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Alexander Volkanovski’s second triumph over Max Holloway wasn’t nearly as clear as the first, but the Australian champion put together a strong finish to earn a contentious split-decision triumph in the UFC 251 co-main event on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi.
Of the 27 media scorecards tracked by MMADecisions.com, 18 thought that Holloway won the fight, while nine scored it for Volkanovski. Meanwhile, UFC president Dana White didn’t agree with the judging for the bout.
“Listen, man, you can’t leave it to these guys,” White said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “We’ve got some bad judging. Has Max been in here yet? I’m sure he’s devastated.”
Holloway did his best work early, buckling the champion with a high kick late in Round 1 and again with an uppercut in the later portions of the second frame. Volkanovski increased his urgency beginning in Round 3, however, as he attacked with greater punching volume while mixing in clinches and takedowns. Leg kicks were also a primary weapon, but not quite as key as they were in their first meeting at UFC 245. At the end of the bout, Volkanovski held a 137-to-102 edge in significant strikes while also landing the fight’s only three takedowns.
Regardless of the method, the City Kickboxing felt he did enough to win.
“It was a tough one,” Volkanovski said after the bout. “We expected him to make adjustments, he made good adjustments in the first two rounds. Then he did what we actually expected him too with the attacks. But his first two rounds were strong then we had to pick it up. Through the third round we picked it up. That third round was close, but we were confident we got that third round then obviously we took the fourth and fifth. Tight fight, but when the judges announced the score we thought we got the last three. Happy with the win. To win a rematch like that back to back, it says something. I’m happy to finish the chapter. On to the next.”
Volkanovski’s striking advantage increased over the final 15 minutes, and Holloway, while consistently competitive, didn’t author any signature moments as he did in Rounds 1 and 2. Volkanovski has now won nine straight UFC appearances and 19 professional bouts overall.
“I showed what champions are made of,” Volkanovski said. “This sport isn’t easy and I showed what I’m made of. Certain champions can dig deep like I did. I’m proud I did and got the job done and can bring this [belt] home to Australia to my friends and family.”
The disputed nature of the verdict made some question whether a trilogy could be in store. However, Volkanovski is 2-0 against the Hawaiian featherweight, so he believes it would take some work for “Blessed” to get another title shot.
“You never know,” Volkanovski said. “Obviously, he’s got to go through the rankings system now and I don’t think the first fight was close. This was probably closer than the first fight but again, I got he job done. Doesn’t matter. I feel like I showed I’m the best fighter in the world even today. I believe I finished that chapter. I don’t know where he goes from here, I don’t know if he wants to move up or whatever. But I did what I needed to do.”
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