After fighting, and defeating, Alexander Volkanovski earlier this year in Australia, Islam Makhachev says “everything now is on my side” as he attempts to triumph too in the rematch in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
The lightweight champion, who claimed the title in the capital 12 months ago against Charles Oliveira, puts his crown on the line against the featherweight belt-holder for the second time in eight months in the headline bout at UFC 294 at Etihad Arena on Saturday night.
Makhachev was initially slated to rematch Oliveira, however the Brazilian sustained a serious cut above his eye 24 hours before he was to fly to Abu Dhabi. To his credit, Volkanovski accepted the opportunity to replace Oliveria only 11 days out from fight night.
That said, when speaking to media on Wednesday, Makhachev questioned his new opponent's motives.
“If UFC told him, ‘Bring your [featherweight] belt and come to Abu Dhabi before 11 days’, he would never take it,” the Dagestani native said. “Because he doesn’t have any risk without his belt. He just came to make money. Everybody knows this.
“My opinion is he took this fight because of money. What does he lose if I beat him again? He has his belt and he’ll defend at the beginning of next year [in an expected title defence against Ilia Topuria]."
Makhachev, while then No 2 in the sport's pound-for-pound rankings, was victorious against No 1 and home favourite Volkanovski in February, when he took a unanimous decision at UFC 284 in Perth.
The success lifted Makhachev’s win streak to 12, while it represented Volkanovski's first defeat in 23 professional bouts.
With the initial fight keenly contested – some feel the Australian actually won – Saturday’s rematch is highly anticipated.
Yet, with Makhachev back in what he calls his “second home”, he is predicting a much tougher night for Volkanovski.
“Honestly, after the first fight, many people were talking about it and many people want to watch this rematch,” said Makhachev, 24-1 as a pro. “And I’ll really happy because right now [the UFC] could have given me anyone.
“But I’m really happy they gave me Volkanovski, because last time I fought in his arena, his area. But now it’s Abu Dhabi. Everything is now on my side.
“I showed him too much respect in the first fight. This fight I will look for the finish all five rounds.”
Volkanovski (26-2) insisted on Wednesday that he has no pressure coming into the bout given he accepted at such short notice. Makhachev, though, views that as the same for both competitors.
“I don’t have any pressure because I’m a champion; doesn’t matter who it’s going to be,” he said. “But I agree, this guy doesn’t have any pressure. He had 11 days, I already beat him, and if I beat him again people are going to say he came on short notice and not in good shape.
“But it means nothing for me. I just step to the cage, finish this guy and that’s it.”
Volkanovski believes that, were the situation the other way round, Makhachev would not have stepped in to face him at such short notice.
“I guarantee you that there are not many fighters that would do this," Volkanovski said on Wednesday. "You heard Islam say, ‘No excuses,’ and things like this.
"Put it this way, if the roles were reversed, this fight is not happening. I don’t care what anyone says: [Islam] is not fighting on 12 days’ notice. So he needs to remember that.”
Volkanovski, who rebounded from February's defeat with a third round, TKO victory back at featherweight against then-interim champion Yair Rodriguez in July, declared he would go right at Makhachev from the opening bell at Etihad Arena.
Which, he says, makes him a far greater threat.
“In the first fight I showed him a lot of respect – well-deserved respect – but I felt like I didn’t need to show him so much," Volkanovski said. "It’s pretty obvious, I’m sure they understand that I’m going to be coming for him. It’s no hidden secret. I’m going to be coming full steam ahead for him.
“I just try to be real with every situation I’m in. Usually I’m preparing for the worst and I’ve got a lot of ways things can go. When you’ve got 12 days’ notice, there’s not so much variables for me. There’s not many ways I can go.
“All I can focus on is what I plan on doing. The fact that I’ve had only 12 days’ notice is going to make me so dangerous.”