Islam Makhachev needed every minute over five rounds to fend off the challenge from Alexander Volkanovski to remain lightweight champion in the UFC 284 main event.
It was a back-and-forth battle throughout with Volkanovski stunning Makhachev several times on the feet as the reigning featherweight king sought to become a two-division champion. Despite a few setbacks, Makhachev continuously found ways to turn the tables including a couple of knockdowns of his own while also employing his suffocating ground game.
When it was over, the judges scored the fight 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 with Makhachev securing the victory and handing Volkanovski the first loss of his UFC career.
“Thank you Alex. It was a very good fight,” Makhachev said afterwards. “I need some tough fights. I have to improve. I think he’s going to be easy on the ground but this guy improved a lot. I need tough fights.
“I show why I’m No. 1. They have to improve more. You like or you don’t like but I am the best fighter in the world right now.”
Nothing came easy for Makhachev as Volkanovski hung with him at every turn but the 31-year-old progeny of Abdulmanap and Khabib Nurmagomedov showed why he is the best lightweight in the sport.
When the fight got started, it was Volkanovski showing a lot of confidence in his hands while using good footwork to set up his combinations and keep Makhachev on the outside. The first big punch of the fight connected as Volkanovski threw a straight shot down the middle that sent Makhachev backwards towards the cage.
Just when it looked like Volkanovski was in control, Makhachev came back with a huge flurry of his own, which included a huge left hook that dropped Volkanovski down to his knee for a brief moment. Volkanovski seized on the opening to get his first takedown before advancing to take the back where he looked to set up a rear-naked choke.
Volkanovski survived the bad position, which allowed him to reset between rounds.
Back on the feet, Volkanovski clipped Makhachev again with another series of punches that found a home on the chin and the Russian was clearly rocked. Makhachev turned to his wrestling to allow himself to recover but Volkanovski quickly escaped to the center of the octagon.
As Volkanovski looked to maintain his momentum, Makhachev came right back at him with a short counter left that wobbled the featherweight champion. Volkanovski recovered and then started switching his stances to try and keep Makhachev guessing more.
A hard kick to the leg and then going back up top to the head allowed Volkanovski to continue landing the better overall combinations but he always had to be wary of the power coming back at him from Makhachev.
With the fight moving into the championship rounds, Makhachev regained control with a perfectly timed takedown before moving to the back, which left Volkanovski stuck defending submission attempts. Unlike previous ground exchanges, Volkanovski was finally unable to break free from Makhachev’s grip and it left him very little time to forge a late comeback.
A straight left hand as a counter punch from Makhachev continued to catch Volkanovski on the chin as the Australian desperately tried to find a way to get inside safely again. Any time Volkanovski got a little over aggressive, Makhachev was able to snatch a leg to look for the takedown.
As the clock ticked away towards the end of the fight, Volkanovski stunned Makhachev with a hard right hand that put the fight back on the ground. Volkanovski began unleashing the punishment on top but time ran out before he could potentially steal the fight back from Makhachev.
Regardless of the result, it was a valiant effort from Volkanovski, although certainly not the outcome he wanted when asking for this opportunity to become a two-division UFC champion.
“Obviously a lot of people are going to be happy with that because they never gave me a chance,” Volkanovski said. “I knew I prepared properly, it was a fun fight. Congrats to Islam.”
Just before his fight, Volkanovski saw Yair Rodriguez crowned interim featherweight champion so he already has his next assignment booked but he’s not giving up on an eventual return to 155 pounds.
“Let’s just get it f****** over and done with,” Volkanovski said. “I said I was going to stay active. I’ll be back in the lightweight division but for now let me go settle this featherweight division. Congrats to Yair.”
As for Makhachev, he vanquished yet another opponent for his 12th consecutive win in a row and now he’s calling on the rest of the lightweight division to step up and offer him a challenge.
“Real contender, not fake,” Makhachev shouted. “I need a real contender.”