At UFC 284, Australia’s Alexander Volkanovski was looking to do what few fighters before him had ever done: capture two belts, simultaneously, in the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion.
Standing in the way of that historic feat was Islam Makhachev, looked upon by many as Khabib 2.0. Makhachev was of course a close friend and training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, the former UFC lightweight champ and Hall of Famer. Now it was Makhachev’s turn in the sun, as he looked to defend his own lightweight title for the first time on Saturday in Perth, Australia.
It was not a warm welcome for the Dagestani fighter at the RAC Arena, needless to say.
Just three fighters in UFC history have held gold in two weight classes simultaneously: Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, and Amanda Nunes. Volkanovski’s quest to be double-champ number four happened to be pitting the #1 and #2-ranked pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC against one-another, in a rare but welcome occurrence.
Early on, every Volkanovski move was meet with cheers from the highly partisan crowd. The featherweight champ switched stances frequently, and Makhachev remained outside. A right hand rocked Makhachev roughly two minutes in; Volkanovski stayed patient, refusing to charge in carelessly. Just when you thought the crowd couldn’t get any louder, they turned it up a notch.
In the second half, it was Makhachev turning up the heat. He dropped Volkanovski down to one knee with a punch, and fired a head kick that the Australian ate. Makhachev then closed the distance, latching on with a body lock. Ninety seconds still sat on the clock, as Volkanovski fought the hands. But Makhachev would not be denied, completing the takedown and taking the back in a scene reminiscent of Khabib vs. McGregor, or Khabib vs. Poirier. With thirty seconds left in the round, Makhachev worked on a rear-naked choke while Volkanovski fought the hands.
Both men raised their hands at the end of five minutes. There were up to twenty remaining, of course.
More stance switches from Volkanovski started round two, but he was noticeably more stationary. Closing the distance, Volkanovski connected, hurting Makhachev — but a minor mistake, with the Australian thinking about grabbing the neck for a choke, led to a Makhachev takedown. Volkanovski got back up, only to be taken down again. Again, Volkanovski returned to his feet, eliciting a cheer from the crowd. He reversed, and broke free of Makhachev, putting some much-needed distance between them. Much-needed if you were Alexander Volkanovski at least.
Again, in the later part of the round, Makhachev turned up the heat. He rocked Volkanovski, and had him retreating. A jab by the lightweight champ was trailed by a left hand. Volkanovski chopped Makhachev’s lead leg. The pair finished the round tied up along the fence, though it was Makhachev’s back pressed against it.
Early in the third, Makhachev fired a kick, while Volkanovski landed his right hand. In a clinch, they traded knees. Makhachev ripped a kick to the body. A Volkanovski leg kick wobbled the lightweight champ. Another clinch, with knees from Makhachev before he dragged Volkanovski down. Volkanovski used to fence to keep his balance, wall walking up then reversing. Back at center, Volkanovski continued to switch stances, and Makhachev, uncharacteristically, was taking steps backward. Volkanovski went on the attack, Makhachev slipped, and the Australian looked to take advantage — but ultimately couldn’t, though he would get off a couple of punches before the end of the frame.
Round four opened with some early exchanges, both men firing. Makhachev fired a left. Volkanovski closed the distance for a combination. Makhachev then timed a takedown perfectly, landing it; Volkanovski scrambled to the fence, but Makhachev took the back and had a body lock on tight. Jammed up by the fence, Volkanovski didn’t have much room to move. He fought the hands, and punched back at Makhachev. The pair were handed a warning by the ref; someone had their fingers in the other’s gloves. But the position remained the same; Makhachev never came close to a finish, and seemed content maintaining the position.
Volkanovski, meanwhile, began wailing on Makhachev with punches despite having his back mounted, literally screaming at the Dagestani and getting the crowd going.
The fifth and final frame opened with a touch of the gloves and a hug, before they got back down to business. Makhachev landed a left, later, Volkanovski ate a hard knee. Undeterred, he walked Makhachecv down, but in a clinch, ate more knees. Makhachev landed another takedown, but Volkanovski nearly reversed, and was able to scramble back to his feet regardless. Another takedown attempt by Makhachev was countered by Volkanovski, who wound up in dominant position momentarily after stepping across Makhachev’s leg. They were back on the feet with two minutes remaining, and Volkanovski almost landed a throw.
The end of the affair was certainly dramatic. A right hand by Volkanovski hurt Makhachev with a minute to go, dropping him! Volkanovski loaded up and ripped the body from guard. He went body-head. Makhachev was in a bad spot, on his back, hurt and tired, but the clock was his friend. Volkanovski loaded up on a few big ground strikes before the horn sounded — the pair going the full 25 minutes!
In what was unquestionably a close, highly competitive and highly entertaining fight, all three judges awarded the victory to Islam Makhachev. The crowd didn’t like it, and Makhachev had his toughest test to date — coming away with the win, as well as the possibility that the pair could meet again some day.
Retaining his lightweight title, Islam Makhachev will now have contenders like Beneil Dariush to contend with, and perhaps the winner of Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler. Volkanovski, meanwhile, will have Yair Rodriguez to face, the Mexican featherweight having won an interim title earlier in the night.
Official Result: Islam Makhachev def. Alexander Volkanovski by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)