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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Crooke’s Cage: Requiem for the Aussie

Rachel Choi
Illustration Rachel Choi

For over four years, Alexander Volkanovski’s reign in the UFC featherweight decision felt like it was going to last forever. Sure, we knew he would eventually drop the title, but as long as Volkanovski had it, we’d be sure to hear Men At Work’s “Down Under” once every few months before a title fight. In most cases, Volkanovski was the safe bet. While I didn’t get to watch the first two fights of the Max Holloway trilogy and the Brian Ortega fight through 2021, I was introduced to MMA’s favorite short, bald Australian through his matchup with the Korean Zombie during UFC 273, just 25 pay-per-view events ago. 

After UFC 273 on April 9, 2022, I was fully on the Volkanovski train. Even though he’s shorter than most of his divisional counterparts, Volkanovski made up for that in the form of raw power and explosion with his striking and grappling, alongside a constant itch to fight and “stay busy.” In some ways, though, it came back to haunt him in the most important moments of his career. 

During his first lightweight title challenge against Islam Makhachev in February 2022, Volkanovski openly admitted that even though he was looking out for Makhachev’s grappling, he might not have looked hard enough at the Russian’s striking. Even though it was almost a unanimous decision barring one judge, everyone knew from that fight that the possibility of a double champion Volk was still on the table—even if a rematch was thought to be a year down the line at a minimum.

I’m sure you could imagine my reaction sitting at my internship last fall when Dana White broke the news: Charles Oliveira is out of UFC 294, and Volkanovski is coming in on ten days’ notice. The rematch with Makhachev was happening. While Volkanovski fans expected a title victory like Michael Bisping’s championship-winning knockout in 2016, the harsh reality would set in miles away from the Al Khatim Desert where Volkanovski would not reach his double champ oasis. Makhachev would end Volkanovski’s lightweight title window in minutes, with the Aussie’s lights going out just three minutes into the first round. 

For the first time, UFC fans saw Volkanovski limp on the ground, showing what happens when you fight the best on ten days’ notice: it won’t be enough, and Volkanovski’s itch to stay busy may be a bad thing.

Most fighters would probably take a good amount of time off to recover from a knockout, as extended exposure to head trauma—especially with a significant amount of technique and force—can and will take years off of anyone’s life. But, in typical Volkanovski fashion, he’s back in four months, acting like nothing happened. Throughout fight week, the narrative was simple: Ilia Topuria had not earned his title, yet was attempting to call the shots, a la Conor McGregor. And the similarities lined up: going into their title challenge, both fighters were 6-0 in the UFC up to that point. 

Topuria claimed Volkanovski was an “old man,” which Volkanovski would play into at the press conference. Topuria decreed that should he become champion, former challengers such as the aforementioned Ortega and Holloway, as well as former interim champ Yair Rodriguez, would not get title shots. Of course, this makes sense. The UFC is not a sport for old men. But the outspoken and brash Spaniard was met with a stoic, and even joking, champion. 

The story seemed to be writing itself: Volkanovski beats the odds and erases the zero in Topuria’s record. Volkanovski wanted to break the narrative that fighters over 35 couldn’t win a title fight. The overall record for those fighters to that point was 2-31, with Volkanovski having one notch in the loss column with his rematch against Makhachev.

For the entire fight, Volkanovski was keeping pace with Topuria and had even started to put visible damage on the challenger as, two minutes into the second round, blood was beginning to stream off of Topuria’s nose from a cut near his eyelid. The clock was ticking. Both men were trading exchanges, equally committed and terrified at the prospect of missing their best shot. But three and a half minutes in, Topuria fed his right knuckle straight into the champion’s jaw.

For the second time in four months, Volkanovski was lifeless on the floor, the victim of another vicious knockout.

For the first time in four years, the challenger for the featherweight championship prevailed.

With this loss, City Kickboxing now has no more champions, and with it goes an era. Israel Adesanya and Volkanovski lost their titles in the last five months, a stark contrast to the possible three titles the Australian gym would’ve had last year had losses turned into wins. But MMA is a sport of absolutes, with one being that Father Time comes for everyone, and no one can stop him. Volkanovski would perpetuate the “old men in title fights” narrative with this appearance, making the total record 2-32.

To say that this title run should be appreciated would be an understatement. To put this in perspective, Topuria has just become the fifth undisputed featherweight champion in UFC history, an elite company including Volkanovski, as well as McGregor, Holloway, and Hall of Famer Jose Aldo, the latter of which is considered to be the greatest featherweight of all time. Volkanovski’s run has inserted him into the GOAT conversation with Aldo, and while this loss certainly puts a disappointing end to a legendary title reign, no one can deny what Volkanovski did for the featherweight division, especially being a fighting champ while the world shut down. 

While it will be weird seeing Volkanovski in regular fight gear rather than a champion’s gear, Volkanovski has nothing left to prove besides that he’s still got it, and with an automatic rematch in Spain being brought up by White and Volkanovski, it’s entirely possible we get the second two-time featherweight champ. While time heals all wounds, can it heal the sting of two straight knockout losses? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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About the Contributor
Aidan Crooke
Aidan Crooke, Staff Writer, Sports
Aidan Crooke (he/him) is a sophomore sports communications major hailing from Lenoir, North Carolina. Crooke's work focuses on the UFC, NBA, and NFL, mainly in his work with Crooke's Cage. Outside of the Beacon, he can likely be found at a MMA gym or being an active member of Emerson Esports.

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