It’s been a long, long time since Alexander Volkanovski has been a betting underdog.
The reigning UFC featherweight champion has been one of the most dominant forces in MMA since joining the UFC in 2016, racking up a 12-0 record and four defenses of his 145-pound belt en route to becoming the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Naturally, he’s been the betting favorite for the majority of that run. But that will change on Feb. 12 when Volkanovski vaults up to 155 pounds to challenge UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev for two-division glory in the main event of UFC 284.
Volkanovski opened as a massive betting underdog to Makhachev and remains so with the fight less than two weeks away. And it’s safe to say he’s relishing all his newfound skeptics.
“I like it. I’m all good with it,” Volkanovski said on The MMA Hour. “Especially moving up and the lightweight title and all that type of stuff, and then fighting someone like this — again, we want this for legacy. I never used to talk like this. If you remember, I never talked about legacy fights and all this type of stuff, but now I’m all about it. Now I’m all for the big fights. I love the underdog story. I love being the underdog and people saying I’m undersized and all that type of stuff. It just adds to the story and it’s going to add to the victory.
“There are going to be a lot of people that are going to doubt me, which I love, and all that type of stuff — ‘I’m undersized, he’s too good at the Dagestani wrestling,’ and all this type of stuff. That’s good. But just remember that. Remember that. Don’t change the narrative when I get my hand raised. That’s something that I need people to understand, because it’s funny — people will sit there and say all this stuff. If something happens [and I win], ‘Oh yeah, [Makhachev] didn’t fight anybody. It was his first defense.’ All of a sudden they’re taking away the victory and acting like he isn’t that person that they said he was before the fight.
“Just remember what you’re saying he is now. You’re putting him on that pedestal — keep him there even if I get my hand raised. Don’t change that bulls***.”
Volkanovski, 34, will become just the fifth simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history if successful at UFC 284, joining the likes of Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes, and Henry Cejudo. He has repeatedly stated his intentions to keep both titles and defend the throne in both divisions if the Makhachev fight goes his way.
His goals are lofty, which is exactly why Volkanovski doesn’t want to hear any revisionist history about Makhachev if he achieves what he’s setting out to achieve.
That includes excuses about Makhachev’s mentor and longtime teammate, former UFC champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, not being in Makhachev’s corner for UFC 284.
“I guess I was [surprised] at the start, but it doesn’t matter — Islam is still going to turn up,” Volkanovski said. “I know people push narratives and all that type of stuff. At the end of the day, Islam is a great fighter. He’s the one who’s going in there and doing his work, and Khabib will tell you that himself. So again, if my hand gets raised, don’t be [complaining]. These are excuses. He’s fought plenty of times with Khabib not in his corner.
“He’s done it before and he’s a great fighter. He’s going to turn up and show up in the octagon anyway, even if Khabib is there or not. So I’m preparing for the same Islam that I’ve seen, and again, if things go how I plan on them going, don’t start changing narratives and start using all these excuses, because it’s the guy in front of him that’s the problem.”
Volkanovski certainly has his work cut out for him.
Makhachev is MMA Fighting’s No. 2 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world for a reason. The 31-year-old has demolished every lightweight in his path over the past six years, stacking up 11 consecutive victories over the likes of Charles Oliveira, Arman Tsarukyan, Dan Hooker, Bobby Green, Drew Dober, and more. Makhachev’s title win over Oliveira, in particular, was eye-opening — an eight-minute romp that saw him dominate then submit the UFC’s all-time submissions leader.
Nonetheless, Volkanovski likes what he and his team have seen in the matchup.
“Obviously we know where the advantages are going to be for me and where the advantages [are] he’s going to have,” Volkanovski said. “He wants it on the ground and I want it on the feet, it’s pretty simple. And for people who are going to be like, ‘Oh, his striking is underrated,’ it definitely is. If you’re looking at just combos and all that stuff, yeah, it’s not the prettiest, it’s not like he has the best setups and things that, but he’s still calculating. He’s not going to take unnecessary risks. He’s not going to put himself too much out of position the majority of the time. Maybe when he chooses to strike and things like that, he does, but a lot of the time he’s a bit defensive and he’ll wait for the right time to shoot.
“So he’s calculated, the same as Khabib was and a lot of these Dagestani wrestlers and these high-level grapplers, which is great.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to remember my striking,” Volkanovski continued. “I understand all these things. I can’t give too much away, but you could do all these things. I’m aware of what you want to do. I’m aware of the patterns. I totally understand the game. I really do. I understand my style, I understand your style. I’ve got a great team. We’ve got the knowledge, and not just that, I’ve got the fight IQ to really, really capitalize on things that we see. So there’s definitely things that I can capitalize on, and I will.
“So I’m prepared to go wherever it needs to go. You ain’t going to see me panic.”