UFC 298 preview: After 2 losses, champ Alexander Volkanovski fights to stay on top against Ilia Topuria

Although Volkanovski has lost twice in the past year to lightweight champ Islam Makhachev in two failed bids to become a two-division champion, the 5-foot-6 Australian veteran is still perfect in the weight class that suits him best.

Published : Feb 17, 2024 12:56 IST - 3 MINS READ

FILE - Alexander Volkanovski (L) in action.
FILE - Alexander Volkanovski (L) in action. | Photo Credit: AP

FILE - Alexander Volkanovski (L) in action. | Photo Credit: AP

Alexander Volkanovski wore a flat cap and old-man glasses to his news conference for UFC 298 this week, poking fun at the persistent notion that the 35-year-old kingpin of the featherweight division is headed into his golden years.

Unbeaten challenger Ilia Topuria is only eight years younger, yet he also played into his prescribed role as the upstart challenger when he impishly snatched the UFC championship belt off the table in front of Volkanovski at the same news conference, setting off a mild skirmish.

Topuria is profoundly confident he will end Volkanovski’s four-year reign at 145 pounds on Saturday night at Honda Center, but the champ isn’t ready to shuffle off to retirement anytime soon.

Although Volkanovski has lost twice in the past year to lightweight champ Islam Makhachev in two failed bids to become a two-division champion, the 5-foot-6 Australian veteran is still perfect in the weight class that suits him best. He heads into the main event of UFC 298 with a chance to prove he’s still got plenty of fight in him at featherweight.

UFC 298 fight card: 
UFC Featherweight Title fight: Alex Volkanovski vs Ilia Topuria
Middleweight (Co-main): Robert Whittaker vs Paulo Costa
Welterweight: Geoff Neal vs Ian Machado Garry
Bantamweight: Merab Dvalishvili vs Henry Cejudo
Middleweight: Anthony Hernandez vs Roman Kopylov

“That’s why this is the perfect fight coming off what happened,” Volkanovski said. “Everyone has seen me at my lowest. Now I get to bounce back and fight this undefeated prospect. Everyone thinks, like, I’m 35. All these narratives. Beautiful. It’s a perfect story.”

The UFC’s first pay-per-view show in the vast Southern California market in 25 months features former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker’s long-delayed meeting with Paulo Costa in the penultimate bout. Former two-division champion Henry Cejudo also takes on bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili, while strawweights Mackenzie Dern and Amanda Lemos headline the preliminary card.

Volkanovski (26-3) could become the first fighter in UFC history to make two successful title defenses after losses if he beats Topuria (14-0), the German-born Georgian who trains in Spain. Volkanovski followed up his first loss to Makhachev with a dominant victory over Yair Rodriguez last July.

As evidenced by his busy schedule, few champions in recent mixed martial arts history have been more active or more fearless than Volkanovski. This bout will be his sixth in less than two years, and he claimed this week that he would love to jump on the landmark UFC 300 card on April 13 after he makes quick work of Topuria.

ALSO READ | UFC 298: Brazil’s Paulo Costa promises to unveil ‘new self’ in battle against Whittaker

Volkanovski’s multilingual, multitalented challenger does not lack for confidence of his own, however.

In his Instagram biography, Topuria lists himself as a UFC “World Champion,” even though hasn’t won the belt yet. Topuria underlined his confidence this week by repeatedly speaking of Volkanovski in the past tense.

“I’m better than him everywhere,” Topuria said. “I see myself knocking him out in the first round. ... He’s going to stay in the featherweight books for a while, sure. He will be remembered as one of the greatest in the featherweight division. He was a great champion.”

Topuria is a gifted fighter, but he has never faced an opponent like Volkanovski.

At his best, Volkanovski applies arguably the grittiest striking pressure in the sport, kicking and punching opponents into the fence with a relentless motor. That attack requires much more than a high work rate, however; Volkanovski succeeds by optimizing the timing and distance in his strikes, and Topuria has never faced a fighter with the champion’s level of precision.

“I won’t be surprised, and you shouldn’t be surprised, if I make it look easy,” Volkanovski said. “I’m not saying that’s exactly how it is. I’m not cocky like that. I’ve prepared properly. But if he doesn’t land a punch and I rag-doll him and make him look like nothing in there, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

Streaming/telecast information
When and where can I watch UFC 298: Volkanovski vs Topuria live?
Watch UFC 298: Volkanovski vs Topuria on 18th February 2024 from 8:30 AM IST onwards LIVE on Sony Sports Ten 1 SD & HD, Sony Sports Ten 3 SD & HD (Hindi), Sony Sports Ten 4 SD & HD (Tamil & Telugu).
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