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Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway Eye Fantastic Finish to Rivalry at UFC 276

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IJuly 1, 2022

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Alexander Volkanovski never imagined he'd have to fight Max Holloway three times. Once? Certainly. A second time? Maybe. But a third fight?

"I definitely didn't expect this," the Australian told B/R from Las Vegas, where he will fight Holloway again in a few days' time. "I was confident that I would win the first fight and I knew that I'd probably have to do a rematch, but to do a trilogy? Yeah. Never really thought of that."

Volkanovski first met Holloway at UFC 245 in December of 2019. He won the fight by unanimous decision, capturing the promotion's featherweight title in the process. Holloway, who had won his last 14 fights in the division, was then granted an immediate rematch at UFC 251 in July of 2020. The Hawaiian performed much better the second time around, winning the fight in the eyes of many spectators, but ultimately lost a split decision to fall to 0-2 against his Australian rival.

That’s not the typical foundation for a trilogy fight — usually, they serve as tie-breakers — but Holloway will get a third crack at the champion in the co-main event of UFC 276 this Saturday. And he is not surprised by his current position.

"If [the first two fights were] so clear-cut, we wouldn’t be here for a third time," the Hawaiian, who has beaten Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez by decision since his last loss to Volkanovski, told B/R.

Holloway's supporters have made their thoughts on his second loss to Volkanovski very clear. The consensus among the Hawaiian’s faithful is that it was a robbery.

Volkanovski has heard those criticisms, and recognizes that a decisive win this Saturday will probably silence his skeptics once and for all, but claims that is not a focus.

"I get to shut them up this weekend, but I’m not here to shut them up," he said. "It'd be good to shut them up, but that’s not why I’m doing this trilogy. It’s so much bigger than that."

"I'm here for myself, my family, my legacy, my team, to make history. I’m here for all that now."

Legacy is a word Volkanovski uses often these days. He says it is one of his main motivators ahead of UFC 276—in large part because of the financial rewards that it entails.

"I want to be the greatest because I know I can leverage that for my entire life, my family can live off that," he explained. "That's how I look at it now. That's why you bring up legacy. It's because leaving a legacy behind and having a name that you can leverage, you can look after your family for a long time with that."

Holloway also claims to be motivated by legacy ahead of UFC 276, but in a slightly different way.

"Legacy is the motivation," he said. "I just want to be remembered as one of the hardest working guys, one of the most respected guys, and a guy that encouraged and inspired guys to be great."

Volkanovski and Holloway are both counted among the greatest featherweights of all time, and it's arguable that the winner of their Saturday night trilogy fight belongs at the very top of that list.

The pair have different outlooks on the featherweight GOAT debate.

Volkanovski defers to the fans and media on such topics, while Holloway believes former WEC and UFC champ Jose Aldo—whom he has beaten twice by stoppage—is still the division’s greatest fighter.

"The guy, to me, that is the best featherweight of all time is still Jose Aldo," Holloway said. "He's got a bunch of records that nobody can touch. Until somebody can beat them, I’ll call that guy the best featherweight ever."

"Everybody's chasing that man."

One thing that Volkanovski and Holloway wholeheartedly agree on is that their Saturday title fight will cap off one of the most compelling rivalries in UFC history—a rivalry that is in league with Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier's fiery saga up at light heavyweight, according to the challenger.

"When in the last decade did you have two guys in the same weight class, in the pound-for-pound rankings—the top-half of the pound-for-pound rankings—fight each other?" he said. "The only one I can think of is DC and Jones. It's crazy. These things don't happen."

"I think it's definitely right up there," Volkanovski agreed. "We’re some of the best fighters in the world."

There is no way to know how the trilogy will end this Saturday.

Volkanovski is hoping to finish the fight, but having already spent 10 grueling rounds in the Octagon with his absurdly durable rival, recognizes that a stoppage may not be possible.

"Max is just too tough to just say I'll finish him," the champion said. "But let me put it this way: I'm going to land on that chin and I'm going to land big. If he does hold up after what I'm planning on doing to him, that's pretty incredible."

Holloway is also hoping to put an end to things with a finish, and while he admits he is feeling the pressure to capitalize on what could be his last bid for the featherweight title, he is confident he will make it happen.

"I've been in there with this guy for 10 rounds," he said. "I don't think it goes past 3."

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