UFC 276: Volkanovski Holds the Cards in Trilogy with Brilliant Holloway

Alexander Volkanovski, Max Holloway, UFC 276
Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway, UFC 276 press conference Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will be looking to end his rivalry with fellow great Max Holloway in a bout with serious implications for the futures of both men at UFC 276.

Say what you will about the results of the fight on July 07 in 2020,  the respect has finally been put on Alexander Volkanovski’s name.  “The Great” rides an astounding 21 fight win-streak dating back to his time before joining the UFC, and his resume lists it’s share of legends and top contenders in Max Holloway, José Aldo, Brian Ortega, “The Korean Zombie,” and Chad Mendes.  After handing Chan Sung Jung one of the most brutal beatdowns ever seen in a headlining performance,  Volkanovski has now established that he is head-and-shoulders above the competition at 145 pounds.

Saturday is seen as the final and unique test of the Australian’s vaunted abilities.  He is testing his competitive fire, his growth as a martial artist, and his own complacency in now facing an elite and ever-evolving opponent for a third time after already besting him twice.  Should he prevail once again, then talk has already begun that he will be taking aim at the lightweight division where he would compete ten pounds north of his natural weight class.  A second title, after all he has accomplished, would in all likelihood elevate him to being considered a generational talent and begin his argument in the conversation for greatest of all-time.

These are the same things that Max Holloway was in the conversation for only a few short years ago.  In the time where the best was “Blessed,” Holloway led the featherweight division into a new era after stringing together a thirteen fight win-streak that saw him virtually sweep the previous generation of contenders and twice stop the long-reigning kingpin Aldo himself.  His run also led him to a shot at interim lightweight gold, though he came up short in the effort.  Regardless, he was widely considered the best talent the division had ever seen until Volkanovski took the crown in 2019 and defended it in 2020 in two of the most high-level contests the sport has ever seen.

But while coming up short on the scorecards in two such contests would bring discouragement that changes a fighter, Holloway has continued to look as dangerous as ever.  His 2022 domination of Calvin Kattar was a statistically historic beatdown across five rounds and his electrifying war with Yair Rodriguez was in the running for Fight of the Year due to the skill level displayed in the bout.  Herein lies the risk in Saturday’s bout.  He has secured an elusive third shot at a champion he has twice failed to defeat, but a third loss would leave him in the no-man’s lan of places to go unless Volkanovski is toppled from the throne.  While a move to lightweight is not out of the question, his last foray up to the weight class showed that the move is one that would take time.

Despite have spent 50 minutes in the cage together already, Saturday is still expected to see the skills of both men pushed to the limit once again.  While it should be expected that one or the other will be more effective and efficient after learning from the past two experiences, it is doubtful to be an easy task.    Volkanovski is expected to use his full arsenal once again, working behind feints and kicks to score points and work his way inside against Holloway.  Holloway is expected to attempt to use a diverse skillset of his own, using his height and speed to attempt to manage distance and meet the champion with a high volume attack of his own.

A Holloway victory would raise the question of exactly how much demand there is for a fourth matchup regardless of the skill level.  Though Volkanovski would deserve it, a fresh matchup in Josh Emmett for Max Holloway could come first.  A Volkanovski victory could also see him take on Emmett or Yair Rodriguez if the latter prevails against Brian Ortega the following week if he stays at featherweight.  More than likely, however, talk will begin of him challenging Charles Oliveira for the vacant title should the UFC decide to pair next logical contenders Islam Makhachev and Beneil Dariush together before getting a title shot.