Another Contender Turned Back
Alexander Volkanovski successfully defended his belt against Yair Rodriguez at featherweight. His failed attempt at the lightweight belt only served to make him better, because the disparity between his skills and the rest of his home division just keeps getting bigger. His greatest challenge at 145, Max Holloway, looked so outmatched in their last fight that the calls for them to fight again are few and far between. The newest challenger, Yair Rodriguez, succumbed to Volk’s superior game less than fifteen minutes into their fight. With Volk’s almost literal stranglehold on the feather weight division, what’s next for the champ?
Volkanovski v Rodriguez – image, MMA Fighting
An Ever Expanding Repertoire
Volk’s game has evolved greatly since just a few years ago. In the second Max Holloway fight, you see Volk taking center of the cage and entering the pocket with strikes. His last title defense against Yair, he didn’t throw a strike until he got him to the ground. The threat of Yair’s striking is prominent, but it’s arguable that he poses more of a striking threat than Max Holloway.
It’s apparent that Volkanovski had a big jump up in grappling for the Islam Makhachev fight. This is attributed to his working with Craig Jones. Craig Jones is widely regarded as the second best no-gi submission grappler in the world. Working with Craig Jones gives Volk, an already gifted athlete, an edge like no other. Craig Jones.
Volkanovski v Makhachev– image, Yahoo Sports
Alex’s grappling isn’t the only thing that’s been evolving. Volkanovski has never been immune to taking big shots. He was dropped in two of the Holloway fights, but in the third he avoided all critical damage. In the Yair fight, stats say he landed 40 strikes of 80 attempted, but I only remember Yair getting one clean combo in the third round before Volk beat Rodriguez into the canvas. Yair did land some effective elbows from the ground and clinch, slicing Volk’s head open.
Volkanovski v Makhachev – image, South China Morning Post
A Gripping Surprise
I’m not the only one that was surprised by Volk’s mechanics on the ground in his fight against Islam. By the championship rounds of his fight for the 155 belt, Alexander had a path to victory and was neutralizing everything the Dagestani was trying. That fight is easily one of my picks for Fight of the Year. Not only is Volkanovski’s performance amazing, but Islam’s striking showed itself to be on an elite level. I’ve said this before, but Islam gets unfairly compared to Khabib in the fact that they are teammates and both elite wrestlers. Islam far outpaces Khabib’s level of striking and showed that in his only title defense, so far.
With Yair, who has a dangerous Jiu Jitsu game and has many submissions off of his back, Volk just dragged him into hell. Yair kept busy with as much defense as he could muster, but Volk had too many problems for him. Volkanovski was able to flatten Yair out and completely nullify his length advantage through grappling. Alex has had more than enough practice doing that to lankier contenders. Fun Fact! Volk hasn’t fought someone his height since Chad Mendes in 2018! And he beat that guy’s ass, too!
Too Early For the GOAT Talk?
Since there have been only four men to hold the 145 belt, Greatest of All Time discussions are pretty short. Every single champion in Featherweight has a claim to that title. Volkanovski just keeps making his case stronger. I think him moving to lightweight can cement that status, and with his evolving skill set, it’s entirely plausible he captures that bag.
Alexander Volkanovski – image, Eurosport