Alexander Volkanovski is well aware of the inherent risks that come along with moving up a division to challenge a dominant champion like Islam Makhachev.
For the first time since he became a top contender in the featherweight division, Volkanovski will enter his fight at UFC 284 as a decided underdog. He’s facing physical challenges unlike anything he’s dealt with previously in the octagon, not to mention a ground attack from Dagestani wrestler who came up under arguably the greatest lightweight fighter in history in Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Despite all that, Volkanovski not only accepted the challenge but sought it out, and he takes issue with Makhachev criticizing him for even attempting it.
“I love challenging myself,” Volkanovski said at the UFC 284 pre-fight press conference. “I love putting myself in this position. I think people should always do that in life. If you want to be successful, challenge yourself. It’s going to make you stronger, trust me.
“I’m twice the man I was before I started this camp, because I knew the challenge ahead of me. I ain’t scared of the challenge. I know I can rise to the occasion. I know it’s going to make me better. That’s what people remember. These moments.
“He’ll sit there and say I’m crazy for stepping up and all that, I think that’s weak looking at it that way. You should challenge yourself. You should put yourself in these positions. Don’t look at what might happen if things go wrong — let’s look at what happens if things go right. Sunday, it’s going to go right and I’m going to be champ-champ.”
Volkanovski heard Makhachev say plenty of things in the lead up to their fight, and while he’s not exactly using it all as fuel, throwing a little extra gasoline on the fire never hurts.
“Supposedly he doesn’t really respect me as an opponent,” Volkanovski said. “He’s thinking that I’m going to be easy. I hope he did his research like we did cause you need to. This is two of the best going at it and I’m going to prove I am the best and I’m going show you why I deserve that No. 1 pound-for-pound.”
While Volkanovski reveled in a raucous crowd in his native Australia, while Makhachev could only answer back with a sly smile as he welcomed boos from audience every time he touched the microphone.
Makhachev countered the narrative that he doesn’t respect Volkanovski, but he stands by his assessment that the reigning UFC featherweight champion is biting off more than he can chew this time around.
“Because I am the champion and this is 155 [pounds] – this is not his area,” Makhachev said. “This is other power, other division, I’m going to beat him easy.
“Of course, I respect him. He’s [No. 1] pound-for-pound, but many people say Islam is the best fighter in the world right now, and Sunday morning I’m going to show you why the people think this.”
As great as Volkanovski has been during his undefeated run through the UFC, Makhachev believes he’s completely different than any of the past opponents who have faced the 34-year-old Australian.
“Alex is good,” Makhachev said. “Alex is good everywhere but I am different. I have a different style. Like all of his opponents. Like [‘The Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung], I’m not going to go crazy straight. Like [Max] Holloway, he just followed him. I have other plans and I always follow my plans and finish my opponent.”
Volkanovski won’t argue with the fact that Makhachev will be his biggest and toughest opposition to date, but that’s also what made him want this fight in the first place.
As the saying goes, nothing great ever came easy, and Volkanovski wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I am the underdog but I love people doubting me,” Volkanovski said. “I prove them wrong all the time and I plan on doing that on Sunday.
“Champ-champ, all respect to Islam, to take the belt off him it’s going to be an incredible feat. I hope people realize what I’m trying to do and when I do it, I can’t wait.”