The two best fighters in the UFC squared off in the main event of UFC 284 from Perth, Australia, when Islam Makhachev (24-1), the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter and the recently-crowned lightweight champ, did just enough to retain his title with a unanimous decision victory over Alexander Volkanovski (25-2), the current featherweight champion and the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
Makhachaev and Volkanovski spent the first minute testing their range, with the crowd erupting at Volkanovski’s first strike. The challenger sent Makhachaev stumbling backwards with a huge right hook, straight left combo. Makhachaev stood and traded hands with Volkanovski, dropping the challenger to a knee before earning the takedown against the cage. Makhachaev took Volkanovski’s back with less than a minute remaining in the first with his back against the cage, cranking on the challenger’s neck before the buzzer signaled the end of the round.
Unfazed to this point… #UFC284 pic.twitter.com/WDJEYun6BX
— UFC (@ufc) February 12, 2023
Volkanovski was incredibly active, refusing to let the champion control the pace. Volkanovski jumped in and dropped Makhachaev with a combination, but the champ earned a takedown and looked to swing the momentum. Volkanovski twisted out of control on the ground and made his way back to his feet, landing a glancing knee to the head on his way out. Makhachaev hurt Volkanovski with a straight left that sent the challenger backwards, but he was able to recover to throw more big shots of his own. Things slowed down a bit for Volkanovski, as Makhachaev looked to control the pace, walking the challenger backwards toward the cage. Volkanovski ended the round in dominant position, controlling the Thai clinch against the cage.
In the third, both fighters refused to give up any ground, as they traded shots while circling each other. An inside leg kick caused Makhachaev to stumble, as he went back to the Thai clinch and then transitioned the challenger to the ground. Makhachaev took Volkanovski’s back yet again, but he made his way back to his feet and turned into the champ against the cage. They traded bombs on the break, again refusing to give an inch in the evenly-matched bout.
To begin the championship rounds, Makhachaev’s southpaw stance gave Volkanovski problems before earning a takedown just two minutes in to the round. Makhachaev took the challenger’s back as he tried to make his way to the cage, locking his body up and wrapping his arms around his neck, effectively running out the clock on the round.
In the fifth and final round, Volkanovksi knew he needed to win the round to even have a shot at winning the fight. He continued to press forward, looking for any opportunity to cause damage. Makhachaev cut him with a shot to his left eye and Volkanovksi fought out of two takedown attempts. With two minutes to go, Volkanovski emptied the tank, throwing everything he had and earning a takedown of his own. Volkanovksi sat Makhachaev with a big right hand, then jumped on top and tried to end the fight with less than a minute to go. Volkanovski postured up and landed bombs before the bell sounded for this fight to go the distance. Two judges scored the fight 48-47 in favor of the champion, while one scored it 49-46.
Makhachaev submitted Charles Oliveira in October last year, taking care of the former champion in just two rounds. His win capped a meteoric rise that saw Makhachaev fight three times in 2021 and twice last year en route to becoming the top dog in the division.
Volkonovski’s resume heading into Saturday night may have been even more impressive. Wins over José Aldo and Max Holloway kicked things off in 2019, with victories over Brian Ortega and the Korean Zombie mixed in. He hinted at returning to featherweight for his next fight, with Yair Rodríguez winning the interim title earlier in the show.