Alexander Volkanovski explains struggle ‘to pull the trigger’ in Islam Makhachev rematch
Alexander Volkanovski barely got out of the gate at UFC 294 before Islam Makhachev shut the door on him.
The top two pound-for-pound fighters in the world clashed for a second time in Saturday’s main event in Abu Dhabi, and once again it was Makhachev who emerged victorious, successfully defending his lightweight title with a first-round knockout of Volkanovski. Makhachev defeated Volkanovski via unanimous decision this past February at UFC 284 and again had to face the featherweight champion when Volkanovski stepped in on short-notice for an injured Charles Oliveira.
Volkanovski lost for just the third time in his career and only the second time by knockout. At the evening’s post-fight press conference, he spoke about the sluggish start that led to a disappointing result.
“I felt strong,” Volkanovski said. “I felt strong in there, but obviously I’ve been telling you I want to put some hands on him and whatnot. I wanted to pull the trigger, but it just felt a little weird in there, that little bit hesitant, which I didn’t expect. It was like I was waiting for something. I was like, ‘I’m going to go, I’m going to go,’ and then he got me.”
Asked to explain why he may have hesitated in the cage, Volkanovski wasn’t quite sure how to respond.
He accepted the fight on less than two weeks’ notice, but refused to blame loss on a lack of preparation time. Clearly emotional, Volkanovski went on to explain his motivation for jumping on the opportunity under less than ideal circumstances, citing a restlessness that plagues him between bookings.
“I’m not going to sit there and make excuses,” Volkanovski said. “Obviously, I’m a big believer in preparation and stuff like that, but I back myself. That’s the decision I made. I’ve probably made decisions — I could have made better decisions. He’s not somebody you should be taking a short-notice with, but I needed it.
“A lot of people will say it’s for the money and all that, but it was much more than that. It is hard for athletes — I never thought I’d struggle with it, but for some reason when I wasn’t fighting or in camp, I was just doing my head in. I needed a fight and this opportunity came up. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t training as much as I should have, but I thought I had to do it. I had to take it. I’m telling myself, ‘It’s meant to be.’ I was struggling a little bit not fighting, doing my head in. 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. So that’s why I just ask the UFC to keep me busy, I need to be keeping busy, I need to be in camp; otherwise, I’m going to do my head in.”
Volkanovski was prompted to elaborate further, specifically on why he felt inactivity was causing him such stress. Again, he alluded to deeper issues, though he didn’t say exactly what problems he might be dealing with outside of competition.
“It’s weird, [it’s not that] I never believed in that stuff, I never got it,” Volkanovski said. “It was something that, I don’t know, maybe the more and more I learn about it, the more I understand. I don’t know, it was different. It was a decision I chose. I talked about us having a smile on my face, me and my wife. My wife could see it does get hard, I don’t know why. I think it was just so much going on with the surgery and then the baby, I just needed to get in camp. Then this fight comes up, it’s meant to be, let’s do it. I thought that’s what it was but maybe it was just a silly decision under the circumstances.”
Prior to signing on for the Makhachev rematch, the gears were in motion for Volkanovski to defend his featherweight title against Ilia Topuria at UFC 297, which takes place in Toronto this coming January.
During fight week, Volkanovski maintained that he was still planning to fight both Makhachev and Topuria, but on Saturday he admitted that he needs time to consider his next move.
“I need to train, I need to get into it,” Volkanovski said. “It keeps me healthy, so it needs to happen. Obviously, we need to see. I don’t think I’m too concussed, to be quite honest. I’ll probably have to wait a while to do things, but I’m OK. I’m obviously just hurting.”