Volkanovski and Makhachev face off Saturday night in a highly-anticipated champion vs. champion bout at UFC 284, which takes place at the RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. Makhachev is not only a heavy betting favorite to successfully defend his lightweight belt, he also carries a significant size advantage into the 155-pound bout. At 5-foot-10, Makhachev is four inches taller than Volkanovski and will likely be the much heavier man on fight night — a fact he’s consistently reminded Volkanovski of in the lead-up to the bout.
But that’s nothing new for MMA’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. He revels in the challenge.
“I’ve been short my whole life,” Volkanovski said recently on The MMA Hour. “Actually, I wasn’t short my whole life — when I was 12 years old, I was actually one of tall kids, but I just stopped growing then. But nah, man, I was short in my last fight against Max [Holloway], I was short against ‘Zombie’ [Chan Sung Jung]. I was short when I was a welterweight, I was short when I was a lightweight, I was short when I was a middleweight. I was short when I was a rugby league player, when I was playing in the front row — I was very short for that position I played, semi pro. Even the representative teams that I played for, I was always short.
“And that never mattered. It never mattered. People say I’m short and all of that, but I guarantee when they play me or when they’re in the octagon with me, or when they’re training with me, no one says I’m undersized. And if they do, they’re going to be embarrassed by how well I did against them or how much I kicked their ass.
“Whether [Makhachev] really feels like either, ‘This guy is just too small, he’s going to be weak,’ and all that type of stuff — he’s going to be in for a rude shock. But I think he’s got a pretty clever team to understand that I ain’t no pushover. But he does think that, he’s going to have a wicked surprise.”
Volkanovski, 34, may be a heavy betting underdog, but as he said, he’s no easy mark. He’s undefeated in MMA since 2013 and is a perfect 12-0 in the UFC — a run that includes four combined wins over former champions Holloway and Jose Aldo.
Volkanovski’s accolades crested in 2022 when he overtook Kamaru Usman to become the unanimous No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Now he’s seeking to become just the seventh simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history.
Volkanovski has his work cut out for him, though. Makhachev has been one of the UFC’s most dominant fighters since 2016 and rides an 11-fight win streak of his own.
“I’m the type of guy that will prepare accordingly to whatever is in front of me. He is a high-level grappler, high-level wrestler. Again, I’ve got to put in my head that I’ve got to expect to be taken down, right?” Volkanovski said. “If I don’t get taken down, alright, yeah, there’s a good chance I don’t get taken down. My movement, my takedown defense is on point. But mentally, I need to prepare for that. I don’t want to sit there and tell told myself it ain’t going to happen — all of a sudden then you start panicking. No, I prepare myself for the worst every single time. Every time, no matter who I’m in the octagon with.
“With someone like Islam, I need to capitalize on the feet,” Volkanovski added. “I need to make stuff happen. Usually, you’ve got to worry about someone’s only chance of winning is a puncher’s chance, and you try to take that away from them. Let’s be real with Islam: He doesn’t just have a puncher’s chance. I fight a bad fight, he could win a decision, he could win a submission. There’s there’s more more ways to winning for someone like Islam. So we know where he wants to take it and I know where I need to capitalize, so that’s why you’re going to see me very dangerous on the feet. And really, when I say capitalize, you’re going to see me really, really want to hurt him on the feet.
“So I really do believe that I can get a finish, even though he is a great fighter, I have nothing but respect for him, but just where my head’s at right now and what I need to focus on, what I need to do, especially in certain positions, that’s why I feel like I can definitely hit the finish. But I’m mentally prepared for 25 minutes of hard work.”
Volkanovki’s hope is for UFC 284 to serve as the start of a busy year. He wants to get either three or four fights in for 2023, and he plans to stay active at both featherweight and lightweight once he shocks the world and upsets Makhachev to because a two-division UFC champion. Volkanovski said he needed extra time to bulk up and pack on some extra weight for the unique challenges Makhachev presents, but now he’s ready to bounce back and forth between the two divisions, starting with returning to featherweight to take on the winner of UFC 284’s co-main event: Josh Emmett vs. Yair Rodriguez for the interim title.
“I don’t think the person who’s holding the interim belt is going to want to wait too long, so I want to keep both divisions busy,” Volkanovski said. “I promised that and I’m going to do my best to make sure that happens. I’m a man of my word, I always have been, and I wouldn’t be where I am without all that. That’s just the type of guy I am.”