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Why Conor McGregor could hold the key to answering big Volkanovski mystery

Saturday night was about legacy for Alexander Volkanovski, an opportunity to cement his place alongside the legendary Jose Aldo as one of the best featherweights the UFC has ever seen.

The Australian champion did just that, outclassing Max Holloway to leave absolutely no doubt over his place at the top of the division.

“This will be the day that he truly etched himself in the record books,” recently-inducted UFC Hall of Fame member Daniel Cormier said.

“He will have done it in a way that there will be no more questions.”

That is not entirely true though.

The one question everyone had after Volkanovski’s latest statement was – what’s next?

What more is there for Volkanovski to achieve, having so comfortably dismantled the man who was supposed to be the biggest threat to his stranglehold over the featherweight division?

Well, Volkanovski had already been vocal on his desire to move up to lightweight and compete for double-champ status and post-fight on Saturday he doubled down on it.

“Max Holloway is an absolute beast,” Volkanovski said.

“I just proved to you that I want to be in this octagon as much as possible. I want to be busy. I want to move up and go for double champ and I’ll keep two divisions busy.

“Charles [Oliveira], whoever gets that belt, no disrespect, I’d love to move up, get that double champ status.”

But does Volkanovski deserve an immediate shot at the lightweight title, irrespective of whether Oliveira gets the belt or not?

The Australian certainly thinks so, telling reporters at Saturday night’s post-fight press conference that his masterclass against Holloway was proof enough.

“Of course I do,” he said.

“I don’t need to fight anyone. I’m a dominant champ taking out guys like Max Holloway three times. Who has really looked like that against someone like Max Holloway?

“He’s on the pound-for-pound list, you don’t get to see this very often, you don’t get to see someone dominate someone who’s so high on the pound-for-pound list, considered one of the greatest featherweights of all time. To think I don’t deserve to just move straight up [and compete for the title] would be pretty silly.”

That did come with a disclaimer from Volkanovski, who admitted the hand injury he suffered in the second round against Holloway could prevent him from getting back into the octagon soon enough.

If Volkanovski’s injury is not as serious as first thought though, what could his path to a shot at the lightweight crown look like?

Well, a lot of that comes back to what Oliveira does.

The former UFC lightweight champion is guaranteed the next shot at the belt after his recent submission win over Justin Gaethje.

In case you missed it at the time, the Brazilian was stripped of his title ahead of his fight with Gaethje at UFC 274 after failing to make weight.

But all indications are that Oliveira wants to fight Conor McGregor, who is still recovering from the broken leg he suffered last year against Dustin Poirier.

“I think I deserve to choose and I’m choosing Conor because of everything I’ve done to make some money for my family and for everything,” Oliveira said last week.

“If I’m going to choose, I’m choosing Conor. The UFC hasn’t told me anything yet. I want to fight by the end of the year, but if it’s at the end of the year, really, I would prefer to fight in January in Brazil, if that event happens.”

What makes this interesting is that if Oliveira does want McGregor that bad, he could be willing to give up an immediate fight for the title to do so.

Conor McGregor is nearing a return. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Conor McGregor is nearing a return. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

After all, it is hard to see Dana White and the UFC agreeing to catapult McGregor directly into a shot at the title in his first fight back after a long injury layoff.

That in turn could see Volkanovski go for the title against Islam Makhachev, who is on a 10-fight win streak with his most recent victories coming against Thiago Moises, Dan Hooker, and Bobby Green.

Michael Chandler and Poirier could also stake their claims for a shot at the title, although Oliveira has already taken care of both of them to build an 11-fight win streak of his own.

So it may make more sense to give two completely new guys a chance to go for the crown, although Oliveira hinted that he would consider fighting Volkanovski for the title first before turning his attention to McGregor.

“The champion has a name, it is Charles Oliveira,” Oliveira told Fox Sports Australia on Saturday night.

“If he wants to go up, I’m here. He needs to think about it because it’s a different challenge for him. It’s a different division but I’m here, I’m the champ.”

Of course, no one truly knows when McGregor will return to the octagon, casting further doubt over what Volkanovski’s next move could be.

What is next for Alexander Volkanovski? Carmen Mandato/Getty Images/AFP
What is next for Alexander Volkanovski? Carmen Mandato/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

For the moment though, there is still every chance the UFC does not give Volkanovski an immediate shot at the lightweight title.

As dominant as he may have been against Holloway, the lightweight division is stacked full of worthy title contenders, headlined by Makhachev.

Volkanovski may be on a win streak of his own but Makhachev has done it in this division and waited long enough for his chance, so he will likely get the first shot at Oliveira should he not fight McGregor.

As for what that means for Volkanovski, the Australian would then face the winner of Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez’s fight in a fortnight in another featherweight title defence.

Josh Emmett has also been vocal in saying that he deserves the chance to take it to the champion, but at this stage the winner of Ortega vs. Rodriguez looks more appealing.

There could be another wildcard option though.

Former UFC champion Henry Cejudo shared an embrace with Volkanovski after the fight on Saturday and had an interesting challenge for him.

“This is all competition, man,” Cejudo said.

“If an Olympic gold medal to UFC belt ain’t enough, man. I just wanna compete, Alexander. As a competitor, I respect it. Congratulations on number 1.

“I just wanna know how far that I can take it. And I always wanted to challenge you.”

Volkanovski replied “let’s see what happens”, prompting Cejudo to respond back: “I hope we can make something happen”.

Whether Volkanovski has the time to wait for Cejudo to decide whether or not he would move up to 145 pounds remains to be seen.

If Volkanovski was to be given an immediate chance at the lightweight title, his coach Eugene Bareman told Submission Radio in June that Oliveira is “definitely the more difficult match-up”.

“Oliveira has a more well-rounded skillset, so there’s more to deal with,” Bareman added.

“I mean, Islam’s got good stand-up, but that just depends on who you are looking in… I just think Oliveira would be a more well-rounded skillset for Volk to deal with.

“Whereas Islam, perhaps we could narrow a couple of things down and concentrate on those few things. Which is easier said than done, because just like in much the fashion of Khabib, Islam excels.

“He may only do one or two aspects of the sport really, really well, but he does them at the highest level. So, that’s the difficulty.”

Volkanovski said on Saturday night that he would be looking to defend belts in both divisions simultaneously, should he capture the vacant lightweight championship down the track.

The Australian also plans to remain around the same weight without too many adjustments, a decision which coach Bareman said Volkanovski will be more than capable of making work.

“Every single person, doesn’t matter who you are, what experience you have, he grabs you and you feel something different,” Bareman said.

“It’s a different feeling from anything that I’ve ever felt from someone of that stature. And I think the lightweight guys still feel that. Look, I got middleweights and light heavyweights that feel it.”

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