Alexander Volkanovski brought an end to the "Blessed" era in the featherweight division with a unanimous decision win over Max Holloway in the co-main event of UFC 245 in Las Vegas.
The Australian challenger took home the belt thanks to a steady diet of leg kicks and the willingness to exchange with Holloway in the pocket. Over the course of five rounds he was able to outpoint the longtime featherweight champion.
Both fighters held to form in the early going. Holloway, infamous for slow starts, conceded the first round as Volkanovksi got off to a strong start. The Hawaiian particularly struggled with his opponent's leg kicks and it was clear that the Australian had done his homework on the champion.
That trend continued in the second round as Volkanovski's persistent leg kicks moved Holloway to southpaw. The Hawaiian found some rhythm in the latter half of the round, but Volkanovski's stick and move gameplan limited Holloway like few have been able to do.
Volkanovski's leg kicks continued to be a story as he successfully disrupted the champion's attempts to get into a rhythm. His constant use of the strike kept Holloway from doing what he does best and prevented the champion from getting comfortable once again.
While the first three rounds were mostly strategic chess fighting, the fourth round had a little more brawling flavor. Both opened up as they became more comfortable exchanging with one another which led to some wild attacks from both.
Ultimately, Volkanovski's early disruption of Holloway's rhythm early and the toughness to weather the storms in the latter half of the fight were enough for him to get the nod from the judges.
Volkanovski takes over as the UFC champion in a similar fashion to Holloway in 2017, when he defeated Jose Aldo for the belt. The Australian earned his shot after compiling 17 consecutive wins, with seven of those coming in the UFC Octagon.
Now, he earns his spot atop the division by ending a dominant champion's reign. As Holloway took the belt from Aldo, Volkanovski has ended a legend's run with the strap.
Going forward, the immediate question will be how the UFC handles Volkanovski as the champion. In most cases, a champion of Holloway's caliber will get an immediate rematch, but Blessed's recent loss to Dustin Poirier means he's been on the losing side in two of his last three fights.
For now, Volkanovski is just glad people will know his name. He hasn't been the most hyped fighter leading up to the bout, but leading up to the fight, he knew a win would earn him some recognition with the fans, per Brian Campbell of CBS Sports:
"[Casual observers] don't know a lot. There is a lot of people who do understand, but whether they understand as much as we understand, I do not know. They know that I am definitely a test for Max, and come Saturday night after i get the job done, with the opportunity that I'm in right now, I could be a superstar overnight. All of those casuals will probably jump aboard, and they will know exactly who I am and know I am a big deal."
After dethroning a champ of Holloway's caliber, Volkanovski should have no problem being recognized the next time he anchors a big-time card.