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The Weekly Takedown: Alexander Volkanovski sees Max Holloway trilogy as prelude to UFC lightweight title

If successful in Saturday's title defense at UFC 276, Volkanovski will seek double-champ status.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Alexander Volkanovski's reign as featherweight champion was destined to end last September.

Three rounds into his UFC 266 title defense against Brian Ortega, Volkanovski found himself in a disastrous position.

Ortega locked in his guillotine. Volkanovski found a way to break the hold, but after escaping, he once again found himself in ortega's lair. This time, Volkanovski was locked in a triangle choke, the signature submission of a man nicknamed "T-City" for his incredible proficiency at the triangle.

"I was getting out of it or going to sleep," Volkanovski says. "I wasn't going to tap. I never considered that."

An elite combination of durability and resilience allowed Volkanovski to return to his feet. Not content with just finishing the round, he re-established dominant position, ending that third round – which seemed to be his end – with a vicious ground-and-pound assault that completely discombobulated Ortega.

"All I could think was, ‘There's no way he's taking this belt for me,'" says Volkanovski, who won the bout by unanimous decision. "That was my moment. People got to see why I'm champion. Now the world knows."

Only two months removed from annihilating Chan Sung Jung in their title match at UFC 273, Volkanovski defends his title this Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 276 against Max Holloway. It is a trilogy bout, with Volkanovski (24-1 MMA, 11-0 UFC) already twice defeating Holloway (23-6 MMA, 19-6 UFC) – first by unanimous decision three summers ago to win the belt, and then by split decision in a rematch the following year.

"Max is a great fighter, and he is the No. 1 contender for a reason," says Volkanovski, who has won all 11 of his bouts in the UFC. "I have a lot of respect for him. If I can beat him again, it puts me on a whole new level.

"I want to make a statement. I want to separate myself from the entire division. I have to beat Max again to prove that I'm on another level."

The primary goal for Volkanovski is defeating Holloway and retaining his title. After, he wants to pursue a new belt, providing a home to the vacant lightweight championship.

"That's what I plan on doing," Volkanovski says. "I really want three fights this year, but it has to be the right one. After this one, I want that double-champ status. My division is in a spot where we can see what happens while I go after that double-champ lightweight title fight."

Volkanovski also shared his respect for Israel Adesanya, who is headlining 276. A City Kickboxing teammate and friend, Volkanovski believes Adesanya is the greatest striker in UFC history – and he is honored to co-main event the card alongside him.

"He's one of the greatest ever," Volkanovski says. "I love watching his technique and his striking. He's getting better and better, and he's already the best striker in UFC history.

"We both talk about our legacy, being the best we can possibly be. That's what you're going to see at 276. The sky's the limit for him, and the sky's the limit for me."

Robbie Lawler seeking to start a new win streak at UFC 276

Robbie Lawler returns to the octagon on Saturday, with the former welterweight champion taking on a dangerous opponent in Bryan Barberena.

Lawler, 42, still has a lot to offer. That will now be on display on pay-per-view, as his fight against Barberena was recently moved to the main card.

"It's a big fight on a big card," Lawler says. "Barberena comes to fight, and so do I. All the work is done, so now it's a matter of keeping the weight down and getting after it."

Lawler (29-15 MMA, 14-9 UFC) was mired in a four-fight losing streak, which ended last fall in a highly anticipated rematch against Nick Diaz. Lawler and Diaz had previously fought more than 17 years prior at UFC 37, ending when Diaz knocked him out. The result was different at UFC 266, as Lawler emerged victorious following a third-round TKO.

"I've always had so much respect for Nick," Lawler says. "Nick and Nate Diaz come to fight. That was a big, high-profile fight for me. Fighting him got me excited again to fight and train."

After moving to middleweight for the bout against Diaz, Lawler returns back to welterweight to fight Barberena (17-8 MMA, 8-6 UFC). It should be a gritty battle between two of the sport's veterans, one in which Lawler is proud to be representing the Kill Cliff energy drink.

"It's great to have them as a sponsor," Lawler says. "They're promoting their drink – and I really like their Blood Orange recovery drink – but they're also promoting fighters and our fight teams. They're helping the sport grow."

The fight against Barberena provides an opportunity for Lawler to make himself an even more valuable commodity in the cage and to help erase memories of that difficult losing streak. A win will give him two victories in a row, and he plans to earn the victory in convincing fashion.

"I'm excited to go out there and do what I'm capable of doing," Lawler says. "It's an honor to fight on a big card like this, and I'm looking forward to throwing blows and finishing him."

The Pick 'Em Section:

After a couple disappointing weeks of picks, I'm looking forward to turning that around this weekend. Here is how I see UFC 276 unfolding:

UFC 276 middleweight title bout: Israel Adesanya vs. Jared Cannonier

  • Pick: Israel Adesanya

UFC 276 featherweight title bout: Champ Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway

  • Pick: Alexander Volkanovski

UFC 276 middleweight bout: Sean Strickland vs. Alex Pereira

  • Pick: Alex Pereira

UFC 276 welterweight bout: Robbie Lawler vs. Bryan Barberena

  • Pick: Robbie Lawler

UFC 276 bantamweight bout: Pedro Munhoz vs. Sean O'Malley

  • Pick: Sean O'Malley

Last week: 2-3

2022 record: 71-41

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