In a highly anticipated featherweight clash at UFC 290, reigning champion Alexander Volkanovski sees undefeated rising star Ilia Topuria as his potential next challenger, provided he successfully defends his title against Yair Rodriguez on July 8th.
Following a razor-thin loss in his lightweight title challenge against Islam Makhachev at UFC 284, Volkanovski expressed his desire for another shot at the belt. However, the emergence of Topuria at UFC Jacksonville has captured his attention, and he believes the undefeated contender deserves a chance to face him.
While acknowledging Topuria's skills and potential, Volkanovski remains confident in his abilities.
"To be honest, again, I'm not going to say too much, obviously I think he's a good fighter. But the more I speak, the less I'm going to hype up the fight. I think he's great," the champion stated during an interview on ESPN's DC & RC.
Volkanovski's immediate focus is his upcoming title defense against Yair Rodriguez. A victory would mark his fifth successful defense and solidify his undefeated reign at 145 pounds. However, Topuria's impressive win over Josh Emmett has added fuel to the fire, with the Georgian-Spanish fighter boldly declaring his intention to dethrone Volkanovski.
While Topuria expressed interest in a potential showdown with former champion Max Holloway in Spain, Volkanovski prefers that the path to the featherweight crown remains clear for the undefeated contender. By keeping potential challengers at bay, Volkanovski aims to have the freedom to choose from lucrative matchups should he triumph over Rodriguez at UFC 290.
“I want [challengers],” Volkanovski said. “I want to be active. I was at a stage where I was like, ‘Give me No. 1 guys, give me No. 1 guys.’’
Though Volkanovski acknowledges the hype surrounding Topuria, he believes that his immediate concern lies with the formidable Yair Rodriguez, considering him a more significant threat. The champion is determined to handle business against Rodriguez first before considering any potential matchups, including a highly anticipated rematch with Islam Makhachev.
While fans and pundits discuss Topuria's status as the next title contender, Volkanovski remains focused on his upcoming challenge.
"If people think he's the next guy: bring it on. But I've got Yair to worry about," he emphasized.
As the countdown to UFC 290 continues, the featherweight division eagerly awaits the outcome of Volkanovski's clash with Rodriguez and the subsequent revelation of the next potential contender. The champion's hunger for challenges and his acknowledgment of Topuria's potential make for an enticing storyline that fans and fighters alike eagerly anticipate unfolding.
In the world of mixed martial arts, where fortunes can change with a single punch or submission, the journey toward featherweight glory remains an ever-evolving tale that continues to captivate and inspire.