Alexander Volkanovski came up agonisingly short in his bid to become a dual-weight champion at UFC 284, suffering a narrow decision loss to Islam Makhachev on Saturday.
Australian Volkanovski entered and exited the RAC Arena in Perth as featherweight champion, but the lightweight title eluded him as 155lbs champion Makhachev secured a unanimous-decision win in enemy territory.
Volkanovski had promised to disprove doubters who had claimed he was too small to compete with Makhachev, and the 34-year-old did just that, standing almost every time he was taken down – as he had said he would – reversing grappling positions along the fence, and staggering the Russian with punches.
One such strike landed early in Round 1, leading to a raucous reaction from the Perth faithful as Volkanovski shouted, “Let’s go!” at the defending champion. However, Makhachev – without coach and childhood friend Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner – responded to the right cross by dropping Volkanovski to a knee with a hook. Makhachev then relied on his greatest strength, his wrestling, to take down the Australian and control him for the remainder of the round.
A closely-contested second round ensued, in which Volkanovski dropped Makhachev with a hook, forcing the 31-year-old to scramble for a single-leg takedown. Although the Russian secured it, Volkanovski stood up against the fence. As in the first round, however, Makhachev fired back by wobbling his opponent – this time with a left hand.
Volkanovski was able to regain some momentum in the third round, before Makhachev produced a perfectly-timed, double-leg takedown after luring his challenger into a slow stint of striking. While Makhachev held down Volkanovski for the rest of the round, the final minute saw both fighters trading numerous punches on the mat, as the Australian barked at the Russian – to the delight of the Perth crowd.
Remarkably, in the fifth frame, Volkanovski almost took down the grappling specialist, before flooring Makhachev one last time with a stiff punch that set up an enthralling final minute. Volkanovski entered Makhachev’s guard and poured punches onto the lightweight champion to round out the fight.
Many present in the arena felt that Volkanovski had done enough to dethrone Makhachev, but the scorecards read 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 in the Russian’s favour. In fact, Makhachev will have likely dethroned Volkanovski as the UFC’s pound-for-pound No 1 fighter come Monday morning, having entered UFC 284 at No 2.
In the co-main event, Yair Rodriguez claimed the interim featherweight title with a second-round submission of Josh Emmett, establishing himself as the next challenger to Volkanovski at 145lbs.
Full UFC 284 results
Islam Makhachev (C) vs Alexander Volkanovski (featherweight champion) (lightweight title)
Yair Rodriguez def. Josh Emmett via second-round submission (triangle choke, 4:19)
Jack Della Maddalena def. Randy Brown via first-round submission (rear naked choke, 2:13)
Justin Tafa def. Parker Porter via first-round knockout (1:06)
Jimmy Crute vs Alonzo Menifield ends as majority draw (29-27, 28-28, 28-28)
Modestas Bukauskas def. Tyson Pedro via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Josh Culibao def. Melsik Baghdasaryan via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 2:02)
Kleydson Rodrigues def. Shannon Ross via first-round TKO (0:59)
Jamie Mullarkey def. Francisco Prado via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Jack Jenkins def. Don Shainis via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Loma Lookboonmee def. Elise Reed via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 0:44)
Blake Bilder def. Shane Young via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Elves Brenner def. Zubaira Tukhugov via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)