Alexander Volkanovski always knew in the back of his mind that he’d one day have to meet Max Holloway in a trilogy match for the UFC featherweight title despite being up 2-0 in the series. He just never figured Holloway would be the one who’d need to be most convinced.
Holloway barely paid Volkanovski’s name any mind during the lead-up to his UFC Vegas 42 win over Yair Rodriguez and in his post-fight comments. Despite the fact that last weekend’s main event was sold by the UFC as a No. 1 contender match for Volkanovski’s belt, Holloway instead spent most of his microphone time playing coy about his next move. He recently told MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani that there are “bigger fights” the UFC had discussed with him rather than the Volkanovski trilogy, and even floated a potential rematch with Conor McGregor as something he’d be interested in after the Rodriguez win.
For Volkanovski, it’s been a confusing — yet wholly unexpected — development.
“I’m not surprised, man,” Volkanovski said Monday on The MMA Hour. “All week he’s been [talking about] ‘bigger fights’ and all that. Again, I’m the champ. You can say whatever you want, you can push whatever bullsh*t narratives you want, I ain’t getting into this. But hey, look, at the end of the day, you’re 0-2 and you’re trying to act like, ‘Ah yeah, maybe we’ll see.’ Mate, if you don’t want it, don’t worry about it. I’ll get the next guy. There’s plenty of people waiting. But again, I want the best guys. Max proved he’s the next-best guy.
“Nothing but respect to him as a fighter, but stop playing the games and all the bullsh*t. You want the fight, let the UFC know. You know the UFC are telling you about it. They’re telling us about it. You don’t want it, hurry up, we’ll see who’s next. Whatever.”
Volkanovski, 33, is no stranger to being trapped within Holloway’s orbit. Despite holding a perfect 10-0 record in the UFC and defeating Holloway in back-to-back championship fights in 2019-20, Volkanovski is still considered by some to be the Robin to Holloway’s Batman, largely because of the polarizing nature of Volkanovski’s split-decision win in their second fight. For example, two of the eight panelists in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings still have Holloway ranked ahead of Volkanovski as the No. 1 featherweight in the world.
It’s a position that is both frustrating and motivating for Volkanovski, and one of the reasons he’s so open to giving Holloway a rare third crack at his belt despite the being up 2-0 in the series. But Volkanovski also isn’t going to try to sell Holloway on the opportunity. After defending his title against Brian Ortega in September, Volkanovski is already eyeing a return in early 2022 — and he’s planning to do so with or without Holloway as his dance partner.
“I’m used to it now,” Volkanovski said. “I don’t know what games he’s playing, I don’t really get where he’s going with it. I think he’s just trying to make it like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the big dog.’ I don’t know what it is, maybe that’s where he’s trying to go with it, as if I’m going to chase the fight. But the way he’s going, I’m about to just go, ‘Oh, Henry Cejudo, you want it? I know you’re calling for it. Henry, come on, let’s do it then.’ I want the best guys in my division. If they’re going to play their bullsh*t games, I ain’t waiting around.
“Henry, we can do it then. I don’t know if he’s in the testing pool or whatever. Obviously Giga [Chikadze] is calling me out, he’s fighting [Calvin] Kattar soon. But whatever. Again, there’s options. There’s still options, but I’m a competitor and I want the best guys. If you go out there and you prove yourself again to someone like Max, then I’m the GOAT. You’ve got to take Max [out] again if you’re the GOAT of the featherweight division. I’ve got a lot of respect for [Jose] Aldo and what he’s done, but you start taking out all these top guys and repeating that as well ... I don’t think many people can question that.”
Fortunately for Volkanovski, the UFC seems to be aligned with his thinking. UFC president Dana White rebuffed the idea of Holloway vs. McGregor 2 at UFC Vegas 42’s post-fight press conference and instead confirmed that Volkanovski vs. Holloway 3 is the fight to make.
That’s just fine for Volkanovski. After hearing incessant chatter about how Holloway is the uncrowned king of the division since UFC 251, Volkanovski has all the motivation he needs to get excited about a third fight against a “lucky” man who he’s already beaten twice.
“I could definitely get up for that,” Volkanovski said. “Again, obviously the first fight, it wasn’t as close as the second, but that second fight was close and you’re going to have people that are going to say, ‘Oh yeah, Max won,’ and all that type of stuff. And yeah, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, that’s fine. The judges got it right. I think the judges got it right and a lot of people still think the judges got it right, and there’s a lot of people that disagree with it. So it still feels like maybe there is some unfinished business.
“But me as a competitor, yeah, I guess I’m always trying just to prove myself. Maybe that’s what gets me out of bed, the fact that people are still doubting me, people are still going to say that. Man, I’ve always talked about I love being the underdog, I love proving people wrong. You’ve got to fight Max again, he’s taking the guys out, he’s earned a shot. A lot of people wouldn’t get a third chance. Let’s be real, a lot of people wouldn’t get a third chance. A lot of champions wouldn’t do it and a lot of people wouldn’t get that chance at all. The UFC wouldn’t give it to him. He’s obviously getting lucky in a sense.
“So again, whoever’s next, he’s next. I think Max, I guess if he wants it, he can have it. The UFC, they’re telling me the winner of that fight was the No. 1 contender, but again Max is saying something different, so whatever. Again, I ain’t going to wait around.”