Alexander Volkanovski is targeting the winner of the lightweight title fight between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev in Abu Dhabi as he sets his sights on becoming a two-division UFC champion.
The featherweight belt-holder, for many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport at present, is seeking to move up to 155lbs having earlier this month dominated regular 145lb-rival Max Holloway at UFC 276. The unanimous decision victory, a fourth successive title defence, lifted Volkanovski’s professional win streak to 22, leaving him looking to lightweight for his next challenge.
The Australian will therefore be paying close attention to the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi in three months, after the promotion confirmed on Saturday that Oliveira and Makhachev will top the card at UFC 280 in a clash for the vacant lightweight title. The event takes place at Etihad Arena on October 22.
Speaking to The MMA Hour late on Monday, Volkanovski said he wanted a lightweight title shot early next year as he recovers from a broken hand sustained against Holloway.
Asked who he expected to win between Oliveira and Makhachev in Abu Dhabi, he replied: “At the end of the day I just want the belt. I think the better fight is definitely Charles Oliveira. He’s got so much hype on him now.
"Look at how exciting he is, we know it’s going to be an exciting fight. There’s a reason why he’s exciting to watch. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for him, but I think a lot of people miss the fact that he takes damage. He loses a good portion of these big, exciting fights – that’s why they’re exciting.
"But yeah, it’s very fun. A lot of people are hyping him up, and I want big fights. I think Charles is definitely a bigger fight. But if Islam has that title, I’ll fight Islam. It doesn’t matter who it is. I’ll do whatever.
"They both have different challenges and big challenges. That’s what excites me too. A nice big challenge. Because, again, I love it when people doubt me, I love being the underdog. It might be a while since I’m an underdog in my division, but moving up there’s going to be a lot of people thinking it can’t be done. And I’m going to show them it can.”
Meanwhile, Volkanovski said he has no problem if the UFC make a bout for an interim title at featherweight while he recovers from his hand surgery. Top contenders Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett appear the most obvious candidates for that fight.
“To be honest, I don’t mind the idea while I’m sitting here [injured],” Volkanovski said. “Let them fight for that No 1 contender, because they both deserve it. They’re both in a position where they could get a shot.
"Are they screaming out where it needs to be them before everyone? No, not really. So let them fight for that No 1 contender. If it’s for the interim belt and then we’ll fight, sweet. Because like I told you, I’m not lying when I say I want to be active. They can go do that, I’ll go do my thing, and I’m telling you, a couple months after that, get me back in there, I’ll do it.
“Perfect world for me, lightweight title early next year, and then if they do this interim thing, if that happens, it will just make for a bigger fight anyway, so I don’t mind."