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Volk’s fast-approaching fight is nothing short of legacy-defining

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Volkanoski's next fight, Ilia Topuria

Not many people on the planet are made of the same stuff that Alexander Volkanovski is.

He took a fight with one of the top pound-for-pounds on the planet, knowing full well he was underprepared and underdone.

Unfortunately for the Aussie, there was no miracle; suffering a first round loss to Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev.

A tearful and reflective Volkanovski (26-3) made it known in no uncertain terms he went through a mental struggle after his last fight, needing surgery on an injured elbow and not having a crystal clear plan laid out.

“I need to be in camp, otherwise I’m going to do my head in,” he said in the post-fight press conference.

“I never thought I’d struggle with it, when I wasn’t fighting or in camp. I need to be keeping busy.

It is really hard for athletes. I needed a fight and this opportunity came up.

“I hadn’t been training as much as I should’ve, but I thought I had to do it, I had to take it.”

And the Aussie star may well live to regret the decision he ultimately made; he was caught by a nasty kick that Makhachev landed high up on the face, above his defensively positioned right fist.

It’s a kick that changes everything.

Volkanovski will now return to the Featherweight division; the division he’s comprehensively owned for years now and has never lost in.

“Maybe this happening will give me a kick up the ass for being silly,” he said a few months back.

“Maybe this will kick me back into gear, get me back in there and get me back into the Featherweight division and kick ass there.”

Makhachev v Volkanovski II
The moment that changed Makhachev v Volkanovski II at UFC 294; a kick that was the beginning of the end.

He’s defended his championship belt five consecutive times and still hasn’t been defeated by anyone not named Makhachev for 10 years.

Recent events will have ‘the Great’ laser focused to bounce back like he’s already had to do once recently, after a loss to the Russian Lightweight earlier in 2023.

Add another valuable lesson Volk’s growing resume; he’s not stepping back into an octagon underdone and unprepared for another fight ever again.

It’s the last thing the rest of his division needed.

Alex Volkanovski’s next fight

Alex Volkanovski v Ilia Topuria | UFC 298 | February 18 (AEDT)

Location: Honda Center in Anaheim (Los Angeles), California, United States

Next up it’s a Spaniard, with strong Georgian heritage, by the name of Ilia Topuria.

This is the name that’s been gaining steam in recent months — particularly since he dismantled Yair Rodriguez mid-year.

The pair’s stare down after UFC 290 in Vegas went instantly viral. There’s no doubt the 26-year-old with a faultless MMA record is a worthy next opponent.

Volkanovski’s return to the octagon was set to be a sticking point, given he was coming off an elbow issue following his win in July and then suffered a nasty TKO loss to Makhachev in October.

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Volkanovski is clearly hunting for a swift redemption opportunity after copping the nastiest loss of his career. And back at 145 pounds, the odds are in the Aussie’s favour.

And UFC boss Dana White had confirmed after Volkanovski’s most recent win that he’d be able to choose his own next adventure into the octagon.

“He’s at one of those places in his career now where whatever he wants to do, what are we gunna say?”

And after he stepped up and saved the day at 294, replacing Charles Oliveira at short notice, Volkanovski gets what – and who – he wants.

Alex Volkanovski with Ilia Topuria, ufc 298
Alex Volkanovski (left) getting up close and personal with Ilia Topuria (right)

Who is Ilia Topuria?

Topuria is a 26-year-old with Georgian parents. He fights under the Spanish flag, yet was born in Germany.

At 173cm and 66kgs, Topuria fights at both featherweight and lightweight and boasts an impressive 14 fights, 14 wins MMA record — six of those are UFC fights.

Like Yair Rodriguez, Topuria also beat Josh Emmett last calendar year (2023). But he was unable to stop the 38-year-old from Phoenix, winning only by unanimous decision after the full five rounds. That latest performance does not bode well for his chances against the fighting machine that is Volkanovski.

That said, Topuria has a strong highlights reel of his best finishes in the octagon — there’s no question he can throw them, land them and drop them. Before the win over Emmett, he showed some versatility by forcing Bryce Mitchell to tap out at UFC 282, locking in an arm triangle choke.

Given Volkanovski is a more than capable grappler, it’s hard to see this one ending with the Aussie tapping out.

Volkanovski next fight, Ilia Topuria
Could Volk’s next opponent be Ilia Topuria?

Alex Volkanovski’s last two fights

Volkanovski def. by Islam Makhachev, TKO (24 wins, 1 loss) | UFC 294

Outside of one isolated loss in 2015, Makhachev has been virtually unbeatable in the octagon. And his run continued in the pair’s rematch.

While Volkanovski came ridiculously close to causing a boil-over when the pair clashed in February, with that fight the distance and being judged controversially, there was nothing uncertain about this.

As has been mentioned, the Australian took the fight on 11 days notice.

Makhachev was booked to fight Brazilian Charles Oliveira, who was forced to withdraw suffering a serious eye cut during a sparring session in training.

Alex Volkanovski def. Yair Rodriguez, TKO | Sunday July 9 (AEST), T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas, Nevada), UFC290

The Aussie bounced back in absurd fashion from his earlier loss, stopping Mexican striking sensation Yair Rodriguez inside three rounds. He proved he’s, in no uncertain terms, still the top dog at featherweight.

Volkanovski’s opponent Yair Rodriguez was hyped as a dangerous prospect for Volkanovski. Rodriguez, one of the most exciting in strikers in the company, didn’t get much going against the Aussie.

The pain of falling agonisingly short of becoming a two division champion earlier this year certainly left Volkanovski revved up for his octagon and featherweight return in July. And he didn’t disappoint.

Volk was happy to take forward his ground-and-pound improvements, from preparing for his Islam Makhachev. He had success with take downs against the Mexican, before hitting him with a stunning right hook and finishing the job before the end of the third round. It was an incredibly impressive follow-up to the Makhachev loss.

Alex Volkanovski, Yair Rodriguez
Alex Volkanovski (left) strikes Yair Rodriguez.

Volkanovski has held the featherweight belt since December 2019, with five successful defences of it along the road. The 26-2 record holder has taken down some big names in his journey to the top; Max Holloway three times, Jose Aldo and Brian Ortega.

Some casual Australian UFC fans might recall Rodriguez’s impressive showing at UFC 284 (Perth’s event in Feb 2023), where the Mexican claimed the interim strip in a round two submission win. That victory came against Josh Emmett, who respectfully isn’t on the same level as Volk.

Rodriguez clearly wasn’t ready to go up a gear against one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Volkanovski injury

The New South Welshman revealed after beating Rodriguez that he’d head straight in for surgery on his elbow. He made his return in Makhachev v Volkanovski II, and while going down in that fight appears to be out the other side of those issues.

How to watch Volkanovski’s fights?

Main Event via Kayo

Similarly to most pay-per-view bout that are available to watch in Australia, Volkanovski’s next fight will be available for purchase through Main Event on Kayo.

What happened in Volkanovski’s first fight with Islam Makhachev?

A strong case could be made that this was his most impressive showing; stepping up a weight to take on Lightweight king Islam Makhachev, who started as a strong favourite.

At Perth’s RAC Arena in February 2023, Volkanovski come out fairly unscathed. But the judges awarded the incumbent the winner, dividing the MMA community. Volkanovski certainly lost no admirers, as his 22-fight win streak ended. Going up in weight, he certainly gave fans one of the most intriguing fights in years and it lived up to the hype.

Volk went five rounds and finished far stronger. However, the judges gave a unanimous decision in favour of Makhavchev, who remained lightweight champion; many within the UFC community disagreed.

Volkanovski v Makhachev
Volkanovski v Makhachev I

Who is Yair Rodriguez?

The 30-year-old from Mexico has formed a strong professional career to date winning 15 of his 18 fights.

The biggest to date was back in February at the same event Volkanovski fought Makhavchev – UFC 284 – when he took down Josh Emmett in round two via submission.

‘El Pantera’ as he is nicknamed, which means ‘The Panther’ in Spanish, is a mixed bag when it comes to how he secures victories with six decided by decision, four via submission and five through knockout.

Rodriguez’s 15-3 record might not stack up next to Volkanovski’s 25-2 but he is known for his aggressiveness and anything is possible when he steps into the octagon.

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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