One of the greatest featherweight title fights in UFC history transpired at UFC 266 as champion Alexander Volkanovski defended his strap for the second time with a unanimous-decision win over Brian Ortega at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Volkanovski had to rely on every bit of his resilience in the third round as Ortega attacked him with a mounted guillotine choke and a triangle choke after countering effectively. But he hung on to power through the submission attempts and was fairly comfortable on the feet over the rest of the fight.
Volkanovski took a massive step towards gaining the respect he deserves, as he stated in the post-fight interview. Now on an incredible 20-fight win streak, the Australian is in prime position to extend his stronghold over the UFC featherweight division.
Here are three potential next opponents for Alexander Volkanovski after UFC 266.
#3 Alexander Volkanovski vs Giga Chikadze
A fighter who has won each of his seven fights in the UFC fairly comfortably, Giga Chikadze is being discussed as an imminent title challenger. ‘Ninja’ was even among the names discussed to be a backup for the UFC 266 title fight between Volkanovski and Ortega, but the plan didn’t come to fruition.
A criticism that was leveled at Chikadze at the start of his UFC career was that despite outclassing his opponents, he wasn’t able to secure finishes. But he has made significant strides as a fighter since then, having recorded a TKO victory in each of his last three fights. His stunning barrage to dispatch Edson Barboza in August was a particular highlight.
Chikadze is still not a finished product and he has a lot of work to do in the grappling department. But he’s improving constantly and could deserve a shot at the title even though he’s ranked a lowly eighth right now. The Georgian could certainly give Volkanovski a run for his money on the feet.
#2 Alexander Volkanovski vs Brian Ortega 2
Despite winning only one round across all three judges’ scorecards in the UFC 266 main event against Alexander Volkanovski, Brian Ortega was close to a famous win on more than one occasion. The scorecards suggested a one-sided fight, but ‘T-City’ could’ve easily clinched a couple of rounds with a little more output.
The most likely scenario is for Volkanovski to face the winner of the November fight between Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez, but Ortega has a case to campaign for an immediate rematch. 50-44 and 50-45 were certainly not accurate depictions of how the title fight went down, and one of the submissions he locked in during the third round could’ve been enough on another day.
Ortega also showed great heart and resolve at UFC 266, proving that it won’t be long before he is back in title contention. Why not immediately? Irrespective of whether the decision was justified or not, Volkanovski has conquered Holloway twice. Meanwhile, Rodriguez hasn’t fought since October 2019.
This fight seems unlikely, since Ortega himself has expressed an interest in going through another process of evolution first. But if it were to be booked by the UFC, few complaints could be raised.
#1 Alexander Volkanovski vs the winner of Max Holloway/Yair Rodriguez
While both Holloway and Rodriguez have factors against them while deciding the next featherweight title contender, there are also many reasons why they should face off against Alexander Volkanovski.
Both Holloway vs Volkanovski fights were close, and the second one was particularly controversial. ‘Blessed’ is a cut above most of the featherweight division and doesn’t have many interesting fights, assuming he gets past Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, although ‘El Pantera’ hasn’t entered the octagon in almost two years, he is an exciting fighter who promises entertainment and volume each time he fights. An innovative striker who is still ranked third despite his inactivity, Rodriguez could perfectly counter Volkanovski’s volume and pressure with his creativity and unpredictability.
Volkanovski meeting the winner of Max Holloway vs Yair Rodriguez seems like the most probable choice at the moment, and both potential fights promise to be barn-burners.
Watch our exclusive interview with Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier right here!