On Saturday at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi, Volkanovski defends his featherweight title against Holloway, the man he took it from in December. “The Great” topped Holloway by unanimous decision in their first meeting and in the lead-up to the rematch, the former champion has been critical of Volkanovski while also taking jabs at Volkanovski’s performance in their first fight.
Volkanovski isn’t sure where Holloway’s comments are coming from, but he speculated that it could be a case of sour grapes.
“Look, I don’t know if he’s playing the game and he’s just trying to get people to believe the sh*t he’s saying, I don’t know what it is,” Volkanovski said during a virtual media day on Tuesday. “I’m not letting it get to me. It seems like it’s getting to him. It seems like he’s salty and he’s being a bit of a sore loser, but I guess losing is tough and maybe that’s why he’s acting like that. He’s saying some crazy things.”
Ahead of their first fight, there was little drama outside of the cage. Volkanovski earned his shot at the title on the strength of a 7-0 UFC start and a 17-fight win streak dating back to May 2013. The two also remained respectful after Volkanovski defeated Holloway.
Seven months have passed since Volkanovski and Holloway fought, which is more than enough time for perspectives to change, though Volkanovski is still confused as to exactly what is motivating Holloway’s new attitude.
“There’s something different about the way he is,” Volkanovski said. “I don’t know what it is. Again, I don’t hate the guy. I’ve got respect for the guy and you can see clearly after my fight I was saying he was a great champion and I want to be a great champion too. That’s how I know Max Holloway. To see him say these things and act the way he’s acting, it just doesn’t suit him. It’s not how he should be going about it. I don’t know why he’s taking it that way. I’m blown away by it, but at the same time it makes me want to put a bit more of a beating on him as well, so again, I can use this as fuel. He’s saying the wrong things and—whatever, it is odd.
“I don’t know where he’s going with all these weird narratives, like, ‘the leg kicks weren’t working,’ he was saying that the commentary was biased for me. It was crazy, acting like I’m a karate point-puncher when he’s known for his volume punching, pitter-patter. You had the commentary talking about how I’m looking to throw power shots to finish the fight. Am I going to be able to keep this pace up and keep this power up, am I going to gas because I’m throwing everything into my punches. You know what I mean? It’s just crazy where he’s going with everything.”
Volkanovski also addressed reports that he asked Holloway for a rematch, a request that most fighters typically wouldn’t ask for after dethroning a champion. According to Volkanovski, it was more a matter of respect and logistics than wanting to resolve any unfinished business.
“The UFC never brought anyone but Max Holloway,” Volkanovski said. “Max is telling everyone I was asking for the fight, but that’s just what the UFC were asking for. At the end of the day, if that was the fight they were gonna push on me, and there were no clear No. 1 contenders, it ended up being the fight I wanted anyway.
“The biggest fight in my division is Max, there’s no clear No. 1 contender, so a rematch against Max—obviously, he’s still in his prime. You take out one of the greatest of all-time, you know a lot of people throwing his name out there as the GOAT, and to take him out back-to-back, that’s saying something.”
With contenders like Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung, and Yair Rodriguez waiting in the wings, Volkanovski expects to have a busy schedule ahead of him should he get past Holloway a second time. He stated that he’d prefer to clear out the division before discussing any potential superfights.
A win over Holloway would remove “Blessed” from the equation for the foreseeable future, an outcome that Volkanovski doesn’t think Holloway is stressing about.
“If I was in his position I wouldn’t let the pressure get to me,” Volkanovski said. “Even if you were to say, ‘Is the pressure on you,’ on myself, I’d be like no, it’s not. That’s the type of person I am. I can really control my emotions and I’m really good at keeping myself composed and I think he is as well. So I don’t know whether there is pressure on him.
“Is he looking at it as a last chance to get his belt back and then he moves up anyway, maybe that’s how he’s looking at it, so maybe there’s not much pressure on him because he thinks, ‘If I lose I move up. I don’t know if I want to keep doing this to my body anyway in this division.’ Maybe that’s where his head’s at. Maybe he’s just like, one last crack, make a bit of money. Is that why he supposedly didn’t do a camp with training partners even though I don’t believe that one bit. I don’t believe any of that. I don’t think there’s too much pressure on him.”
As for Holloway’s claim that he hasn’t done any physical work with his coaches ahead of UFC 251 due to COVID-19 precautions, Volkanovski isn’t buying it. If there’s any truth to it, then that only makes him more confident as he feels he’s already dealt with the best that Holloway has to offer.
“I hope he had a full camp because I did beat him on his best day and I believe I’ll do that this camp too,” Volkanovski said. “If he is under-prepared, I truly do believe I’ll be putting a beating on him. That’s just the truth. I’m not being disrespectful, but if you come into this fight under-prepared, you’re going to make that night very hard for you.”