Mark RaimondiESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
Las Vegas — Yair Rodriguez had the best moment of the fight, landing a grazing right head kick that snapped Alexander Volkanovski’s head back, then followed up with a combination, including a left that landed on Volkanovski’s jaw.
Volganovsky nodded his head in acknowledgment of the blows. Then, he delivered a bruising right hook of his own that badly hurt Rodriguez. Volkanovski went for takedowns and threw a barrage of big punches en route to a TKO at 4:19 of the third round on Saturday in the main event of UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena.
With the win, Volkanovski retained the UFC featherweight title. Rodriguez came in as the interim featherweight champion.
“I’m the king of this division,” Volkanovsky said in a post-fight interview in the Octagon. “Nobody’s stopping me.”
Prior to UFC 290, ESPN tied Volkanovsky for No. 1 on its pound-for-pound MMA list with UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. At featherweight, Volkanovsky ranked no. 1st and Rodriguez 3rd.
Volganowski said some “fear” crept in during this training camp because of how powerful and creative Rodriguez’s offense would be. Rodriguez, who is taller than Volganovski, is a master of striking from all angles with all kinds of weapons, from fists to elbows to knees and whip kicks. It certainly didn’t help Volkanovsky that the card was packed with so many Mexican fighters in favor of Rodriguez in an area with a large Mexican American population.
But Volganovsky said he flipped a switch this week and was able to focus on the task at hand.
“You have to expect the unexpected,” Volkanovsky said. “That’s Yair. Anyone who knows this game knows how dangerous he is.”
Volkanovsky (26-2) advanced to challenge Makachev in his previous fight, losing by a close unanimous decision. He still wants a fight down the road, but said he may need surgery on his right hand. Volkanovsky said he still wants to fight before the end of the year.
The Australian-born fighter had won 22 straight fights before losing to Makhachev, including his first 12 in the UFC. Volkanovski, 34, has been the UFC featherweight champion since defeating Max Holloway at UFC 245 on December 14, 2019. This was his fifth successful UFC featherweight title defense. Volkanovsky is 11-0 in the UFC at 145 pounds.
“You speak well,” Volkanovsky said. “I’ve shown that I can wrestle and fight with the best of them. Coming to all posts. … The sky’s the limit.”
Rodriguez (15-4, 1 NC) defeated Josh Emmett via second-round submission at UFC 284 in February to win the interim title. The fighter from Chihuahua, Mexico has won two in a row and three out of four. Rodriguez, 30, had suffered just one loss since 2017 before Saturday.