UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski sat down with Fox Sports ahead of his UFC 290 title defense to break down his loss to lightweight champ Islam Makhachev at UFC 284 on February 12 of this year in Perth, Australia.
Volkanovski moved up to lightweight in an attempt to claim a new title in a new division. The feat, first accomplished in the UFC by “Champ Champ” Conor McGregor in 2016—when he beat then-LW champ Eddie Alvarez after having claimed the UFC FW title from Jose Aldo in 2015—has now also been duplicated by Daniel Cormier, Henry Cejudo, and Amanda Nunes.
Volkanovski was excited to face Makhachev in Australia
Alexander “The Great” came up short against Islam Makhachev but lived to tell the tale and has no regrets. Here’s some of his commentary about the bout. First up he discussed his excitement at finally fighting a UFC title fight in front of his countrymen.
“Oh, here we go. Mate, it’s just fitting to finally be able to walk out to the ‘Land Down Under’ here in Australia, right, finally,” Volkanovski remembered. “There it is. Straight away, just, you know, like walking into it, you could literally just go from that backstage, they could hear him get out and he could even feel it, right? It was even a different feeling as soon as you walked out, you know?
“When you see it go blue there, as soon as you walked out, it just felt different. The crowd went a little bit louder, and it was just, you know, again, the moment that I’ve been waiting for in a fight in front of a home crowd.”
Makhachev: ‘I’m too big, too strong’
The five foot six inch Volkanovski got the impression pre-fight that the LW champ was dismissing his chances because of his size disadvantage.
“Before the fight week, you’re going to get the vibes of you know, like, I felt like there was a smirk and there was a cheek, and it’s like, this guy’s got no chance,” Volkanovski said. “Remember I’m small, yeah I’m tiny. He’s looking at me like, “He’s small. There’s no way he can handle my wrestling.” Coming in here, he’s probably still thinking, “Yeah, I’m too big, too strong”, and I knew that’ll change as soon as we started going, right? So there it is. Five foot six.”
Pushing the action against a cautious Makhachev
Early on in the bout, Volkanovski felt that Makhachev was being extremely cautious, to the point that they were boring the crowd. In response he took aggressive action in his quest for the UFC title.
“Remember, I’m waiting for him to, obviously, we knew that he would be very defensive, as in on the back foot. I want you to come in to either to shoot under you, or to counter, but there’s only so much of this you could do as well, right? So we had to make it a fight. I wanted to still work on his gas tank. I needed to still make it a fight. So even though I knew he was waiting, I had to still do stuff right? You know, we’ve got a crowd to entertain. I had to do stuff.
“Just want to land two straight down over, step over. And again, you see me talk and say stuff, that’s not me being cocky, being disrespectful, it’s pumping me up, pumping the crowd up, letting him know. I’m going to be, you know, throwing hard at you, I’m going to be in your face this whole time, you know what I mean? Like again, it’s a bit of mental Warfare there.”
Getting taken down
Volkanovski’s decision to press the action unfortunately created an opportunity for Makhachev to get a take down.
“So that’s where he actually ended up getting me with a shot. Obviously, I was all right, but that’s not gonna look good on the score. I was waiting for him, coming aggressively.
“He does a good job of getting this inside hook. That’s the hook you usually want to be really careful of. That’s the hook that you don’t want, because that’s the one that’s going to make it hard for you to scrape him off. But yeah, that’s something that my trainers, well, making sure you get that hook in. You’ve done a good job to get that there, so quite an easy one for that.
“So we’re going to (be) composed, just hand fighting. So I’ve been in these positions a lot. All I know is over the face, sick and like, you know, that can obviously be uncomfortable and hurt and all that, but I mean, I know that’s not putting me to sleep, so I’m not going to panic. I don’t care how much it hurts, as long as I’m awake and I’m still going. We are all good. But I mean, I think he knew it wasn’t on, so he would just let that go because I was obviously sweet. He’s just trying to squash the face there. Yeah, the crowd’s getting into it, seeing that I’m defending.
“I was just trying to tell him, okay, you said you were going to finish me, you’re not even trying to submit me! As I try and do something, and again, at this stage, rev the crowd up, well you’re just going to hang on, hide your face, do something!”
In the middle rounds, both fighters landed their shots. Volkanovski felt he got the better of the exchanges.
“I’m quite comfortable in a lot of these exchanges where I’m the one landing, whether it’s leg kicks, body punches. I’m, like, landing so much more. That’s where he lands a good one. It was funny, because I remember from the two to the body, and I knew he was counting. I try to get myself out of the way, but he got me still, so I was like, dammit. I’m not hurt, so that’s what I mean.
“I remember going there, going for the two, and then I tried to pull back, but he gets me as I try to pull back, so I knew that I was in range. I’m like, oh no, so I couldn’t get my legs out of the way, so I tried to get my head out of the way, and then he got me. So that’s why I was trying to get my feet back, and then he just pounced for me. Obviously, it’s a good punch, they’ll take it away, but I was never actually hurt.”
Final round, going for UFC gold
“We’ve got one more round, and it’s still anybody’s fight. Obviously, finish is good. At this stage we want to just win the round as well. Now I wish, obviously I was going off trying to go for the finish anyway but again at the same time you’ve gotta be cautious especially when you know he’s waiting. Waiting for the shoulder, waiting for the big counters. You’ve got to be a little cautious because he’ll be patient. He’ll just wait there so I need to do.”
“So I’m like all right we need a push so that’s why I was happy to even clinch because he will sit back and be patient like this but I can’t let him do that, right? Keep the pressure. So I was happy to do this and work work in the the clinch work a couple of takedowns myself because I’ve been feeling (momentum) breaking for me I know I need to capitalize.
“He was going to level change and then adjust. I was reading straight into the two anyway so I’ve seen level changing but it’s kind of good body body head couple of big ground and pounds and the crowd is going nuts! I mean this whole uh like last minute and a half of this round mate everyone was on their feet just gone absolutely berserk. Couldn’t hear a thing. Now we’re here. We are thinking, ‘mate this is this is it.’ You know we’re cruising into what we think is a victory. Obviously still trying to finish it. If we can give the crowd what they want.
“He’s doing a good job with this hold on but I end up getting out anyway. Working the crowd a bit to seal the deal. So we’re thinking… and then the crowd just goes nuts. So you’ve got to think about it. The David and Goliath story, this massive underdog. Moving up a division. The narrative going into this in Australia.,The moment, the talk of it all and all that type of stuff and then how big the event was.
“The crowd going nuts and that’s the moment, right, you see in the moment of the crowd like whoa that’s why they just went absolutely nuts as soon as that buzzer went. So he did it! Obviously, my family and friends thought ‘he did it!’ Everyone there you know, we thought we did enough. I guess you can see we both can tell that it’s close. The judges score the contest 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 for the winner.”
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