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Volk’s leaving no room for error in the redemption path he’s laid out

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volkanovski topuria rematch

After a second sickening knockout in a four month period, Alex Volkanovski has quickly become ‘damaged goods’.

That’s what the UFC legend and the greatest featherweight of all time’s been labeled by critics and commentators.

Watch the endings to his back-to-back defeats and it’s pretty tough to argue.

We’ll never know what happens in the Australian’s superfight with Ilia Topuria if he never gets kicked in the head by Islam Makhachev — the rematch he famously took on 11 days notice in October 2023.

makhachev, volkanovski
Volk brutally KO’d by Makhachev

According to Volkanovski, that was the first time he’s been knocked out and subsequently concussed; reports before UFC 298 revealed he failed the NRL’s standard concussion test five days after being KO’d by the Lightweight champion — uncharted waters for the Aussie.

Many were concerned with Volk opting to return to the octagon so soon after that incident, given the health of his brain, compounded by the harsh reality that age is sneaking up on the Aussie — he turns 36 in September.

Those fears proved justified; Volkanovski was caught by a vicious right hook that sent his eyes instantly to the back of his head. It was incredibly hard to watch.

Not even neuroscientists can give a straight answer as to whether the first event contributed to the more recent one; brain injury is just too contingent on the individual in question. It’s obviously a subject where resources continue to be poured into research; but we might be waiting a very long time for clarity around that very thing.

So thoughts surrounding Volkanovski’s path forward leaves the high profile fighter with a huge conundrum. At 35, time is ticking away. But he unquestionably now needs just that to rebuild, mentally — whether that increases the likelihood that he can handle more punishment down the track, or if Makhachev indeed ‘flicked the switch’ on the Australian’s ability to take a direct blow to the head of such velocity.

Volkanovski’s redemption mission

Volkanovski is spot on that he’s been a ‘company man’ and deserves the rematch he immediately requested in the aftermath of his loss to Topuria, if he still wants it after the dust settles.

But everyone will now play a waiting game; time will provide more answers around whether the two featherweights get back to the negotiating table, or if the Spaniard continues knocking on Conor McGregor’s door. The Irishman looks set to return to the octagon mid-year, but the details are still up in the air.

Volkanovski’s best course of action is to patiently recharge and perhaps even let Topuria book in a different first title defence, before pouncing on the best opportunity that then presents itself. But that’s not how he saw it immediately after UFC 298.

“Right now, I don’t want to talk about (going up to 155lbs), I want to talk about my rematch,” he said in the post-fight presser.

“By the looks of it, he wants Spain. Let’s just talk about Spain and 145 (pounds).

“It doesn’t matter. I want that rematch, I think I deserve it, I’ve been reigning champ for almost five years, defended multiple times, fought Max three times even though I didn’t have to, fought short notice fights, been active, doing the favours and I just want that rematch, I don’t ask for much.”

The Aussie spoke really candidly after his second loss to Makhachev about how much he struggled living life without a fight locked in, at the back end of last year. But perhaps that’s the tough opponent he should immediately put his energy into now — he won’t outrun the reality that he’ll be labelled knockout vulnerable if he tries to return in the next six months.

Volk is undoubtedly running out of time, just as Topuria is running into his prime.

There is still a pathway back to the top of featherweight for the Australian, but he’ll need to cash in the goodwill he’s built with Dana White and the UFC empire.

Time can be Volkanovski’s friend, as long as Topuria remains the only task he sets his sights on. His legacy is already locked in; the Georgian can now act as his final frontier.

For Volkanovski, it’s about making the fights he still has in him count; quality over quantity, recovery over revenge.

Too soon may well result in too late.

Picture of Phil Prior
Phil Prior
Phil is the editorial lead at Only Sports, bringing more than 12 years of wide-ranging sports media experience to the team. But it’s his unrivalled passion that sets him apart. He also commentates AFL on SEN Radio, plus Rugby on Stan Sport. Find Phil on LinkedIn.

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