IT’S GOING TO be a huge weekend for Australia’s biggest UFC stars, Alex Volkanovski and Robert Whittaker.
Volkanovski will fight Mexican Yair Rodríguez in a blockbuster headline fight at T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Las Vegas on Sunday. ‘Volk’, (25-2 in the UFC), who currently sits at No. 2 in the UFC pound-for-pound rankings, is returning to the featherweight division after his gutsy loss to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev at UFC 284 in Perth back in February.
An explosive striker, Rodríguez (16-3) predicted he would beat the Australian so badly on Sunday that Volkanovski would have no choice but to flee the featherweight division.
“This will be his last fight at featherweight,” Rodríguez told Fox Sports. “This is my division now.”
Volkanovski is already looking ahead to a potential rematch with Makhachev, who handed the 34-year-old just the second loss of his career. But first, he’ll need to handle the pesky Rodríguez — and he’s not taking the Mexican lightly.
“Yair is very dangerous, and it’s the biggest fight of his life,” Volkanovski told Sports Illustrated. “But I’m planning on having this belt for a very long time. There are a lot of exciting fights in my future. I want that lightweight title, and there are so many contenders in that stacked division. But all my plans are useless if I don’t get the win this weekend.”
With his blinding hand speed, Volk should be able to stop the hard-hitting Rodríguez in his tracks. It would be a surprise if this one went the distance.
Whittaker (25-6), meanwhile, takes on South African Dricus Du Plessis (5-0). Whittaker is biding his time to complete a trilogy with Kiwi champion Israel Adesanya, to whom he has lost twice, but in the meantime, he’s keeping himself sharp with bouts like this one against the unseasoned Du Plessis. While the South African might look like easy pickings, the ever-wise Whittaker is wary of an opponent on the rise. “There’s no room for error with these guys,” said Whittaker this week. “It’s hard to put people away at this level because they don’t make silly mistakes. But you go from being the favourite to being the underdog and that’s where Dricus is right now. He has nothing to lose, everyone thinks he’s going to get washed and that makes him dangerous — he has nothing to lose.”
Whittaker’s experience and all-round combat expertise should see him overwhelm his young challenger but, as always, he’ll probably wear a few shots in the process.
There are three other Aussies fighting on one of the biggest UFC cards of the year.
Promising welterweight Jack Della Maddalena will take on late replacement Josiah Harrell after his original opponent Sean Brady withdrew due to injury. On the undercards, Melbourne light-heavyweight Jimmy Crute rematches Alonzo Menifield after their draw earlier this year and flyweight Shannon Ross takes on Jesús Santos Aguilar.
With so many Aussies in action let’s hope it’s a green and gold weekend rather than a black and blue one.