“If you guys have seen me train and what we do in camp, it is hard work. Fighting’s the easy part,” he said.
“So I get to go out there and literally do this easy, fun part. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward. It’s a pretty obvious saying. It’s a well used quote, and it’s legit.
“It’s still a risk in the fact that my legacy’s on the line. (It was) such a close fight, you know? A lot of people thought I won. If I go out there, take these risks and things don’t go to plan, me getting that shot again is gone. So there’s a lot on the line for me, but I’ll go out there and do what I plan on doing.
“The legacy obviously can take a big hit, but it can take a massive rise. And we’re talking about separating yourself from the rest. You’re really doing things that no one would do. And that’s what I want, they’re the conversations I want people having about me.”
The Australian star then signed off with a message to Makhachev, as he warned the Russian that he’s going to step into the Octagon a very different proposition to the one he faced in their first meeting.
“Mate, I’m coming off the couch. You better do something about it, because it’s gonna be an absolute nightmare for you, especially when I get my hand raised,” he said.
“You better be ready. ‘Eleven days Volk’ is a dangerous man. He’s coming for your head. Let’s go!”