Emotional Volkanovski says he accepted Makhachev match because he 'needed a fight'

Featherweight champion suffered brutal first-round TKO against Islam Makhachev at UFC 294

Alexander Volkanovski after his defeat to Islam Makhachev at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Alexander Volkanovski struggled to control his emotions following his defeat to Islam Makhachev at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night, with the Australian detailing the mental turmoil that led to him taking the fight at short notice.

Volkanovski, the current featherweight champion, suffered a brutal first-round TKO loss in his title rematch with lightweight belt-holder Makhachev at Etihad Arena. The Dagestani, who won their initial encounter in February by unanimous decision, stunned Volkanovski with a head kick before finishing his rival with a flurry of punches.

Volkanovski, 35, had accepted the fight on only 11 days’ notice, stepping in for the injured Charles Oliveira.

“I don’t want to sit there and obviously make excuses,” an emotional Volkanovski said at the post-fight press conference. “Obviously, I’m a big believer in preparation and stuff like that.

“But I back myself, so that’s the decision I made. I could’ve made better decisions, but he’s not somebody you should be taking a short-notice with. But I needed it.

“A lot of people will say it’s for the money and all that, but it was much more than that. It was hard. It's really is hard for athletes.”

Breaking away as he fought back tears, Volkanovski said: “Sorry… I never thought I’d struggle with it, but for some reason when I wasn’t fighting or in camp… sorry [tears up again]… I was just doing my head in. I needed a fight.”

Volkanovski, who rebounded from the February reverse by successfully defending his featherweight crown in July against Yair Rodriguez, said he had to shed 26.5lbs in the 11 days to make the 155lb lightweight limit.

Considered the greatest featherweight of all-time, Volkanovski had built a 22-fight win streak before losing to Makhachev earlier this year.

“This opportunity came up and to be honest, I wasn’t training as much as I should’ve,” Volkanovski said on Saturday. “But I thought I had to do it. I had to take it. I’m telling myself it’s meant to be.

“I was struggling a bit not fighting, doing my head in. I don’t know how. Everything’s fine. I have a beautiful family, but I don’t know.

“You just need to keep busy. That’s why I just asked the UFC to keep me busy. I just need to be keeping busy. I need to be in camp, otherwise I’m going to do my head in. So that’s it. I’ll leave it at that.”

Volkanovski, now 26-3 as a professional, had been expected before agreeing to the Makhachev rematch to defend his featherweight title against No 5 contender Ilia Topuria in January. On Saturday, he said that bout was “locked” for the New Year, pending medical clearance. As of yet, the UFC has not confirmed any pay-per-view events beyond December.

“I need to be busy,” said Volkanovski, whose wife recently gave birth to their third child. “Again, it’s just I think my purpose obviously now is family and fighting. When I’m not fighting, I don’t feel like I’m ticking all the boxes. I need to be ticking all the boxes. I don’t like wasting time.”

UFC CEO Dana White was asked in his post-fight media briefing if he agreed with Volkanovski’s timeframe for a return.

“Obviously, he got head-kick KO-ed tonight," White said. "Let him go see the doctor, let’s make sure he’s OK, let’s give him some time to recover, get some stitches in that eye [Makhachev opened a nasty cut above Volkanovski's right eye], and then we’ll talk.

“But obviously, if he’s medically cleared and he’s ready to turn around, love it.”

Updated: October 22, 2023, 1:06 PM