The Australian was vaulted into the main event at UFC 294 after Charles Oliveira‘s decision to withdraw from his fight against Makhachev (24-1), after suffering lacerations above his right eye in the final stages of training camp.
Volkanovski (26-2) wasted no time in accepting the challenge, even though it means just 11 days to prepare for what is shaping as the biggest fight of his career. But while many are focusing on the negatives of such a short training camp, the 35-year-old featherweight champion believes there are plenty of advantages to his eleventh-hour call up.
“Everyone points out all the cons, and there’s a lot of them, but there’s definitely pros at the fact it’s such short notice,” Volkanovski told ESPN. “The fact that I’m fresh, mentally and physically, is going to be unreal. I haven’t had the pressure all camp. I haven’t had the pressure of going through all these gameplans. Fighting is the easy part [and] I get to go out there and literally do this easy, fun part.
“Preparation, it ain’t fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’m disciplined, I’m going to do it. If you see me train during camp, that’s hard work. But I didn’t have to drain myself with all of these injuries. I get to go out there with not a mark on me, fresh as a daisy.
“I’ve never had such a clear vision to what I’m going to do in there, which seems weird because I’ve had such a short amount of time. [In other fights] I’m preparing for the worst. I don’t have time to prepare for the worst and I’m nailing in on what I need to do. If there’s anyone that can take this fight on such short notice, it’s me, and when I go and get my hand raised, everyone is going to be looking at this as a blessing. ‘Eleven day-notice Volk’ is a dangerous man.”
Makhachev and Volkanovski produced one of the fights of the year when they stepped into the Octagon at UFC 284 in February. After five highly entertaining and bruising rounds it was Makhachev who received the judges’ nod, albeit in a close unanimous decision. The loss was Volkanovski’s first in a decade.
Volkanovski has since returned to winning ways with a third-round TKO of Yair Rodriguez at UFC 290 in July. It was the Australian’s fifth successful featherweight title defense; the second most in division history. Meanwhile, Makhachev has been inactive, and next weekend’s fight in Abu Dhabi against Volkanovski will be his first since getting the better of the Australian in Perth.
“I’ve had him on my mind a fair bit,” Volkanovski said of Makhachev. “There’s definitely plenty of things I take away from [the first fight]. There was a lot I can do differently, and I knew that even while I was in the Octagon. I know what I need to do. Islam, I’m coming off the couch, you better do something about it because it’s going to be an absolute nightmare for you.”
Despite the result when they last met, ESPN has Volkanovski ranked as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, with Makhachev at No. 2. But working against Volkanovski is the fact that no fighter in UFC history has won a division title after being a replacement on such short notice.
“That’s just another thing I can say I’ve done and nobody else has; that excites me even more,” Volhanovski told ESPN. “I’ve proven time and time again that I ain’t just your average fighter. I’ve got that belief in me. The bigger the challenge the more it gets me fired up. I don’t know if it’s an ego thing, but I know I’m the right man for this job.
“If I go out there, take this risk and things don’t go to plan, me getting that shot again is gone. There’s a lot on the line for me, but if I go out there and do what I plan on doing, we’re talking the legacy taking a massive rise. You’re really separating yourself from the rest. You’re really doing things that no one would do. I’m in a position where I get to prove I’m that guy. I guarantee I get to shock the world next week.”