It’s been a long, long time since Alexander Volkanovski has been a betting underdog.
The reigning UFC featherweight champion has been one of the most dominant forces in MMA since joining the UFC in 2016, racking up a 12-0 record and four defenses of his 145-pound belt en route to becoming the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Naturally, he’s been the betting favorite for a majority of that run. But that will change on Feb. 12 when Volkanovski vaults up to 155 pounds to challenge UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev for two-division glory in the main event of UFC 284.
Volkanovski opened as a massive betting underdog to Makhachev and remains so with the fight less than two weeks away. It’s clear that he is enjoying all the newfound doubters.
” I like it. I’ll all good with it,” Volkanovski said on The MMA Hour. “Especially moving up and the lightweight title and all that type of stuff, and then fighting someone like this — again, we want this for legacy. This is something I have never done before. You may recall that I didn’t talk about legacy fights or any of this stuff. But now, it is all part of my life. These big fights are what I love. I love the underdog story. People referring to me as the “underdog” and saying that I am too small, are all things I enjoy. It just adds to the story and it’s going to add to the victory.
“There will be many people who are going to doubt my character, but I’m going to love them and everything else. ‘I’m undersized, he’s too good at the Dagestani wrestling,’ and all this type of stuff. That’s good. But just remember that. Remember that. When I raise my hand, don’t alter the story. This is something I want people to get because it’s hilarious — people just sit and talk about all of this. [and I win], will say, “Oh yes, [Makhachev] did not fight anyone.” It was his first defense.’ All of a sudden they’re taking away the victory and acting like he isn’t that person that they said he was before the fight.
“Just remember what you’re saying he is now. He’s being placed on a pedestal. Keep him there, even if you raise your hand. Don’t let that bull ***.”
Volkanovski, 34, will become just the fifth simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history if successful at UFC 284, joining the likes of Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes, and Henry Cejudo. He has repeatedly stated his intentions to keep both titles and defend the throne in both divisions if the Makhachev fight goes his way.
His ambitions are high-minded, and Volkanovski isn’t interested in hearing any revisionist history of Makhachev if it’s achieved what he wants.
That includes excuses about Makhachev’s mentor and longtime teammate, former UFC champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, not being in Makhachev’s corner for UFC 284.
” I guess that I was [surprised] in the beginning, but it doesn’t matter — Islam will still turn up,” Volkanovski stated. I know that people like to tell stories and do all the same stuff. Islam is an amazing fighter at the end of it all. He’s the one who’s going in there and doing his work, and Khabib will tell you that himself. If you raise your hand, please don’t be [complaining]. These are excuses. He’s fought plenty of times with Khabib not in his corner.
“He has done it before, and he is a great fighter. He will show up at the Octagon regardless of whether Khabib is present. So I’m preparing for the same Islam that I’ve seen, and again, if things go how I plan on them going, don’t start changing narratives and start using all these excuses, because it’s the guy in front of him that’s the problem.”
Volkanovski has a lot to do.
Makhachev is MMA Fighting’s No. 2 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world for a reason. The 31-year-old has demolished every lightweight in his path over the past six years, stacking up 11 consecutive victories over the likes of Charles Oliveira, Arman Tsarukyan, Dan Hooker, Bobby Green, Drew Dober, and more. Makhachev’s win over Oliveira was especially eye-opening. He dominated then submitted the UFC’s most successful submissions leader.
Nonetheless, Volkanovski likes what he and his team have seen in the matchup.
“Obviously we know where the advantages are going to be for me and where the advantages [are that] he’s going to have,” Volkanovski said. It’s very simple. “He wants it to be on the ground, and I want it at my feet. And for people who are going to be like, ‘Oh, his striking is underrated,’ it definitely is. If you’re looking at just combos and all that stuff, yeah, it’s not the prettiest, it’s not like he has the best setups and things that, but he’s still calculating. He’s not going to take unnecessary risks. He won’t put himself in a dangerous position most of the time. He might strike when it is his choice, but most of the time, he will be defensive.
“So he’s calculated, the same as Khabib was and a lot of these Dagestani wrestlers and these high-level grapplers, which is which is great.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to remember my striking,” Volkanovski continued. All these things I understand. Although I cannot give away too much, you can do many of these things. You know what you are looking for. I’m aware of the patterns. The game is easy to understand. Yes, I do. I understand my style, I understand your style. I’ve got a great team. Our team has the expertise, but not only that. I also have the fighting intelligence to capitalize on the opportunities that are presented. So there’s definitely things that I can capitalize on, and I will.
“I’m ready to travel wherever the need is. I won’t panic