By far, the biggest stories from UFC 232 were Amanda Nunes’ unbelievably dominant win over Cris “Cyborg” Justino, and Jon Jones’ title-claiming victory over Alexander Gustafsson. But featherweight Alexander Volkanovski also made a noteworthy splash with his second-round, TKO-win over career-contender Chad Mendes, and the victory has set the Aussie up for a potentially promising 2019.
Heading into his featherweight showdown with Mendes, Volkanovski was one of UFC 232’s most popular underdogs following his unanimous-decision win over Daren Elkins. But without question, Volkanovski’s upset victory over Mendes is the most significant win of his career. After defeating the former title challenger, the promising 145-pounder called-out reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway, and further explained his unexpected call-out while speaking to the post-fight media.
“I called out Max Holloway, not because I think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m definitely next in line.’ [Renato] Moicano was probably next in line, but he missed weight,” said Volkanovski [via MMA Junkie]. “I’m hearing a lot of people say, ‘What’s left for [Holloway] in this division?’ He hasn’t fought a wrestler, really, for awhile–a good, strong wrestler and a big puncher. Until he takes out someone like me or Frankie Edgar, then you can say he’s took out everybody in the division. I really think that.”
While Volkanovski definitely looked like a top-five talent at UFC 232, and his 6-0 mark in the UFC can’t be dismissed, other than Mendes, he hasn’t really beaten anyone of consequence. In a division that’s currently occupied by featherweights like Edgar, Moicano, and Brian Ortega, an Octagon resume consisting of wins over Mendes, Elkins, Jeremy Kennedy, Shane Young, Mizuto Hirota and Yusuke Kasuya, isn’t likely to qualify Volkanovski for a title shot anytime soon.
However, Volkanovski has every right to be optimistic about his future in the Octagon. According to the UFC’s latest featherweight rankings, the Aussie now shares the No. 4 spot with Moicano, and defeating a top-five contender such as Mendes could give Alexander “The Great” a shot at any of those three previously mentioned 145-pounders.
A win over either of those top-five featherweights would probably be enough to give Volkanovski a shot at the division’s current king. After losing both of his bouts with Holloway, second-ranked Jose Aldo is trapped and temporarily out of the title picture. But Edgar bounced back from his devastating, knockout-loss to Ortega with a unanimous-decision win over seventh-ranked Cub Swanson, and is currently campaigning for a crack at Holloway’s crown.
Although many believe that Holloway’s future now lies in the lightweight division, a bout with Edgar at 145 pounds makes sense for both fighters. Recently, Edgar’s manager–Ali Abdelaziz, told MMA Fighting why he believes that “The Answer” is a very bad match-up for the reigning featherweight champion.
“I believe if Frankie takes Max down–and he will–Max will not get up, because he tried to play guard and [play guard on the ground against Ortega]. Frankie will probably try to put a hole through his head. That’s what Frankie will do to him, Frankie is the right guy for that fight. This is the fight that Max should be asking for right now,” said Abdelaziz.
Clearly, Edgar has a strong case for the next featherweight shot at Holloway–and that’s not good for Volkanovski. With Moicano likely to only take a bout against one of the division’s elite, and Ortega’s long list of intriguing options, the Aussie may find himself facing someone like Swanson, or possibly anyone currently ranked between 5-10.
If the matchmaking Gods chose to smile on Volkanovski, he’ll be squaring-off with either Edgar or Ortega in his next visit to the Octagon. But the waters are deep and dangerously murky atop the UFC’s featherweight division, and if Volkanovski is planning to truly takeover in 2019, he must prove that he can swim with the sharks.