Although Volkanovski defeated the “King of Rio,” will that victory be enough to overcome Aldo’s unparalleled reign of dominance?
Alexander Volkanovski, the featherweight champion and pound-for-pound ruler, was asked last autumn in a media scrum before UFC 281 in New York where he fits in among the greatest 145-pound fighters in history. Volkanovski’s response was a little hesitant.
As far as I’m concerned, Jose Aldo is still the best fighter in the featherweight division, according to Volkanovski. It goes without saying that I still intend to take that. I intend to triumph. I want to defend vehemently. I’m going to build just as many defences as he does. Many people will concur that I rank high, especially after looking at my resume and the opponents I’ve faced.
With all due respect to Aldo (31-8), the 2023 UFC Hall of Fame inductee whose combined seven UFC/WEC title defences have long established a standard for the division, it might be appropriate to start wondering whether Volkanovski is about to surpass him going into Saturday’s fifth title defence at UFC 290 in Las Vegas.
It’s a pertinent issue given that Volkanovski (25-2), who narrowly lost to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in their fight in February, may be approaching the end of his illustrious career as a UFC featherweight. The 34-year-old Australian native will also compete against the reigning interim champion, Yair Rodriguez (15-3, 1 NC), who is the only top-tier opponent from his era at 145 pounds that Volkanovski has yet to beat.
If Volkanovski chooses to stay at featherweight, whether he defeats Rodriguez or not, there are still exciting fights available, such a fourth encounter with Max Holloway or a potential matchup with rising contender Ilia Topuria. The historical significance of either of those matches, though, was little, as is sometimes the case after a top boxer sweeps a division.
The idea of a lucrative lightweight title rematch may be too good to pass up because Volkanovski once weighed 215 pounds as a semi-pro rugby league player and he demonstrated that the 5-foot-6 star could handle himself at the heavier weight by stifling the much larger Makhachev’s vaunted wrestling attack.
If Volkanovski were to add Rodriguez as yet another scary name to his featherweight resume, where exactly would he stand against Aldo historically? Better than you may anticipate, probably.
Yes, Aldo continues to retain the record for title defences, and a large part of his well-deserved fame stems from the fact that he went an entire 10 years and one month during his peak, winning 18 straight matches from 2006 to 2015. But Volkanovski, who is 15-0 overall in his career as a featherweight (his first professional loss was in 2013 at 170 pounds), rattled off 22 straight victories over a period that was almost as long (three months short of 10 years) before the Makhachev fight.
Notable wins for Aldo, Volkanovski
|Cub Swanson (2009)
|Jeremy Kennedy (2018)
|Mike Brown (2009)
|Chad Mendes (2018)
|Urijah Faber (2010)
|Jose Aldo (2019)
|Kenny Florian (2011)
|Max Holloway (2019, 2020, 2022)
|Chad Mendes (2012, 2014)
|Brian Ortega (2021)
|Frankie Edgar (2013, 2016)
|Korean Zombie (2022)
Aldo not only established a benchmark for featherweight supremacy, but the UFC grandfathered him in as its first 145-pound champion after its merger with the WEC without him having to challenge for an open title. He also defeated fighters like Cub Swanson, Mike Brown, Uriah Faber, Manny Gamburyan, Kenny Florian, Chad Mendes (twice), Frankie Edgar (twice), Chan Sung-Jung, and Ricardo Lamas, a divisional who’s who in featherweight history. He cannot lose any of the aforementioned things.
However, head-to-head competition results, which plainly lean more favourably in the direction of Volkanovski, who is two years and 20 days younger than Aldo, are a wonderful equaliser when comparing the resumes of individuals who competed in the same era.
Although Aldo’s famed featherweight reign was interrupted by one punch against Conor McGregor in 2015, Volkanovski didn’t make his UFC debut until after that event; nonetheless, the two did share the Octagon in 2019.
Aldo, who was 32 at the time, looked revitalised after knocking out Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano twice in a row. However, Volkanovski not only outperformed Aldo that night to win a unanimous decision in Aldo’s hometown of Rio de Janeiro, but he also clearly annoyed the Brazilian into not throwing on his way to identical 30-27 scorecards. Aldo was so utterly disarmed that it nearly gave the impression that he was comfortable with his defeat.
The fact that Holloway, who himself belongs in the larger question of featherweight deity, was the two competitors’ historically significant common opponent makes the analogy even worse for Aldo. In contrast, Volkanovski has three victories over the adored Hawaiian star, including a beating in their trilogy in July that left Holloway bloodied and without an explanation. Aldo was severely knocked out twice by Holloway in 2017 to end his second 145-pound title run.
When comparing simply their UFC careers against one another, Volkanovski has been more dominant than Aldo against arguably superior competition, despite his reputation for not being a finisher versus great featherweight opponents. This is true even though he has knockout victories against Mendes and “The Korean Zombie,” two opponents.
The King of Rio’s road to the #UFCHOF 🇧🇷👑
— UFC (@ufc) January 22, 2023
Few fighters could match Aldo’s three-year reign of terror in the WEC, where he went 8-0 with 7 stoppages, but once he moved to the UFC, where he had just 2 stoppages in his first 7 fights before getting ignited in 13 seconds by McGregor, the division finally caught up with him. With the exception of a close call in his second fight with Holloway and a brief submission scare against Brian Ortega, Volkanovski’s UFC career has not only been marginally better but the division has yet to figure him out.
Due to his combination of speed, power, and unpredictable delivery, Rodriguez is not only the final elite featherweight from Volkanovski’s era that the champion has yet to defeat. He is also possibly the most dangerous fighter the champion has yet to face. But for Volkanovski, a 4-1 betting favourite, it’s business as usual. He could only need one more decisive victory at featherweight to establish himself as the best 145-pound fighter the UFC has ever seen.
Volkanovski declared, “I genuinely believe in my abilities and what I’m capable of. “That’s what makes me stand out: my strong fight IQ and never-quit mentality. Everything that is right and everything that is challenging to teach.
“I want to demonstrate to you that I can methodically beat anyone, even while they’re playing their own game. You’ll witness that [on Saturday] because I’ve done it a lot of times before.
It’s never easy to watch the new wave of champions take on the most adored and venerated fighters in history (and few are more so than Aldo). However, if Volkanovski defeats Rodriguez and then triumphs over Makhachev in a different weight class should the two men face off again in the future, historians may need to launch another Volkanovski-led discussion on greatness that goes far beyond the limitations of the 145-pound category.