The mood surrounding Alexander Volkanovski’s rematch against Max Holloway at UFC 251 has been in stark contrast to his first fight against the Hawaiian fighter.
Yes, this time around he’s champion – but the Wollongong-based star still has a chip on his shoulder like he never won the featherweight title at the end of 2019.
Many within the sport debated whether the Australian got the job done the first time, with several pundits and fans questioning the decision win. They said Volkanovski’s win wasn’t convincing enough to unseat Holloway from the top of the division.
Holloway fanned the flames of uncertainty around the win when he told MMA Fighting: “I didn’t ask for the rematch. I didn’t need to. He asked for it.”
Volkanovski said he felt disrespected in the aftermath of the win and vowed to “finish” the former champion in their next fight.
But why would a fighter want a rematch against the same guy if he felt he won the first time?
“Everyone talks about big money fights and moving divisions and I’ve always said I don’t care about that,” Volkanovski told Wide World of Sports. “I’m more about the ranking system – whoever is next in line deserves it, that’s how I’ve always been.
“Rankings do matter for me. Right now there is no clear number one and that’s why Max is getting it as well – there isn’t anyone else yet. All the top contenders are fighting each other soon, so we will have clear contenders very soon.”
The complexion of UFC 251 changed dramatically when Brazilian Gilbert Burns was ruled out with COVID-19, leaving the company in a precarious position with its first card on Fight Island.
With the Kamaru Usman v Burns fight in jeopardy, the UFC moved to elevate Volkansovski’s title defence to the main event. That would have put the bout “in its rightful place”, according to the Aussie, but plans changed again.
Jorge Masvidal, the man who was initially meant to fight Usman but couldn’t come to terms with the UFC, was reinstated at the top of the card after negotiating a new contract for the fight.
The Cuban-American star engaged in a war of words with the company over pay, hammering the UFC for its revenue split with the fighters. He took his gripe with the company to the UFC’s broadcast partners, ESPN, giving an interview on its flagship show SportsCenter, bemoaning the company’s 82 per cent overall revenue take.
Masvidal’s call for more money echoed the concerns of other big fighters in the promotion, namely Jon Jones and Conor McGregor, who also challenged boss Dana White about the lack of equality in the distribution of pay-per-view sales.
Many thought Masvidal’s star in the company would fade after such a move but desperate to keep the UFC 251 main event alive, White gave in to Masvidal’s demands, giving him six days to shed over 20 pounds to make weight before the fight.
Volkanovski said Masvidal is a “star” of the sport and deserved to be compensated.
“The UFC’s pushed him, he had back-to-back knockouts, he has the BMF belt – he’s a star,” Volkanovski said.
“So he should be paid like a star. The negotiations didn’t go to plan he’s been vocal about that. Like I said, this is a crazy sport, it ain’t like other ones.”
Masvidal spoke openly about fighters coming together to form a union – something that’s been floated for the past 20 years. Volkanovski acknowledged the uproar from fellow fighters about more pay but said most had few options.
“The way things are going at the moment with all these guys it looks like they’re being more vocal and they want something to happen. I guess there has to be eventually,” he said.
“Another thing that makes it very difficult for the sport even outside the UFC – the local scene – you gotta love this sport because it is not very financially forgiving. It is a process. It is hard work. It is a lot.
“Obviously the opportunity is better when you get in the UFC – is it fair in comparison to other standards? Probably not. But compared to what we’re used to and what other opportunities we have, that’s what makes it hard.
“A lot of people want to knock Conor McGregor. He’s done some silly things but at the same time he’s put fighters in a position where we can still show our worth.
“He’s been able to give people an opportunity to see; ‘well have a look at these standards we want a piece too,’ you know what I mean?”