While the betting lines are firmly in the favor of UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski ahead of his upcoming title defense against interim champ Yair Rodriguez, Jon Anik is certainly feeling like Rodriguez has more of a chance than the oddsmakers indicate.
The unification bout between Volkanovski and Rodriguez headlines UFC 290 this Saturday in Las Vegas. Heading into fight week, Volkanovski is sitting as a -410 favorite, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, while the comeback on the dangerous Rodriguez is at +330. With the unique firepower and style Rodriguez brings to the table, Anik — who will be the lead play-by-play voice for the pay-per-view event — believes the massive underdog is going to give Volkanovski one of his toughest fights to date,
“Yair Rodriguez is the f****** man,” Anik told MMA Fighting. “Dominick Cruz coined him ‘one of one,’ and I’m not sure that more appropriate words have ever been used to describe an athlete. I have no point of comparison when it comes to Yair Rodriguez. I absolutely think he’s going to be competitive against Alexander Volkanovski.”
Volkanovski is returning to 145 after taking current lightweight champ Islam Makhachev to the limit in his quest to become a two-division champ at February’s UFC 284 event, losing a heavily debated decision, and suffering his first octagon loss in the process.
Should “The Great” be successful, there’s a couple of paths he could take — he could call for a rematch with Makhachev for the October pay-per-view event in Abu Dhabi, or Volkanovski could remain at featherweight and face another surging contender in Ilia Topuria.
While many would be intrigued by a rematch between Makhachev and Volkanovski, Anik feels like that second meeting will still have legs down the road.
“I feel like with the Makhachev-Volkanovski rematch, you can let that marinate a little bit,” Anik said. “I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that that fight could materialize even three or four years down the line. I just think with the wealth of talent you have right now at 145 and 155, it’s not a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot situation. I do believe that it’s ambitious just to think that Volkanovski is going to get completely through Yair unscathed and turn it around in October.
“Only thing I would say is that when we did sit down with Alex to begin the year, he said he wanted to fight four times in 2023, and I certainly believe — to quote Michael Chandler — that Volkanovski is here for a good time and not a long time. I really think he’s trying to put training camps together and realize these paydays and not be fighting into his 40s. So I think we have to enjoy Volanovski while we can, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try for a quick turn even if it’s a hard fight in July.”