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Ollie
Ollie

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Beating The Best with Alexander Volkanovski

Alexander Volkanovski faced Max Holloway for the third time at UFC 276 and proved himself levels above the former Featherweight champion. In their previous outing, Volkanovski struggled with the shorter stance of Max as well as his kicks along the fence. Volkanovski found success in the first fight with his leg kicks, forcing Max to change stance midway through.

The intrigue of this bout comes from both fighter's expertise at adaptation. Holloway's camp prepares him excellently for individual opponents and the fighter himself executes these styles effortlessly, notably shortening his stance in the second fight against Volkanovski to mitigate the leg kicks that troubled him in their first meeting. Whilst Volkanovski's team are also excellent in preparation, Volk's brilliance is most prevalent in making mid-fight adjustments. In his title fight with Brian Ortega he entered the fight overswinging and being countered in the seconds he was out of position. However, Volkanovski was able to pull himself back and patch the hole. In the rematch with Holloway, Volk was able to claw back the last 3 rounds by making defensive adjustments as discussed by Dan Albert here

Changing Pace

In the trilogy fight Volkanovski put on the performance of a lifetime; showing off a beautiful duality of his early days as a heavy swinging clinch-fighter together with his later contender run as a more considered, technical point-fighter. At UFC 276 Volkanovski embodied the point-fighter with a punch, slick and technical in his exchanges whilst cracking Holloway with huge power shots when the openings arose.

Letting Max Holloway find a rhythm proved disastrous for Featherweight contender Calvin Kattar who suffered the probable worst beatdown in UFC history at the hands of Blessed. To stop Holloway finding his groove was imperative for Volkanovski and he executed the neutralisation perfectly. Max entered exchanges with his front leg raised in an effort to close the distance without eating one of Volkanovski's patented leg kicks, something he did with success in the second fight. However, this time Volk was prepared for it and simply backed up until the leg returned to ground before kicking it all the same. Volkanovski coupled these with occasional stabbing kicks to Holloway's lead leg, forcing Holloway to slide back.

Volkanovski kicking Holloway's leg after Holloway attempts to close the distance with the raised knee

Volkanovski kicking Holloway's leg after the retreat

The feinting game of Volkanovski was on point as ever, constantly showing a jab and low kick as well as hand-fighting to keep Max tentatively guessing. These feints wouldn't be nearly as effective without Volkanovski's real strikes which were present, pumping out feeler and power jabs meant to deal damage. The low kicks of Volkanovski were also varied in their power, slapping low kicks annoying and interrupting Holloway whilst his more powerful ones were there to hurt. Volkanovski chained feints into his combinations, showing 2 or 3 different looks in his advance before committing to what he wanted to land.

One of Volkanovski's merits is his use of the southpaw stance despite rarely actually fighting out of it. After an exchange, Volk would often switch stances for a few seconds before returning to his orthodox. During this time he would hand-fight or feint, mounting no offence. The effect of this stance switching was, in reality, to keep Holloway thinking. Switching stance presents a fighter with a whole host of new angles and weapons, thus the opponent with an equal amount of defensive adjustments to make. The brilliance of this tactic is that Volkanovski never had to attack from southpaw but instead used it as yet another method of preventing Holloway from finding a rhythm, a tactic of breaking pace and forcing his opponent to make a mental note of a dynamic change. Once this note had been made, Volkanovski was already working from his orthodox stance again.
Volk using the southpaw stance to break momentum

Volkanovski using the Southpaw stance to break momentum

If Max did find himself in a rhythm, Volk was happy to stand his ground and box into a strong over-under clinch. This broke the pace whilst putting Volkanovski into an area of the fight he's been proficient in since the beginning of his UFC career. Volkanovski was clearly stronger than Holloway in the clinch, controlling him in most every aspect. When Holloway was able to slip away, Volkanovski felt it coming and landed powerful elbows including the spinning elbow along the fence that he used often in his earlier days.

Volk's spinning elbow

Volkanovski spinning out of the clinch with an elbow


Putting It Together

Stopping Max's momentum wasn't all that Volkanovski had to do, however. To win this fight he had to land more significant offence and land he did. Volkanovski took advantage of Holloway's upright stance with a homing missile of a right overhand set up by the aforementioned jabs and feints. The utilisation of the right overhand also worked for Volkanovski because of how lead-heavy Max is, rarely opening with a right-handed shot. Volkanovski was able to time this overhand over the top of much of Max's offence and in once instance open a large cut above Max's left eye.

Volkanovski's Big Right Hand finding the mark

Volkanovski setting up and landing his right overhand

The right overhand had other purposes than simply damage. The threat of the overhand forced Holloway to enter exchanges crouched over so as to slip the right. This not only broke Max's momentum but also allowed Volk to punish this predictable entry. Once Max had shown his hand with this new entry, Volkanovski began to lead with the left hook and punish the hunched fighter. Sometimes he chose to use the threat of the right hand as an entry to a right body hook against the now exposed ribcage of Holloway. As Holloway began to use this crouched position as an entry to body shots of his own, Volkanovski even employed uppercuts. Volkanovski ultimately managed to keep Max struggling to find a way out of this dilemma, unable to avoid the overhand without being hit by something else.

Holloway ducking to avoid the right overhand

Holloway dipping into an exchange, anticipating the right overhand

Volkanovski managed his distance masterfully. He stayed out of range of the taller fighter and closed the distance with speed and accuracy unseen against a fighter of Max's calibre. Volk's evasiveness was not only a result of his speed but his acknowledgement of Max's lacking right-handed lead. The Australian circled towards his left (Max's right) and thus kept himself safe from much of Holloway's offence. Holloway clearly recognised this during round three. For my money, his best round was the fourth as he pelted Volkanovski with rear roundhouses and spin kicks angled towards where Volkanovski would circle. Whilst none did significant damage, the kicks landed clean or against a hasty guard as Volk was forced to adjust. By the end of the fourth, however, Volkanovski had adapted to this changing strategy and begun circling to his right when he noticed Holloway setting up these strikes. In the fifth, Volkanovski had thrown together a consistent guard to block these kicks using his left hand to block the right side of his face. and his right arm to block his body. Volkanovski went on to dominate on the scorecards, winning a clear 50-45 across the board

Volkanovski's right-side guard

Volkanovski anticipating the left kick, then adjusting to block the right kick

"What now?"

At this point I'd like to take a stand somewhat. There is no #1 contender at 155. Islam Makhachev is coming off of wins over short notice Dan Hooker and Bobby Green. Poirier and Gaethje are coming off of title losses. Chandler hasn't done enough to earn the shot and Conor is still out of action. Likewise, there is no clear contender at 145, with Josh Emmett's claim to a title fight being weak at best. Meanwhile, both Charles Oliveira and Alexander Volkanovski have defended their titles in dominant fashion, showing extreme technical prowess each time. Volkanovski has proven incredibly difficult to submit and Oliveira has shown smart and powerful striking. Both match up in a martial arts fan's dream. Alexander Volkanovski vs Charles Oliveira for the vacant lightweight title is absolutely the fight to make and both men have earned the challenge and legacy that this fight will bring.

Alexander Volkanovski is the best Mixed Martial Artist alive and competing. After this performance against another legend in his prime, it is nice to see him finally receive some of the credit for it. The chance to become a two-division champion should be granted.

Discussion (15)

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gerryblake profile image
Gerry

Thank you for posting this, its such a good write up. Just reading this post has motivated me into another watch of the main event this evening, I think ill watch it differently now.

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Author

I got intimidated after watching it the first time to be honest. I found it tricky to figure out why Max just couldn't get going but after a while of pausing all the exchanges and really taking some time I think I managed to get down what Volk was actually doing to break Holloway's rhythm

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lee profile image
lee

Agree, ive rewatched it again based on this post and I cant get over the confidence Volkanovski shows early on, like there is zero chance of Max getting anywhere near him. Even when hes talking to him during one of the first big exchanges.

An absolute masterpiece from Volkanovski, I feel like the best is yet to come and a match up against Charles is mouth watering

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Author

It really does feel like him and his team know Max inside and out after spending 50 minutes in the cage with him and having a decade of footage to study.

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lee profile image
lee

Yeah totally, I heard similar comments ref Adesayna, sooo much footage to study of him now..

Theres something about Alex.. theres something different about his durability and cardio. Its weird, I cant quite put my finger on it, like its almost at fantasy athlete level. Never seen him hurt, never seen him tired, never seen him look vulnerable. Imagine facing that for 5 rounds.

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Author

See I feel a little bit differently there, because he got dropped by Mendes and Max and almost choked out by Ortega. For me it's his constant ability to adapt in the fire. You do see these little flashes of weakness but it's his ability to overcome them almost instantly that puts him a level above for me

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lee profile image
lee

He's seems like a different fighter now though, his game has levelled up so much since those fights, like from 10 - 1000.

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Author

Yeah I feel like he started his career as a bit of a wrestler with a right hand and then over time developed a technical game but wasn't as confident in loading up. He's put them both together since Max II and has looked pretty unstoppable apart from that moment in the Ortega fight. Max had some good adjustments in the trilogy and still Volkanovksi looked unbothered and ahead

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lee profile image
lee

It's interesting watching the Mendes fight again, like to cloned fighters going at it.

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Author

Yeah they really are, they're so similar at that point

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Author

Also really appreciate that bro! Very proud of this one and it's great to be able to get people to rewatch it with what I've said in mind. Shows that I'm writing something worth saying

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lee profile image
lee

Ill comment on this a bit later, its a superb post but just wanted to pop by and say that Dana would be proud of you pushing up those rewatches youll be getting PPV points next

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anirbularee_571 profile image
Anir Bularee

I thought Max was having a bad day at the office, it was only when I read this that I know that Volkanovski jacked his car, reset his alarm, fucked up his breakfast and ate his homework before he even got there.

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lee profile image
lee

He also deflated his tyres before he even woke up

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lee profile image
lee

Well worth a listen when youve time Olly