Volkanovski vs. Topuria a Story of Tomorrow and Today in UFC 298 Main Event

Alexander Volkanovski and Ilia Topuria, UFC 298
Alexander Volkanovski and Ilia Topuria, UFC 298 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Longtime UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will meet top upstart Ilia Topuria in the main event of UFC 298.

There shouldn’t be reason to worry about Alexander Volkanovski.  The UFC featherweight champion since 2019 has not only won every fight at 145 pounds for the past several years, he’s looked simply unstoppable at the weight class in his last several performances.  By now you’ve heard the accolades bestowed upon him due to his success: Best featherweight ever, number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world today, and more.  To be sure, if he stepped away from the sport tomorrow his resume would still be regarded as one of the best ever seen in any era.

But things are quite different this time.  His last bout was an unusual one for him on all levels as he stepped up on less than ten days notice to rematch lightweight champion Islam Makhachev.  Even for a fighter of his stature, it was a gamble and it did not go his way as he was stopped quickly in the bout.  The aftermath raised questions as Volkanovski admitted he was struggling with the emotions of his layoff despite having stayed relatively active as a fighter.  If there was a hint that rest should have been taken, he has not followed it as agreed to make the turnaround just four months later despite the nature of his last loss.  Is “The Great” burning the candle at both ends going into his latest defense?  Perhaps only he and those closest to him know.

For Ilia Topuria, the moment is about as great as any for “El Matador” to score a life-changing victory.  The Spanish fighter by way of Georgia has performed exactly as you’d expect the next big thing would.  Posting a perfect 14-0 with six of those coming in the UFC and only looked more dominant as he’s risen through the ranks.  In his last three bouts, he’s stopped veteran Jai Herbert and the previously unbeaten Bryce Mitchell to go from prospect to bonafide contender.  Last June, he secured a title shot by shining in his first UFC main event where he delivered immense damage to perennial title threat Josh Emmett.

A multi-lingual contender who has performed like a future superstar so far, Topuria looks every bit of the part of the next face of the UFC.  It’s also an immense part of the appeal of the bout. There’s every reason to expect that regardless of the outcome of the bout, Topuria will continue to go on to bigger fights.  That makes the match with a generational talent in Volkanovski so appealing: Saturday is seen as either a passing of the torch or a reminder that the champion of tomorrow is not yet quite the champion of today.  Should Topuria pull off the triumph, however, it would poise him for an incredible 2024 given his current resume and the high profile featherweight fight coming up that would decide his next title challenger.

The route for Topuria is very straight forward should he win the title: either rematch Volkanovski or defend it against the winner between former title challengers Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez who fight next week.  Should Volkanovski retain the title, then it would raise serious questions about what he wants for his future. There will always be new featherweight contenders that make their way up the ranks to face him.  However, his goals of one day winning a title in a second weight class may prompt a move for him. As long as Makhachev is champion, Volkanovski may need to move up to lightweight more permanently to take the fights required to become the top contender in another weight class.