Not even that stood in the way of his dominating performance.
Volkanovski (25-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC) retained his featherweight title at UFC 276, extending his undefeated streak in the octagon to a dozen, with a convincing unanimous decision victory against Holloway. The champ controlled all five rounds, leaving Holloway's face beaten, bruised, and bloodied. After two close fights against Holloway (23-7 MMA, 19-7 UFC) – a unanimous decision victory in 2019 and a closer margin of victory in a split decision win in 2020 – Volkanovski removed any morsel of doubt remaining that he is, unquestionably, the better of the two.
"That chapter finished on Saturday, and it's good to put an end to it," Volkanovski says. "I have a lot of respect for Max. After the fight, I spoke with him and told him. Max made me raise the bar. That's how I became the fighter I am now."
Volkanovski's speed was a constant factor. He never allowed Holloway to land any damaging blow, or even get comfortable. Volkanovski landed more significant strikes, 199 to 127, outstriking Holloway every single round. Holloway simply could not catch a break, even when Volkanovski suffered a broken bone in his left hand.
"I broke it in the second round," Volkanovski says. "It made the wrestling a bit harder, but I was still able to jab with it. It didn't stop me from doing what I wanted. Even though that hurt, it was all worth it."
The injury likely prevents Volkanovski from fighting a third time this year, which he had intended to do. Yet the victory puts him in a perfect position to jump to the lightweight division as soon as a new champion is crowned, becoming the first challenger for whoever claims the vacant title.
Many MMA insiders and assorted cognoscenti have already made up their minds about Volkanovski as a lightweight. While dominant as a featherweight, he is believed to be too small at 155. Despite a stark contrast in personality and style, a comparison to Conor McGregor is fair, as McGregor has never had the same explosiveness or power among lightweights that he did while part of the featherweight division. A similar struggle makes sense for Volkanovski, who is intimately familiar with being underestimated.
"People will keep doubting me, and that's fine," Volkanovski says. "I love being the underdog. I've made a career of it. They can keep doubting me, and I'll keep proving them wrong. I'll keep proving myself every time I step in the cage."
"You still haven't seen me at my best. The sky's the limit."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.