MMA Fight of 2023: The Winner

December 28, 2023
5 months
Image of faceoff between Islam Makhachev Vs Alex Volkanovski

Sometimes, you wish the sequel had never been made. It’s hard to top the original when it’s a classic performance. During UFC 284 in February 2023, Alexander Volkanovski bumped up in weight class to try and become a double champion. Volkanovski, the long-time reigning featherweight champion, wasn’t expected to give lightweight champion Islam Makhachev much of a challenge.

Makhachev is a high-level grappler and protege of former Khabib Nurmagomedov, who worked with Makhachev on following in his likeness. While Nurmagomedov never lost a bout in the UFC, Makhachev got stung once early in his career and dominated ever since. The question was how Volkanovski could handle Makhachev’s grappling.

By the end of the fight, people were wondering who won. Because of Volkanovski’s persistence, the first fight between the two men was Boxing News’ MMA Fight of the Year. Unfortunately, this fight may not linger long in people’s memories.

When the two men rematched later in the year, Volkanovski stepped in on short notice and lost in a head-kick knockout. But the best MMA news sites show the first fight was spectacular.

Double Champion Becomes New Standard for Greatness

There is something about having champ-champ status that has fighters eager to try and add extra titles rather than defend theirs. While Randy Couture and B.J. Penn were the first two fighters to win championships in different weight classes, neither man held simultaneous belts. Conor McGregor became the first “champ-champ” in 2016 when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez to hold the featherweight and lightweight titles at the same time.

While McGregor never defended either belt, instead choosing to pursue boxing Floyd Mayweather, Jr., he kicked off a trend. Soon after McGregor became a double champ, Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight, heavyweight), Amanda Nunes (featherweight, bantamweight), and Henry Cejudo (bantamweight, flyweight) not only became double champions but defended both belts, according to MMA news sites.

Volkanovski won the featherweight championship by winning a decision over Max Holloway at UFC 245 in December 2019. He would follow up with four title defenses and was running out of contenders.

He ended up deciding to pursue adding his name to the legacy of double champions by bumping up and fighting Makhachev at UFC 284. Jon Jones, Alex Pereira, and Georges St-Pierre have also been double champions, but they didn’t hold the belts at the same time. Despite having to move up in weight, Volkanovski was unafraid to add the pounds to try and add his name to that list of Hall of Fame fighters.

Stumbling Once on the Way to the Top

Image of Islam Makhachev fighting Adriano Martins

Makhachev entered the UFC in 2015 with a 10-0 record. In his second fight in the promotion, Adriano Martins stunned Makhachev with a flash knockout. After the loss, Makhachev has to slowly battle his way up the lightweight rankings.

During Makhachev’s 24th career fight, the Russian would end up submitting Charles Oliveira in the second round to capture the lightweight title. Makhachev then agreed to fight Volkanovski on the featherweight champion’s home turf in Australia. He went into the championship fight with a 23-1 record.

Each Man Shines During the First Bout

Islam Makhachev and Alex Volkanovski Post fight picture

Looking at the stats won’t tell the story of the first fight between Volkanovski and Makhachev. Makhachev found success wrestling, landing four of nine takedowns. However, Volkanovski was active on the ground and didn’t allow Makhachev to land many strikes on the ground.

After being taken down in one round, Volkanovski was so comfortable with his defensive position he started talking trash to Makhachev’s corner. But the most stunning turn of events came in the fifth round. Makhachev was visibly tired, and Volkanovski sprawled out from a shot from Makhachev and was able to stay on his feet two minutes into the round.

Another single-leg shot by Makhachev at the midway point of the round was also successfully defended by Volkanovski. In the final minute, Makhachev pulled Volkanovski on top of him onto the mat. Volkanovski didn’t waste time.

Instead, the Australian fighter unleashed heavy ground and pound over the last 10 seconds. When the bell rang, Volkanvoski finished with a 164-95 edge in total strikes. He also finished with a 70-57 edge in significant strikes. Volkanovski also scored the only knockdown of the fight.

However, Makhachev’s control time on the ground would end up swinging the judges’ favor. Makhachev ended up winning the decision 48-47 on two judges’ scorecards and 49-46 on the other.

Rematch was Put Together and was a Dud

Volkanovski was disappointed with the decision, and some people thought he had won. While Volkanovski was eager to do a rematch, the Australian fighter would come back in July and defend his featherweight championship against interim champion Yair Rodriguez. It was a dominant performance for Volkanovski, who would earn a finish.

However, Makhachev didn’t have such an easy time getting back in the octagon. Originally, Makhachev was supposed to have a rematch with Oliviera, but he would end up getting injured during training and have to pull out. Instead, Makhachev would be stuck without an opponent for UFC 294.

Volkanvoski decided he was willing to step in on 12 days’ notice and try to get his win back. But things went worse the second time around. Volkanovski was clipped with a leg kick in the first round, and Makhachev would finish the fight with punches. There was no doubt left about the decision this time around. 

However, MMA breaking news showed that Volkanovski wouldn’t be an inactive champion. He is set to defend his featherweight title against Ilia Topuria, an undefeated top contender. Makhachev’s long-term future is uncertain.

He will definitely fight again, but nothing has been set in stone so far. Justin Gaethje and Oliveira are two top contenders that have been floated as opponents, but nothing has been signed so far.

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