Alexander Volkanovski cemented his status as the dominant force of the UFC's featherweight division after wrapping up his trilogy against Max Holloway with an impressive title defence on Sunday morning.
Volkanovski defeated Holloway for the third time, defending his 145-pound title by unanimous decision with a striking masterclass at UFC 276.
Israel Adesanya also retained his middleweight belt with considerably less flair, winning a tepid unanimous-decision victory over Jared Cannonier in the main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Volkanovski (25-1) extended his winning streak to 22 fights with a commanding display against Holloway (23-7), the former featherweight champion. The Australian executed a sharp boxing game plan against one of the UFC’s best punchers, bloodying Holloway’s face early on and steadily increasing the punishment into the final minutes.
“It’s a bit of a journey, this rivalry,” Volkanovski said after winning every round on all three judges’ scorecards, 50-45.. “Taking the belt, having the rematch and then the talk and all that. There was a lot of ups and downs in there, but it was good to finally put an end to it and silence a lot of people. A lot of people that needed shutting up.
“Max Holloway is an absolute beast,” Volkanovski added. “That intensity that we both had, I needed it. I really needed it. I had to get in my own head.”
Two proficient strikers understandably kept the fight on the feet, but the smaller Volkanovski capably closed the distance to do damage in the first two rounds, particularly in opening a nasty cut above Holloway’s left eye. Holloway’s answers dwindled as his cuts grew larger, and Volkanovski patiently racked up scoring shots to leave no doubt in the decision.
Volkanovski said he would like to move up 10 pounds to fight for the lightweight title, which is currently vacant after champion Charles Oliveira missed weight for his victory over Justin Gaethje in May. But Volkanovski also said he was intrigued by a post-fight challenge from Henry Cejudo, the former two-division champion who intends to end his retirement.
“He thinks he’s got what it takes,” Volkanovski said of Cejudo. “People want to challenge me, but they need to be big fights. I respect the guy. He can fight. It’s impressive. So we’ll see what happens.”
Adesanya (23-1) won his belt three years ago as one of the UFC’s most entertaining fighters and personalities, but his elaborate ring walk might have been the most thrilling part of his victory over the cautious Cannonier (15-6).
After copying famed professional wrestler The Undertaker on a walk that included the wrestler’s signature hat and a large urn, Adesanya patiently picked at Cannonier with kicks and occasional punches for five rounds. Cannonier, getting his first UFC title shot at 38 years old, struggled to find a consistent striking range, and he didn’t show enough desperation to figure it out.
Adesanya won on all three judges’ scorecards, 50-45, 49-46 and 49-46. He has never lost a UFC middleweight fight, but he has just one stoppage victory in his five 185-pound fights since 2019.
“It was really hard to get going, because they had an excellent game plan,” Adesanya said.