Beneil Dariush was caught off-guard by Alexander Volkanovski’s declaration that he isn’t the official backup for Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev. But for the UFC featherweight champion, there’s nothing fake about where he stands.
“If he’s watching, I’m not playing any games,” Volkanovski said Wednesday on The MMA Hour of the UFC 280 backup booking. “Maybe they did tell you you could be very early, whether this was a couple of months ago, whether his manager had that conversation saying that you will be, and he just assumed he was and hasn’t looked into it since, I don’t know. But my corners are being flown up. I’m getting paid for this, all that type of stuff. It’s locked in. I’m not playing any games.”
Volkanovski sought the backup job for several months but said he was confirmed after his doctor cleared a hand injury suffered in his previous fight, a featherweight title trilogy against Max Holloway at UFC 276. For the past month, he’s been in full preparation to fight either Oliveira or Makhachev at the Oct. 22 pay-per-view event. Wrestling and submission-savvy training partners such as Craig Jones are alternating imitations of Oliveira and Makhachev from round to round.
“A lot of people didn’t think it was going to be doable, including the UFC doctor,” Volkanovski said of his injury recovery. “But I was like, ‘No, we’ll make it happen.’”
Dariush, who is set to face Mateusz Gamrot on the UFC 280 main card, wondered aloud whether Volkanovski or the UFC is “playing games” with the switchup. The surging lightweight suffered an ankle injury that forced him to withdraw from a fight with Makhachev at UFC Vegas 49, but he said he was ready to face Gamrot or serve as the backup fighter in the headlining title fight.
From Volkanovski’s perspective, the move is to avoid a delay in his two-title aspirations. He believes that if either Oliveira or Makhachev is unable to fight at UFC 280, they will get the next title opportunity. That could leave him delayed for two title cycles at a time when he wants to go for broke as a double-champ.
Volkanovski, the No. 1 ranked featherweight and pound-for-pound fighter in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, could have demanded the winner of Oliveira vs. Makhachev. But he said the backup move only ensured he would get the first possible opportunity.
“I don’t think many people in my position would do what I’m doing,” he said. “I didn’t want to just walk up and have everybody go, ‘What’s going on?’ I wanted them to know that, anything happens, I’m going to be there to save the day, or I’m going anyway. Either I’m going to have to step in, or I get to watch some good fights at UFC 280.
“If anything, I didn’t tell them, ‘I want to wait, you should give me this.’ I told them, ‘I want to be backup.’ They didn’t tell me to do this, I told them.”
Volkanovski is also under the expectation that he’ll get the fight if the UFC 280 main event isn’t certified as a title bout. Oliveira infamously missed weight by a half-pound and was stripped of the belt in advance of his previous fight, a scheduled title defense against Justin Gaethje at UFC 274. After defeating Gaethje, Oliveira was later booked against Makhachev in a fight for the vacant lightweight title.
While Volkanovski doesn’t expect either fighter to miss out on the opportunity, he can’t see the UFC again going ahead with a non-title fight.
“If someone misses weight, I’m going to be in,” he said. “What’s the point of doing that if that person that missed weight wins, and then the belt is still vacant. I don’t know. I don’t if it’s in the contract or what, I’m just focused on training, and I’m busting my ass. But I think it’s pretty clear that if someone misses weight, that opportunity is taken away from them.”
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