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Alexander Volkanovski plays down Ilia Topuria threat despite UFC fans’ fears

Many fans think the featherweight champion is returning to the ring too soon after a knockout loss

Alex Pattle
Combat Sports Correspondent
Thursday 07 December 2023 11:15 GMT
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UFC champion Alex Volkanovski opens up on mental health after loss

Alexander Volkanovski has played down the threat that Ilia Topuria could bring to UFC 298, despite fans’ fears for the featherweight champion.

Volkanovski suffered a knockout loss to Islam Makhachev in October, while challenging the lightweight champion on short notice. Volkanovski, who stepped in on less than two weeks’ notice, was stopped by a head kick in Round 1 – eight months after losing to Makhachev on points.

In his post-fight press conference in October, a tearful Volkanovski revealed that he had struggled mentally between fights, suggesting that he must stay active in order to feel settled. “I was struggling a little bit not fighting, doing my head in,” said the Australian, 35. “I don’t know how; everything’s fine, I’ve got a beautiful family. But, I don’t know... I think you just need to keep busy. I need to be in camp, otherwise, I’m going to do my head in.”

Many fans were therefore sceptical last month, when the UFC announced that Volkanovski will defend the featherweight title against Topuria in February. Topuria, who is of Georgian descent but also represents Spain, has a 14-0 professional record with 12 stoppage wins. The 26-year-old’s power has been on display with three knockouts in his last five wins, leading fans to express concern for Volkanovski.

Volkanovski, however, has suggested that it is Topuria who is rushing into the fight – not “Alexander The Great” himself.

“I think he may be [getting] rushed,” Volkanovski said on The MMA Hour on Wednesday (6 December). “That doesn’t mean I’m not saying he’s good. He could be as good as he’s saying, he could be as good as what everyone’s saying, but he hasn’t been able to prove that yet.

“Maybe in February you show me that, but until then – until you’ve [fought] someone at this level – it’s just the same Ilia turning up to all these fights. I just haven’t seen that elite stuff yet.

Ilia Topuria is 14-0 as a professional with 12 stoppage wins (Getty Images)

“I’m not trying to knock him when I sit [here]. It’s just: You’d think the way he’s carrying on, that he’s knocking out everybody or no one wants to fight him – like, literally the way I got to the title. You’d think he’s just doing what all these other guys [have done], which he hasn’t.

“And again, it doesn’t mean he’s not elite; he might be in the gym. He looks like he’s durable, tough, fundamentally very [good] in all aspects of the game. He probably gets a lot of guys in there [in the gym], he’s probably always going to be a hard round for these guys. So, he’s going to be tough, even if he wants to train with guys a little bit bigger, like I do myself.

“But then there’s going to be levels where you need more than just needing to be fundamentally sound. Like, he thinks he’s going to be able to out-wrestle me. With just the proof [of] what I’ve seen? He needs to show more than what he’s done with the wrestling, a lot more, if that’s going to be a threat. Submission-wise, a lot more.”

Volkanovski’s only losses as a pro have been his two defeats by Makhachev this year and one at welterweight in 2013, meaning he is still unbeaten in his preferred division of featherweight. Between his losses to Makhachev, the Australian stopped Yair Rodriguez in Round 3 in July.

Meanwhile, Topuria last fought in June, dominating Josh Emmett to secure a decision win. In his previous fight, “El Matador” submitted grappling specialist Bryce Mitchell in December 2022.

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