Islam Makhachev’s coach Javier Mendez is expecting another lengthy battle when the UFC lightweight champion faces featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski in a short-notice rematch at UFC 294, but said that, when considering the matchup, his man holds all the aces.
“The deciding factor in Islam winning is cardio, and maintaining that cardio, because that’s what happened last time. We were winning all the rounds until the last bit,” he told Casino Alpha ahead of fight night in Abu Dhabi.
“Another deciding factor is that last time Volk weighed two pounds heavier than Islam. Islam weighed two pounds less because he had 12 hours less to rehydrate. If Islam had more time to rehydrate, another 12 hours, what weight could he have been? He could have been maybe four or five pounds heavier. Could that have made the difference? Maybe. He will be heavier this time. (I) guarantee that. He will be heavier than Volk.
“Islam was winning everywhere last time, but he ran out of steam. He ran out of energy, so Volk was able to turn him over. If it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t have got him. Islam hit the wall. This time he’s going to have an extra 12 hours to hydrate – I believe that’s going to be a big factor. We had 24 hours in Australia, but here we will have 36 hours to rehydrate. And remember, Islam was not a small guy. He’s a decent size guy, so he wasn’t at full capacity.”
Mendez looked to break down the matchup, and offered an interesting theory, as he suggested that, while Volkanovski’s best chance of success is to be aggressive, facing the Australian’s forward pressure may also be the best situation for Makhachev.
“If Volk comes out (guns) blazing, Islam is a sniper – he’s going to take you. You make a mistake, he’s going to get you. If he comes out that aggressive, he opens himself for easier takedowns, and that’s going to happen.
“But, at the same time, if I’m his coach, I would want him to come out like that, because what does have to lose? He survived the ground last time and that’s what I would do – pressure, pressure, pressure – because I’m telling you right now, he’s not going to win a technical war.
“I don’t see how he’s going to outstrike Islam. He’s not. He did not outstrike Islam the first time, and he didn’t outgrapple him, so he’s going to come out aggressive, because it’s his best chance to win that way.”
Volkanovski is stepping in on just 12 days’ notice to take on Makhachev, but Mendez said that the Australian’s short-notice call-up is being overplayed ahead of the matchup, simply because the reigning featherweight champion has little downside to taking the bout.
“Everybody’s over-hyping the 12 days notice, because what does he have to lose?” Mendez asked.
“He’s already lost to Islam. Nobody’s expecting him to do fantastic, so if he goes out there and does fantastic, who loses? Islam loses.
“If Islam beats him, everybody will say, ‘He didn’t have a full camp’ so Islam has everything to lose and Volk has nothing to lose and he gets a giant payday.
“Volk will be fit for 10 rounds. He’s always in shape from what I hear, and he’s fought Islam already, so he knows what he’s coming into. He has nothing to fear.
“He survived the ground before, so he knows what to do. So he’s going to come out blazing. He’s coming out strong. He has nothing to lose. He’s in a great position. Islam is the one that’s in the position where he has everything to lose.”
Despite that statement, Mendez said that, regardless of the change in opponent, from Oliveira to Volkanovski, it won’t prompt him to make any changes to their fight week preparation ahead of the bout.
“I just got here this week, arrived at short notice, and I’m looking at Islam. And do you think I’m trying to make any changes on Islam right now? I’m making zero changes,” he stated.
“Why? Because I don’t have enough time to make any changes. So what am I going to tell Islam? I’m going to tell him it’s all mental. It’s the same for Volk. How are you going to practice on short notice like that? You can’t, it’s too hard. You can’t do an effective camp on a short notice like that. But you can throw everything to the wall and say ‘Screw it, let’s go’.
“This is a fight for the greatest champion versus champion in UFC history. It’s going to be a barnburner. It could end with one shot for me, but I’m thinking five rounds. You have to be razor-sharp for Alex because, like I said, he’s such a great champion. You have to be ready for everything, because he is good everywhere. I don’t think it plays out similar to the first one, because they’re going to have different mindsets. But I always go for a five-round war.”