The last time Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway faced each other was on ‘Fight Island’ and in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of course that meant one thing: there were no fans.
It’s very different this time and if Volkanovski didn’t already know, he would have done it after Thursday [local time] press conference at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
From the moment the UFC featherweight champion walked to the podium to every time he opened his mouth, the pro-Hawaiian tormented Volkanovski with a chorus of boos.
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Even as Holloway urged the crowd to “let him have it,” Volkanovski only spoke louder, projecting his voice and gesturing to the audience with a defiant message.
“The booing, everything, the energy all here,” Volkanovski said, “I love it.”
“I feed on it. Bring it on.”
This is not how most people expected Thursday’s press conference to go.
Sure, Sean Strickland can take you in a million directions with a single sentence, while Israel Adesanya always has a verbal jab or two in his pocket.
But Volkanovski and Holloway are different.
Even Volkanovski told Fox Sports on Wednesday that there is no “bad blood” between the pair, that this trilogy is not the product of an intense rivalry deeply rooted in hatred.
It’s just the case of two fiercely competitive fighters trying to cement their legacy at the top of the featherweight division.
Holloway, in particular, has been calm and collected all week, not getting too caught up in the drama and even suggesting that Khabib Nurmagomedov was referring to Volkanovski’s cooking show when he said the Australian has more fire than him.
That all changed on Thursday at the T-Mobile Arena, whether that was Holloway simply standing up to the cameras and pro-Hawaiian fans or an attempt to “get inside Volkanovski’s head,” as the champion put it.
It started with a literal mic drop moment, as Holloway said: “This guy [is] Speaking of a three-peat… this guy doesn’t even have three highs in the UFC.”
“Max came to play”, responded a surprised Volkanovski.
It didn’t end there either – Holloway was just getting started.
Volkanovski spoke earlier this week about how “incredible” it would be to be the first person to destroy Holloway’s “legendary chin”.
Holloway has suffered a lot of damage in the past and that word – damage – is “all” he has heard from the media leading up to Saturday’s fight.
In this case, however, Holloway said the equation is surprisingly simple.
“I’m known for taking damage and he’s known for not giving it,” Holloway said.
To which Volkanovski fired back: “We’ll see Saturday night.”
“That’s why you can’t spar anymore, you’re hitting too much air,” the Australian added.
“You can use them as often as they want. Saturday night it stops for you.”
Volkanovski accused Holloway of trying to “get inside his head” on Thursday, although the American had saved a sled for the Australian when it came up.
“I’m not trying to get inside your head,” Holloway said.
“If I tried it, it would be super easy, have you seen the size of it?”
All Volkanovski could do was laugh and ask, “Have you had a bad weight loss or something, why are you so mad?”
The Australian had his theories, suggesting that Holloway ran out of ideas after the first two fights and now resorted to mind games to try and gain the advantage.
But a telling response from Holloway earlier at the press conference said it all about his motivation.
“I told you the UFC has tried to freeze my a**, put me in closed places to fight,” Holloway said.
“We’re back here, the ninth island, the volcano is coming, get ready.”
And if Volkanovski isn’t ready, if he starts off the way he did in the opening few rounds of the second Holloway fight, the Australian could be in a similar position.
But amid all the chaos and nonsense, there was one moment that stood out from the rest when Volkanovski took the time to give credit to his rival and build that mutual respect.
“I’ll be honest,” Volkanovski said.
“He gets another chance because he was stubborn and made sure no one else got that number 1 spot. He gets the shot, he did exactly what I would have done in his position. He gets my respect for that.”
“But that’s it,” Volkanovski added.
“It’s just a third chance and he’s not getting it.”
As for Holloway, he said the “one thing” he respects about Volkanovski is his cooking show.
Now it’s time for the Australian to bring that “fire” Nurmagomedov talked about earlier in the week. It appeared early Thursday afternoon.
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