Beneil Dariush was caught off guard by Alexander Volkanovski’s statement that he is not Charles Oliveira’s official replacement against Islam Makhachev. But for the UFC featherweight champion, there’s nothing wrong with his position.
“If he’s watching, I’m not playing any games,” Volkanovski said on Wednesday. MMA hour of the UFC 280 backup booking. “Maybe they told you that you could be very early, whether it was a few months ago that his manager had this conversation saying that you will be , and he just assumed he was and hasn’t looked into it since, I don’t know. But my corners are flying. I get paid for this, all that stuff. It’s locked. I’m not playing any games.”
Volkanovski searched for the backup position for several months but said it was confirmed after his doctor cleared a hand injury sustained in his previous bout, a featherweight title trilogy against Max Holloway at the ‘UFC 276. For the past month, he has been in full preparation to fight either Oliveira or Makhachev at the pay-per-view event on October 22. Wrestling and submission savvy sparring partners such as Craig Jones alternate impersonations of Oliveira and Makhachev from round to round.
“A lot of people didn’t think it would be doable, including the UFC doctor,” Volkanovski said of his recovery. “But I was like, ‘No, we’re going to get there.'”
Dariush, who is set to face Mateusz Gamrot on the main card of UFC 280, wondered aloud if Volkanovski or the UFC were “playing games” with the switch. The booming lightweight suffered an ankle injury that forced him to pull out of a fight with Makhachev at UFC Vegas 49, but he said he was ready to face Gamrot or serve as reserve fighter in the headlining title fight.
From Volkanovski’s perspective, the decision is to avoid a delay in his two-title aspirations. He believes that if Oliveira or Makhachev are unable to fight at UFC 280, they will have the next title opportunity. That could leave him set back two title cycles at a time when he wants to go broke as a two-time champion.
Volkanovski, the featherweight and pound-for-pound fighter ranked No. 1 in the MMA Fighting World Rankings, could have demanded Oliveira’s winner against Makhachev. But he said the back-up move only guaranteed him the first possible opportunity.
“I don’t think many people in my position would do what I do,” he said. “I didn’t want to just walk around and have everyone say, ‘What’s going on?’ I wanted them to know that no matter what, I’ll be there to save the day, or I’m leaving anyway. Either I’m going to have to step in or I can see some good fights at UFC 280. .
“If anything, I didn’t tell them, ‘I want to wait, you should give me this.’ I told them: ‘I want to be a substitute.’ They didn’t tell me to do that, I told them.
Volkanovski also expects him to get the fight if the UFC 280 main event isn’t certified as a title fight. Oliveira notoriously missed weight by half a pound and was stripped of the belt ahead of his previous fight, a scheduled title defense against Justin Gaethje at UFC 274. After defeating Gaethje, Oliveira was then booked against Makhachev in a bout for the vacant lightweight. Title.
While Volkanovski doesn’t expect either fighter to miss this opportunity, he can’t see the UFC continuing with a non-title fight.
“If somebody misses the weight, I’m going to be in it,” he said. “What’s the point of doing this if this person who lost weight wins, and the belt is still vacant. I do not know. I don’t know if it’s in the contract or what, I’m just focused on training, and I’m breaking my ass. But I think it’s pretty clear that if someone is missing weight, that opportunity is taken away from them.