May 19, 2024

When one rematch falls, another one rises.

Alexander Volkanovski will step in for Charles Oliveira to face current lightweight champion Islam Makhachev for the 155-pound title at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi. Oliveira, who first fought Makhachev and lost at UFC 280 last year, was severely cut above his eye during training and was forced to pull out of the main event rematch on Oct. 21.

Now, on just 11 days notice, Volkanovski will get in on the rematch action and attempt to take down Makhachev and become a two-division champion. Volkanovski lost in a five-round thriller to Makhachev at UFC 284 in February 2023

Marc Raimondi deep dives into the implications of the main event title change and hits on whether this puts Makhachev or Volkanovski in a more disadvantaged position going into their second bout.

Is it a mistake for Volkanovski to take this fight on 11 days notice?

It’s surely a risk. I won’t go as far as to say it’s a mistake. Volkanovski is supremely confident and has already been there with Makhachev for five rounds. Had this been their first fight, one could imagine Volkanovski hesitating if this kind of opportunity arose. But now he knows what he’s in for. He’s felt Makhachev’s strength, wrestling skill and power. I will say this, though: Volkanovski has a ton of guts for taking this fight without a training camp. If he loses at UFC 294, who knows if he gets another crack at the lightweight title?

Is it a mistake for Makhachev to take this fight on 11 days?

This is an interesting question, because conventional wisdom says the fighter coming in on short notice with no training camp is at a disadvantage. But I’ve talked to plenty of coaches who say it could be the opposite – the banged-up fighter who’s been training for six or eight weeks going against a “fresh” opponent they have not prepared for is the one at a deficit. Ultimately, though, it’s not a mistake for Makhachev. He’s the bigger man, has already beaten Volkanovski, and though he’s been training for a different style of fight, he still has the wrestling and grappling to neutralize anyone.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is back in camp working with Makhachev, believes a new opponent “doesn’t matter.”

What happens now for Oliviera?

He heals up that cut and waits. Maybe he even gets a title shot next year in Brazil out of this. Who knows? Oliveira is still the No. 1 contender. He has to be concerned that Justin Gaethje, who knocked out Dustin Poirier to win the BMF title in July, is also right there. Oliveira still figures to be next in line, but what if Volkanovski wins and defends the featherweight title before the lightweight one? Could Oliveira have to fight and win again to get another chance at the belt? Anything is possible. The UFC is a fast-moving world.

Why was it Volkanovski and not one of the other lightweight contenders?

It’s as simple as Volkanovski represents the biggest possible fight – even bigger than Oliveira, theoretically – and he was available and willing. We at ESPN have Volkanovski ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound in the world. Makhachev is No. 2. As Dana White said Tuesday night, it’s maybe the most anticipated rematch in division history. And that covers some ground. Lightweight is a premier division. The UFC did make overtures to others, including Mateusz Gamrot and Dustin Poirier, according to sources, but Volkanovski was the best possible option.

If Volkanovski wins, what’s next for 145?



Alexander Volkanovski finishes Yair Rodriguez in Round 3

Alexander Volkanovski forces the referee to stop the fight vs. Yair Rodriguez in Round 3 of the UFC 290 main event.

Ilia Topuria is the No. 1 contender. That much is clear. Who Topuria fights and when will be questioned if Volkanovski becomes the UFC lightweight champion. Volkanovski may come out of the Makhachev fight relatively early and want to move back down and defend the featherweight belt in his next fight. Volkanovski told me earlier this year that he’s confident he could be a fighting champion in two divisions if it came to that.

The UFC could also pull the trigger on an interim title fight, like they did earlier this year when Volkanovski fought Makhachev for the first time. Topuria vs. Max Holloway for interim gold could be an interesting move. Before the last few days, Volkanovski vs. Topuria at UFC 297 in January was deep in negotiations and likely to happen, per sources.

If Volkanovski loses, what’s next for 145?

Volkanovski comes back down at some point and defends the title. The UFC could still end up doing an interim title fight. It’ll all come down to timing.

Could Volkanovski make a quick turn and defend the 145-pound belt early in 2024? Potentially, but it seems like it would be a lot to ask. An interim title fight, whether Volkanovski wins or loses, is probably a safe bet at this point.

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