LAS VEGAS (AP) — Alexander Volkanovski has already beaten Max Holloway twice in UFC featherweight title fights, and that still wasn’t enough to settle this rivalry.
That’s a measure of the excitement the first two fights generated between these two exciting strikers. It also illustrates the sport-wide respect for Volkanovski, the Australian with a 21-fight winning streak, and Holloway, Hawaii’s former 145-pound champion.
In addition to being brilliant fighters, they are two much-loved guys in a sport with some unsavory characters.
Volkanovski and Holloway head back to UFC 276 on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip, each hoping to round out this trilogy with a statement win.
“It’s a legacy fight,” Holloway said. “We’re on the higher end of the pound-for-pound ranks, and these fights don’t come up very often. People are calling us the main event on this card, and that says a lot about how good this fight is.”
The biggest event of the summer of mixed martial arts promotion is spearheaded by Israel Adesanya’s fifth middleweight title defense against Jared Cannonier. The UFC’s typically stacked Fourth of July weekend card also features Brazilian kickboxing star Alex Pereira against middleweight contender Sean Strickland, along with the return of Robbie Lawler, Suga Sean O’Malley, Jim Miller and Uriah Hall.
But the most compelling matchup is Volkanovski (24-1) against Holloway (23-6), who held the featherweight belt from 2016 until Volkanovski took it from him in December 2019 with a relentless tactical performance. Holloway lost to Volkanovski for the second time in Abu Dhabi in July 2020 in a wafer-thin decision.
There aren’t many rivalries that extend to three fights when the first two fights weren’t split, but this is no ordinary rivalry. Volkanovski has defended the title twice since that second fight with Holloway, while Holloway defeated Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodríguez in a pair of thrillers to stay in the best position to reclaim his title.
“It’s the biggest fight I could do right now,” Volkanovski said. “Everyone wants to see it, and that’s it. I give him credit. He was stubborn. He says, “Nobody can take that number 1 contender away from me.” He stood there and took out all the boys and didn’t let them shoot at me, and now he’s got the chance. Good of him. That’s exactly what I would do in the same situation.”
While Holloway and Volkanovski exchange verbal jabs like any top contender, there is a clear respect between the two greatest featherweights in UFC history, unnamed Jose Aldo. Holloway has been gracious about his second loss and made sure no one thinks he agreed with the decision in which he beat the champion in each of the first three rounds and then fought a dogged fifth.
“If you look from the first fight to the second, I’m two different fighters, and these will be different fighters again,” Holloway said. “I have to spend 50 minutes with this guy, 10 laps with this guy. This one, he will be blessed if we go above three (rounds).”
Holloway’s formidable chin kept him upright against Volkanovski’s might, but Holloway absorbed a daunting amount of cumulative damage over 25 fights during his first decade in the UFC. Volkanovski believes he can end this rivalry by becoming the first opponent to register a knockdown from Holloway.
“If I could take that chin and stick it out, that’s really making a statement, because nobody has done that,” Volkanovski said. “He takes damage. It can’t last forever, but let’s see if it holds up in this fight because I’m going to take some big hits. Let’s see if that legendary chin holds up.”
Volkanovski and Adesanya are teammates at City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand, where Adesanya (22-1) went from kickboxing star to MMA champion.
He is a firm favorite to defeat Cannonier (15-5), who earned his first UFC title at the age of 38. Cannonier has an impressive run of five wins and one narrow defeat to ex-champion Robert Whittaker in the past four years.
Adesanya has been talking about Cannonier as a future opponent for years, but he still expects to extend his title regime in the main event at UFC 276.
“His fighting spirit and its essence, I recognize that, for I am an empathy myself,” said Adesanya. “I can kind of feel the energy of a great man and a great fighter. I love taking care of these guys, and I saw that in him early on. I tried to boost him early on. He fell short once, then came back and proved his worth as the next contender.”
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