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Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski get heated ahead of UFC 276: ‘Oh, Max came to play!’

Max Holloway rarely has a bad word to say about anybody, but with a third fight looming against Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 276, the ex-featherweight champion was unusually vocal just days away from the trilogy.

Back in front of a raucous crowd in Las Vegas, which he’s long dubbed as “the ninth island” of Hawaii, Holloway wasted no time taking what has been a respectful rivalry and adding at least a small dose of animosity with Volkanovski ahead of their trilogy.

“Man, you guys are going to find out Saturday night,” Holloway said about the fight at the press conference. “Talking about three, this guy is talking about a three-peat or something — this guy don’t even got three highlights in the UFC.”

Even Volkanovski was taken back by that comment, as the crowd roared in approval and the usually reserved UFC featherweight champion cracked a smile in response.

“Oh, Max came to play,” Volkanovski replied. “I love it.”

As it stands, Volkanovski has a 2-0 lead in the series, although the rematch was considered a controversial decision after five hard-fought rounds, with many believing Holloway deserved the nod.

Since that second fight, Holloway has picked up back-to-back wins over Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez to put himself back in position to compete for the title yet again.

One narrative that has been picked up in recent days leading to UFC 276 has been Holloway’s durability, considering he’s absorbed over 1,800 strikes during his octagon career. While he’s never actually been knocked down in any fight to this point, Holloway has endured a lot of damage, but he still seems unbothered by Volkanovski’s ability to actually hurt him even if they start trading bombs on Saturday.

“All week, all I’ve heard is you guys talking about damage,” Holloway said. “We’re talking about damage here. All you guys, damage this, damage that. I’m known for taking damage and he’s known for not giving it, so let’s get it.”

Much like his opponent, Volkanovski rarely finds a place to speak negatively about anybody, but that comment forced him to fire back in kind.

“Mate, we’re going to see Saturday night, right?” Volkanovski responded. “That’s the beauty of it. That’s why you can’t spar anymore, because you’re punched in the head too much.”

While the exchanges never turned nasty, Volkanovski and Holloway were then given the chance to explain what they respected most about the other — and even that elicited some interesting comments.

Volkanovski actually praised Holloway for doing exactly what he needed to get back to a third fight despite dropping two prior decisions to him.

“I’m going to be straight up: He’s getting another chance because he was being stubborn and made sure no one else got that No. 1 spot. So he gets his shot,” Volkanovski said. “He did exactly what I would do if I was in the same position.

“So he’s going to have my respect for that, but that’s it. It’s just a third chance and he ain’t going to get it.”

Holloway managed to pay Volkanovski a compliment as well, although probably not the one the Australian was expecting.

“The only thing I respect about him is his cooking show,” Holloway shot back.

The barbs from Holloway didn’t seem to get under Volkanovski’s skin, even if he did seem somewhat surprised by the trash talk coming from his opponent.

He even seemed to revel in the chorus of boos coming from the pro-Holloway crowd, who were largely in the Hawaiian’s corner ahead of the fight.

“Hey, I love it,” Volkanovski said. “You can use them as much as you want. Saturday night, it ends for you. That’s it. ... 2-0, baby. Remember that, 2-0 — 2-0, about to be 3-0.”

With deafening crowd noise drowning out Volkanovski on the microphone, Holloway took the chance to soak in the adoration from the Las Vegas faithful.

“I can’t hear you,” Holloway shouted. “Let him have it, ninth island. Let him have it.”

If Volkanovski is successful in the trilogy, he will likely put Holloway behind him for good, because it’s hard to imagine a fourth fight happening if he goes up 3-0 in the series.

Volkanovski has already stated that his future goals include moving up to lightweight, where he would like to challenge for a second UFC title with hopes that he could eventually become a champ-champ and defend both belts simultaneously.

“I’m definitely [jumping up] to that division,” Volkanovski said. “I want to hold two belts. I’ve got goals. I always work, I always want to level up, all new challenges. I’ve got a challenge Saturday, but I’m going pass it again, do work, and that’s it. And then I’m going to call for that double champ status.”

Holloway obviously has plans to stop him as he seeks to become a two-time UFC featherweight champion, although it seems avenging his past losses to Volkanovski might mean even more to him.

“We’ll find out,” Holloway responded. “We’re going to find out Saturday night.”

Shaun Al-Shatti contributed to this report.

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