UFC 290: Alexander Volkanovski is living up to his nickname, but his legacy still isn’t complete

At UFC 290, there was "great" and then there was Alexander "The Great" Volkanovski

By: Evan Zivin | 2 months ago

If Yair Rodriguez is ‘El Pantera,’ then Alexander Volkanovski must look like a Cowboy from Hell.

No offense, UFC Hall of Famer Donald Cerrone.

There’s no question that, as the capstone of International Fight Week, UFC 290 delivered. On the one hand, it did so in the very literal sense of featuring top fighters from Australia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and elsewhere around the world. But, more importantly, it also brought the goods in terms of great action and greater moments.

Alexandre Pantoja captured the UFC Flyweight Championship in one of the most thrilling and competitive title fights in company history. Dricus du Plessis proved he truly is ready for the main event by passing through Robert Whittaker’s (Cemetery) gate. Bo Nickal kept the hype train going by getting the job done against a man who really meant it when he said he was “happy to be violent.” Talk about a Mouth for War.

Also, major props to Robbie Lawler for ending a legendary career with one more highlight reel knockout. Hopefully he’ll get to enter the fighter wing of the Hall of Fame sooner than later. Getting in for a fight is like getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for being Metallica’s fourth bass player.

All the interviews, expo meet-n-greets, media days, and undercard fights built up to the main event, a title unification between Volkanovski and Rodriguez. However, as impressive as Yair’s journey and story have been, it was hard to believe he was going to be the one to end the featherweight run of ‘The Great.’

Yair Rodriguez is great but not champion great

Although Yair’s story has been a fascinating one. The story of Mexico’s entry into elite MMA has been fun to watch, from Brandon Moreno’s exciting battles over the flyweight crown to Alexa Grasso toppling one of the most dominant female fighters the sport has ever seen, Mexican MMA has proven it can compete with the best the rest of the world has to offer.

It’d be unfair to not give credit for what Yair managed to accomplish this year when he defeated Josh Emmett at UFC 284 to become the interim champ. Still, we all know that belt was nothing more than a consolation prize.

The only reason that fight was for a title was because Volk was challenging for lightweight gold against Islam Mackhachev (and because billing an encounter as a “#1 Contender’s Fight” is apparently no longer good enough for the UFC). The only reason Yair was chosen to be part of that fight was because Max Holloway can only lose to Volkanovski so many times.

None of that is to say that Rodriguez isn’t a great fighter. He absolutely is, but it would seem farfetched to deem a fighter as championship caliber just by beating Emmett.

I mean, Ilia Topuria did that two weeks ago and he’s not holding a belt, although it does seem likely he’ll get the next crack at one. I guess beating Emmett is the key to success now. He must be so pleased knowing that.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give Yair props for the custom championship belt he had made, as that did look pretty cool. It was also cool that Dana White, the man who stops MMA fighters from competing with brain issues while wearing a Power Slap t-shirt, agreed to have additional custom belts made, although it’s a bit weird that he said he was only doing it for the other Mexican champions.

Sure, it’s great to signify what they accomplished, but why doesn’t he give the option to all champions to get their giant Jostens rings classed up? Jon Jones could adorn his with all the dollars he won’t be getting for losing the Tyson Fury sweepstakes. Or Israel Adesanya can have his fitted with all the extra chromosomes he apparently thinks humans have.

Yair was game to meet the challenge of beating Volkanovski, but there’s a reason why the Aussie was one of the heaviest betting favorites on the card. He went over the underdog by shutting down Yair’s unique offense and putting him away with strikes inside of three rounds. It was as dominant a performance as we’ve been accustomed to seeing from the 145 pound legend.

Much like Team Chandler, Volkanovski shut out another challenge to once again reign as the undisputed best in the division, which makes the question of whether there’s a point in staying in the division even greater.

Volkanovski has outstanding business at 145 and 155

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Volk wanting to stay at 145 and further cementing his legacy there. Right now, he stands two title defenses away from tying Jose Aldo’s UFC record. Chasing after and toppling that would be a great way to prove that he’s the best featherweight in the world. Why let people debate it when you have the ability to end the discussion?

Then again, the reason why it may not matter is because Volkanovski knows he can be the UFC Lightweight Champion. The fight against Machkachev was extremely close and the decision could have easily gone the other way. If Volk wants to pursue the rematch, and if he gets it, it’s very possible he gets the job done.

Personally, I don’t see why Volkanovski can’t do both. There’s a good chance Islam isn’t going anywhere so he should take the time to finish the job at featherweight while Islam is racking up more defenses at lightweight. Give it another year and the rematch will be guaranteed to be so much bigger and so much more exciting.

Volkanovski is no doubt living up to his nickname. He can walk the Walk, he can Drag opponents into whichever Waters will get the job done, and 5 Minutes Alone with him will leave most men Broken. It’s time to see how much longer his Domination can last before he’s truly ready for A New Level.

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About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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