UFC 251: Alexander Volkanovski seeks the 'respect I deserve' by beating Max Holloway again

Australian eyes encore in Abu Dhabi after defeating featherweight great in December

It is a reverse of the usual rematch dynamics, but Alexander Volkanovski feels he is the one to prove himself by defeating Max Holloway once more.

The Australian did it in December, securing a unanimous-decision victory in Las Vegas to claim the UFC featherweight title – his first championship gold in the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion.

Yet it was Volkanovski who went looking for a reprisal, which plays out Sunday in Abu Dhabi with UFC 251, the opening event of the inaugural four-show series packaged as Fight Island.

The co-main event on a card boasting three title matches is running it back, as Volkanovski seeks simply to plough forward.

He may be the one holding an 18-fight win streak (8-0 UFC), but for many Holloway remains the greatest featherweight in the sport’s history.

So Volkanovski has a chance to dispatch the “GOAT” for a second time, so soon after the first. That is why he craved another shot. Even in the Covid-19 era, legacies are built on bouts like these.

“It’s huge. That’s why it’s a fight I wanted again,” he says from the W Abu Dhabi hotel, his base since getting the clearance to fly to the capital only 40 minutes before his scheduled departure from Australia on Friday.

“The team were a bit unsure – do we even need to take this fight? – but I eventually said this is a fight I want. Purely for that reason: for my profile, for my legacy, for the division. There’s no clear No 1 contenders, and to take out Max back-to-back in his prime, that really sets you up for big things. And that’s what I plan on doing.

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UFC teams arrive in Abu Dhabi

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“Maybe I don't get the respect I deserve, the credit I deserve. After doing this and doing what I plan on doing on Sunday, I definitely will. And people are going to know: I've proved myself again as the best featherweight in the world. There's going to be no doubt in anyone's mind.”

For most, Volkanovski dominated for longer seven months ago, superior through an absorbing encounter, before his rival rallied late.

Volkanovski utilised vicious leg kicks and even broke his hand. Holloway never went away. In Holloway’s head, he still should be champion.

“I just think he’s been a bit salty,” Volkanovski says. “I was quite surprised. Straight after my fight I was saying he was a great champion, and he was being who he was, being himself through the process. And I respect that. I’m all about that. That’s how I believe I am.

“But to see him still acting like he won that fight, acting like the leg kicks were working, saying that the biased commentary was for me, and all these things that I couldn’t believe. It was the complete opposite.

“And then he’s saying he hasn’t been training? I just don’t know where he’s going with everything. Like I said, I think he’s got a sour taste in his mouth, losing and making excuses.

“Maybe quarantine is getting to him. I don’t know what it is. Or maybe he’s struggling with the loss a bit more than I expected him to. But if he doesn’t have his head screwed on, he’s in for a big night come Sunday.”

Volkanovski is right to expect another colossal clash. He predicts Holloway will come at him from the opening buzzer, therefore taking more risks and thus leaving himself open.

Famously, Holloway has never been knocked out in 26 pro fights. Volkanovski is determined to change that.

“I’m prepared for a fully prepared Max Holloway,” he says. “He’s going to be game, he’s going to come forward, and that’s going to make for an exciting fight. And I can’t wait to put him away. He is durable, I know that. And if he’s as durable as they say, the ref is going to have no choice but to stop it, or I get the submission.

“Again, I’ve got respect for my opponents, I’ve got respect for Max as a fighter – he’s a great fighter. But I’m going to show him I’m on another level and I’ve got his number.”

Due regard aside, Holloway’s comments in the lead-up have only served as fuel to Volkanovski’s obvious fire.

“If he’s doing it to hype the fight maybe that’s a good thing,” he says. “It makes me want to prove myself even more, makes me want to go out there and just let him know. If he really does believe he won that last fight, that just makes me want to leave no doubt in his mind whatsoever.

“That’s why I want to finish this fight. Winning a decision and just outsmarting, outfighting him, being the better fighter, isn’t enough for me right now. I want him to go out there and know ‘this bloke literally just put me right out of it, just blew me out of the water’. That’s what I want to go out there and do.”

Seal win No 2, and the praise and the plaudits should follow, however belatedly Volkanovski believes them to be. The champion wants to erase all doubt, declare Holloway’s reign has ended, and the Volkanovski Era unquestionably ushered in.

“I said that even before the first fight: unfortunate for the Max, the ‘Blessed Era’ ends December 15,” he says. “And I was right. This is my time. And whether people don't want to believe it, they're going to believe it Sunday."

Volkanovski has history in his sights at the historic Fight Island, the much-hyped UFC festival created in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“Fight Island, this is a huge opportunity, man,” Volkanovski says, eyes wide. “Look what's happening: the whole process, the protocols. There's a reason why not many sports are doing this. And to make this actually happen is pretty incredible.

“The world will be watching; three title fights, absolutely stacked card. You know what I mean? I just can't wait to go out there and perform, put on a show and show the world that I'm still the best featherweight in the world.”

Updated: July 8, 2020 09:33 AM

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