Why Alexander Volkanovski May Have Lost The UFC Title Already

Ilia Topuria snatches Alexander Volkanovski's belt.

UFC Ilia Topuria snatches Alexander Volkanovski's belt.

Combat sports superstition suggestst the UFC championship title may be changing hands Saturday when Alexander Volkanovski puts his featherweight belt on the line for a main event match against rising MMA star Ilia Topuria.

Volkanovski and Topuria headline the UFC 298 pay-per-view show that ESPN is broadcasting from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on February 17.

Volkanovski has fought in nothing but UFC title fights since December, 2019, when he won the 145-pounds championship after out-pointing Max Holloway at UFC 245 in Las Vegas.

Though Volkanovski is the champion, Ilia Topuria has already gotten his hands on the title.

On Wednesday, one of the UFC’s social media channels on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, showed Topuria with Volkanovski’s belt already around his waist.

Topuria looked pleased at the time, like he had won the actual title. Later, as Volkanovski enters the room, he said: “May as well make the most of it, eh?” To which Topuria responds that he was simply taking “a couple pictures.”

Though Volkanovski finished by saying, “take pictures now because you won’t have it after,” history suggests that may not be true.

Watch the exchange right here:

Topuria’s rise in MMA bears similarities to that of Conor McGregor as a brash personality who secured a championship match after six unbeaten fights at the start of his UFC career.

Prior to McGregor’s title shot against Jose Aldo in 2015, he famously yoinked the Brazilian’s featherweight title, and held it aloft like he had already won it.

This infuriated Aldo, and he went on to lose to McGregor because of a 13-second knockout.

It happened again in another combat sport — boxing — when Andy Ruiz Jr. wore Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight boxing championship belt prior to their first title fight in June. Joshua lost that belt by way of seventh-round knockout.

Topuria got his hands on Volkanovski’s title a second time at Thursday’s final pre-fight press conference as he, like McGregor did, grabbed Volkanovski’s title.

If history repeats itself, Topuria will knock Volkanovski out Saturday night and get to wear the UFC championship for real.

Age May be a Factor

Another factor in this match that could see the belt change hands is one Volkanovski has played up to throughout fight week — age.

As veteran combat sports reporter Kevin Iole recently noted on his website, there have been 19 featherweight title fights in UFC history since Jose Aldo won the belt in 2010.

“The younger fighter has won 13 of those 19 bouts,” Iole wrote, “and a fighter who was over 35 in a featherweight title bout has never won, going 0-2.”

Though he’s confident of doing so, the 35-year-old Volkanovski will have to buck that trend if he is to retain the title after his five-round fight with the 27-year-old Topuria.

Weight Matters, too

Another factor is weight, and why that matters.

Volkanoski has been bouncing between weight classes in recent fights as in his last four matches, he out-pointed Max Holloway once again in 2022 in a featherweight fight, before challenging Islam Makhachev for the UFC lightweight championship in his next bout, but losing, in 2023.

Volkanoski managed to bounce back from that defeat with a knockout win over Yair Rodriguez later that year, the Australian returned to lightweight a second time but again came unstuck to Makhachev as he, this time, lost by knockout in October, 2023.

The fight with Topuria is his first since that knockout defeat.

We have seen numerous examples of fighters losing their shine in their traditional weight class when rising to another division.

Most notably, after winning a version of the heavyweight championship in boxing, Roy Jones Jr. in 2003 and 2004 dropped down two weight classes to return to light heavyweight, and went 1-1 with Anthonio Tarver — losing the second bout by knockout.

He was never really the same fighter, and lost six of his next 11 bouts.

One of the all-time great UFC featherweights, Volkanovski has the chance this weekend to add to his legacy if he snaps the combat sports omen, bucks the age trend, and can re-establish his dominance in his traditional weight class.

But, as things stand, it’s like Topuria has numerous advantages — and it may be his fight to lose.

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