In the fifth round of his final sparring session Monday before flying to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday ahead of his Oct. 21 rematch against Islam Makhachev, former lightweight champion Charles ‘Do Bronx’ Oliveira sustained a cut that’s forced him to pull out of UFC 294.
In a gangster move that only took one phone call to make according to UFC President Dana White, current featherweight champion Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski immediately agreed to replace Oliveira and take on Makhachev just three months removed from hand surgery and on only 11 days of notice.
Makhachev (24-1 MMA, 13-1 UFC) edged Volkanovski via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) at UFC 284 earlier this year on Feb. 12. According to MMADecisions, 21 media members scored it 48-47 for Makhachev and two had it 49-46 for the 155-pound champ. Six members of the press had the bout scored 48-47 for Volkanovski, who came on strong in the fifth round.
With 70 seconds remaining in the fight, Volkanovski dropped Makhachev with a powerful right hand. In the final minute, Volkanovski dealt out ground-and-pound punishment from the top position.
When the final bell sounded, Volkanovski didn’t have a scratch on his face and wasn’t breathing heavily. On the flip side, Makhachev had spent the final minute holding on for dear life, glancing at the clock multiple times and looking spent. He was also sporting a mouse under his right eye and looking worse for wear.
With that said, MajorWager did score the contest 48-47 for Makhachev, who landed four of nine takedown attempts. However, unlike many (any?) of Makhachev’s previous foes, Volkanovski did what he said he’d do throughout the build-up to the fight: He didn’t allow the Dagestani sambo wrestler to keep him down on the canvas, getting back to his feet on each occasion.
BetMGM and Caesars had Makhachev installed as a -350 favorite vs. Oliveira, who posted photos of his cut on social media last night after White confirmed the news that he had pulled out.
DraftKings, BetRivers and PointsBet opened Makhachev as a -250 ‘chalk’ last night, leaving Volkanovski as a +205 underdog at DraftKings. In their first meeting in Perth, Western Australia, eight months ago, most shops closed Makhachev as a favorite in the -350 to -400 range.
No total had been released as of early Tuesday morning, but FanDuel’s prop for the fight to go to a decision was offering a +112 return. The price was -142 that the bout will not go to the judges’ scorecards.
The prop for Volkanovski (26-2 MMA, 13-1 UFC) to win by TKO/KO had +600 odds, while the same method of finish (TKO/KO) was +700 for the lightweight kingpin. The odds for Volk to win via submission were +2300 at FanDuel, while Makhachev’s odds to win by submission were +195.
After losing the decision to Makhachev, the 35-year-old Volkanovski bounced back nearly five months later when he defeated interim featherweight champion Yair Rodriguez via third-round TKO (punches) in the UFC 290 headliner at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The 5-foot-6 Aussie successfully defended his featherweight strap for the fifth time and improved to 16-0 in 16 career bouts at 145 pounds.
Volk, who took his only other career loss in a welterweight bout back in 2013 in the fourth fight of his pro career, sustained a broken hand and had surgery within a week of the win over Rodriguez on July 8.
What was otherwise going to be next for Volk was going to be determined by the result of Makhachev-Oliveira 2. There has been speculation that Volk could make his next featherweight title defense versus undefeated Ilia Topuria later this year.
Likewise, Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje is in the mix for a third career crack at the undisputed lightweight belt after scoring a second-round headkick KO win over Dustin Poirier a few months ago. Whether that victory was going to be enough to garner another title shot for Gaethje was unclear.
Volk might have been next in line for Makhachev, presuming he got past Oliveira again like he did to win the strap via second-round submission (arm-triangle choke) at UFC 280 on Oct. 22 of 2022, with a full camp to prepare. That’s what makes Volk’s decision to take the rematch now on less than two weeks of notice all the more impressive.
Makhachev also has to be commended for accepting the last-minute change in opponent. As if this news wasn’t groundbreaking enough for fight fans, there could be more on the way as soon as today regarding the UFC 294 co-main event.
Khamzat Chimaev (12-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) remains scheduled to make his return from a 13-month layoff against Paulo Costa. However, Costa revealed Monday that he had surgery on his right elbow three weeks ago to treat an infected bursa.
“I will not pull out of this fight,” Costa told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto via text message. “I can beat him 99 out of 100 times. Only if the doctor doesn’t allow me. I want that fight.”
White addressed this last night at his presser after another edition of the Contender Series. White acknowledged that Chimaev-Costa could be in jeopardy and said he should know for sure in a matter of hours.
If the UFC’s medical staff won’t allow Costa to compete so soon after surgery, then the promotion will have another challenge on its hands in finding a replacement to face Chimaev, who hasn’t willingly been out of the Octagon for 13 months.
It’s not easy to find a game opponent, especially on super-short notice, for Chimaev, who has won four of his six UFC contests in the first round. Only Gilbert Burns has given Chimaev trouble, going the distance and battering him with strikes in an epic three-round bloodbath of a battle that Chimaev won via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
As of Tuesday morning, most books had Chimaev listed as a -360 to -400 favorite vs. Costa, who was in the +275 to +300 range on the comeback.
UFC 294 will take place next Saturday at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The venue on Yas Island was built in 2018 and seats a capacity of 18,000.