Islam Makhachev couldn’t have made a bigger statement in his rematch with Alexander Volkanovski.
Makhachev, the UFC lightweight champion, knocked out Volkanovski, the featherweight champ, with a vicious head kick at the 3:06 mark of the first round to retain his 155-pound title in the UFC 294 main event Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
This was a rematch of their UFC 284 superfight in February, which Makhachev won by unanimous decision. Volkanovski stepped up on 11 days’ notice for the rematch after Charles Oliveira withdrew from Saturday’s event due to a cut suffered in training.
Makhachev caught Volkanovski with a picture-perfect kick on the upper half of his head, dropping and badly hurting him. Makhachev followed Volkanovski to the canvas, got on top, and rained down ground-and-pound until referee Marc Goddard waved off the fight.
“I showed him, first of all, a couple low kicks and body kicks. And I just changed to a high kick,” Makhachev said. “This is all planned, what we’ve been training for the last couple months for Oliveira. Nothing changed for Volkanovski.”
Eight months ago, Makhachev bested Volkanovski in one of the year’s best fights. Most of the rounds were competitive, with Volkanovski proving to be Makhachev’s toughest test in years. Volkanovski even dropped Makhachev in the fifth round and ended the fight by landing ground-and-pound.
But it was all Makhachev this time, and the Russian didn’t need his prolific grappling to win. He largely controlled the striking before the knockout, landing 82% of his significant strikes thrown. Makhachev connected with a handful of kicks and got Volkanovski’s attention with a solid right hand.
Volkanovski defended a takedown attempt by Makhachev in the opening moments. The Australian managed to reverse the position, pressing Makhachev against the fence before separating and continuing to strike.
After Makhachev landed the head kick and finished Volkanovski, he made a hushing motion while walking around the Octagon as if he had answered all the questions from their first fight.
“Obviously, it’s hard,” Volkanovski said. “I don’t like losing. It hurts me. But he’s a great champion. What do you do? I back myself every single time. … I still stand by that. Always back yourself.
“Islam’s one man that you don’t want to back yourself (against) if you don’t prepare properly because look at what he can do to you. That’s how good he is.”
With the victory, Makhachev retained his 155-pound belt for the second time and lifted his winning streak to 13. He tied his mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson for the longest winning streak in UFC lightweight history. Makhachev is also one win away from tying the UFC lightweight record for most consecutive title defenses, held by four people.
Makhachev, who won the belt with a second-round submission of Oliveira in October 2022, is now 25-1 as a pro and 14-1 in the UFC. The 31-year-old’s lone loss came in his second UFC bout in 2015 via first-round knockout.
Volkanovski suffered just the second stoppage defeat of his career and the first since his fourth pro bout in 2013. The 35-year-old falls to 1-2 this year, with the two losses to Makhachev and a July win over Yair Rodriguez in a featherweight title defense.
Volkanovski has been the 145-pound champion since 2019. He’s the longest-reigning active champ in the UFC and has defended the belt five times.
Entering UFC 294, Volkanovski was ranked No. 2 and Makhachev No. 3 in the UFC’s men’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Volkanovski said he’s done competing at lightweight for now and wants to make a quick turnaround against surging featherweight Ilia Topuria early next year.
“I want to say to the UFC, please keep me busy,” Volkanovski said. “I don’t do well when I’m not fighting. … I’m happy to go back in January.”