UFC 294: Volkanovski to face Makhachev in Abu Dhabi after Oliveira withdraws with injury

Brazilian former champion pulls out of Etihad Arena bout after sustaining a cut above his eye in sparring

Islam Makhachev defeated Alex Volkanovski on points in their first bout at UFC 284 in Perth. EPA
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Alexander Volkanovski has stepped in at 11 days' notice to face lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in the headline bout at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi after Charles Oliveira suffered an injury in training, UFC president Dana White confirmed on Tuesday night.

Oliveira was defeated by Makhachev in their first title fight, also in Abu Dhabi, at UFC 280 in October last year, and was preparing for the rematch when the Brazilian sustained a serious cut above his eye during sparring.

White revealed during a press conference following the Season 7 finale of The Contender Series that Oliveira has been forced to withdraw, and has been replaced by Australian flyweight champion Volkanovski, who is also aiming for a shot at redemption having lost to Makhachev at lightweight at UFC 284 in Perth in February.

"Yes, it's true. Round five of sparring last night [Monday] before he was supposed to jump on a plane today, he splits his eyebrow wide open and got it stitched up. Obviously, he can't fly out there with that," White said.

"It would be one thing if he had called us. We would have taken him to a plastic surgeon who would have sowed it from the inside out and got it done the right way. These guys never call us when something happens, they call us after they get it stitched up. But on the flip side, too, I can see him not wanting to risk it.

"The Volkankovski crew, these guys are absolute studs, man. He jumps in and accepts the fight."

The first bout between Makhachev and Volkankovski eight months ago was a thriller, with the Dagestan fighter emerging victorious by a unanimous points decision.

Makhachev has not fought since then, while Volkankovski returned to flyweight and defended his title with a third-round TKO win over Yair Rodríguez at UFC 290 in Las Vegas in July.

The two UFC superstars are separated by just one place in the pound-for-pound rankings, with Volkankovski in second and Makhachev third. Heavyweight champion Jon Jones occupies top spot.

UFC 290 will be the fourth time Makhachev has competed in Abu Dhabi and will be the third defence of his lightweight title. The 31-year-old boasts a professional MMA record of 24 wins against one loss.

Volkankovski, meanwhile, will be fighting in Abu Dhabi for the second time, and the 35-year-old Australian – regarded by many as the greatest flyweight in UFC history – holds a 26-2 MMA record, losing only once in the UFC, that defeat coming against Makhachev.

Their rematch will top a stacked card at the Etihad Arena on October 21. Fourth-ranked middleweight Khamzat Chimaev makes his highly-anticipated return to the octagon against former title challenger Paulo Costa seeking to maintain his flawless pro record.

Chimaev, 29, is 6-0 since debuting in the UFC in Abu Dhabi during the inaugural Fight Island in July 2020, and has competed in the emirate twice since. He last fought in September last year, easing to a first-round win against Kevin Holland. Overall, he is 12-0 as a pro.

Costa, too, has previous experience on Fight Island, losing to then-middleweight champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 253. The Brazilian, 14-2, has not competed since defeating Luke Rockhold at UFC 278 13 months ago.

UFC 294 also sees history being made, when UAE lightweight Mohammed Yahya becomes the first Emirati to fight in the UFC when he enters the octagon against American Trevor Peek.

Other notable bouts at Etihad Arena include a clash of middleweight contenders in Nassourdine Imavov and Ikram Aliskerov, while former light-heavyweight title challenger Magomed Ankalaev takes on Johnny Walker, and top prospect Muhammad Mokaev meets Tim Elliott at flyweight.

Updated: October 11, 2023, 4:20 AM