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Alex Volkanovski: Australian fighters will shine at UFC 221 in Robert Whittaker’s absence

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Auckland Volkanovski vs Hirota Simon Watts-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Volkanovski is confident that UFC’s Australian athletes will make next month’s pay-per-view event in Perth one to remember despite the absence of former headliner, Robert Whittaker.

Although Yoel Romero stepped in to take Whittaker’s place in an interim middleweight title clash with Luke Rockhold, the New Zealand-born Australian, Whittaker, was the event’s main draw in terms of stimulating the local interest.

Making his fourth walk to the Octagon on the night, Volkanovski is one of six Australian athletes that are set to compete. According to the 16-1 featherweight, the Australian fighters are ready to put on a show.

“MMA is really taking off in this part of the world now, particularly the UFC, and Rob’s played a big part in that. There were a lot of people that wanted to see him defend the title that he never got to fight for,” Volkanovski told MMA Fighting.

“These things happen, Rob would fight if he was fit. It’s just unfortunate and I understand that it’s a bit of a let down for some fans who bought tickets to see that title fight.

“I’ve heard some people saying that it’s not a strong card and that Rob Whittaker and Luke Rockhold’s fight was holding it together. People are disappointed and I understand that, but at the same time there are a lot of Aussies on the card and I know we’re going to put on a show to remember.

“Don’t get me wrong, I understand where the fans are coming from. Even I was disappointed with that fight falling apart, but unfortunately that’s the game.”

Volkanovski insisted that Whittaker did the right thing by withdrawing from the card given Dana White’s report that “The Reaper” was in a “serious condition” due to the mistreatment of a staph infection.

“I’ve been hearing that he’s got a staph infection in his stomach, which sounds really nasty. I’ve had staph a few times myself and MRSA,” he said.

“I’ve had some bad staph infections and if that gets into your blood — I don’t know about Rob but you’d think it would be in his blood if it’s in his stomach — that’s really serious and you can’t muck around with it. Realistically, he’s got to take care of himself because that stuff will kill you.”

Volkanovski promised he would put on a memorable showing in his featherweight bout with Canadian Jeremy Kennedy as he looks to make it four wins in four tests under the UFC banner.

“We’re going to make sure everyone is entertained, that’s exactly what will happen,” he said.

“Personally, I’m looking to make a statement on the night, so I know the fans will be pleased with what they see. I got a finish in my debut, but it’s been two decisions in my last two fights. This time it’s going to be a finish.

“I’m looking for that KO. I know that he’s a little bit hesitant with his striking and I think I can capitalize on that. I can see he’s comfortable on the fence and in the scrambles, but I can see some weakness in his striking and I’m going to try and exploit that.”