Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway put on an equally entertaining affair on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 251 In a rematch of their high-speed chess duel eight months ago. The glaring difference this time around was the respective roles they played as Holloway came out strong before Volkanovski rallied late. Luckily for the native of Australia, the decision was the same.
Volkanovski (22-1) closed the gap in the mid rounds and relied on his accuracy and well-timed takedowns to edge out competitive rounds down the stretch and defend his UFC featherweight championship via split decision inside the Flash Forum on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Two judges score the bout 49-48 for Volkanovski, while the third had it the same for Holloway. CBS Sports also scored the fight 49-48 for Holloway. The victory was the 19th consecutive for Volkanovski, who moves to 9-0 in the Octagon.
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"It was a tough fight, but he stood there and didn't really take a backward step," Volkanovski said. "He made it tough for me in the early rounds. I really couldn't use the kicks like last time. It was 2-2 heading into the last round and a close fight."
Holloway (21-6) looked every bit the opposite of how he started their first meeting last December when he came out as the aggressor and used leg strikes and push kicks to control the pace and cleanly secure the opening rounds. But for as great as Holloway looked in making adjustments, the fight was likely won in a close third round that was fought on even terms.
The third round began with a flying knee strike from Hollloway, but Volkanovski slowly began to get inside on the longer fighter without paying too much of a toll to do so. Volkanovski mixed in left hooks and stiff jabs to work his way back into the fight.
"I'm always going to play with what is in front of me because I'm an all-around fighter," Volkanovski said. "I couldn't really use the kick because my leg was sore from the last time. He's tough and he is a gamer, we are both hard workers but I got the job done. Much respect to Max, even though we had words and he was trying to get in my head."
Volkanovski's boxing continued to carry him through a close Round 4 which saw him score a key takedown late and bloody Holloway's nose. The 31-year-old champion then appeared to edge the final round by pushing the pace and relying on his boxing.
Despite the loss, Holloway outlanded Volkanovski in significant strikes by a margin of 152 to 144.
The loss drops the 28-year-old Holloway to just 1-3 in his last four bouts, all title fights. It came on the heels of a 13-fight win streak that led Holloway to the 145-pound title and a trio of successful defenses.
"We had 10 rounds and I was able to dominate through that," Volkanovski said. "Sure, he won some rounds, too, so credit to him. This is the fight game, so prepare for the worst. I wanted to finish him early but couldn't that done."
For complete results and recaps of UFC 251, head over to our guide for the event