Alex Volkanovski and Kamaru Usman pay the price after risking a lot to save UFC 294

It’s back to the drawing board for Alexander Volkanovski, who has now suffered two losses to lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Kamaru Usman looked stunning in a crisp, white double-breasted suit as he appeared on the ESPN set for an interview with Megan Olivi after his No. 1 contender’s fight against Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Chimaev dominated the first round, earning a 10-8 victory, which ultimately made the difference for Usman. Despite taking the fight on short notice, he put up a valiant effort but lost by majority decision with scores of 29-27 twice and 28-28.

When Olivi asked the first question, Usman took an unusually long pause before speaking, visibly holding back tears. Olivi reached out to console him, rubbing his left shoulder. Later, at the post-fight news conference, Volkanovski joined the discussion after being knocked out by Makhachev with a perfectly placed head kick. Like Usman, Volkanovski took the bout on short notice as well, seeking redemption from their previous fight at UFC 284, which he felt he should have won.

Both fighters believed they could jump into the octagon and come out victorious. Usman might have been successful in a five-round fight, but Chimaev broke his hand in the first round, and who knows what could have transpired in later rounds? However, Chimaev withdrew at the right time. Usman had the opportunity for a five-round fight but declined due to a limited training camp—a decision he now regrets.

Volkanovski’s situation differed since he suffered a knockout loss this time, but there’s an argument to be made. He had proven in February that he was capable of defeating Makhachev. The fine line between victory and defeat is often minuscule at the highest level of any sport, and Volkanovski didn’t need to make significant changes to tilt the scales in his favor. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

Volkanovski and Usman turned a promising card on paper into an extraordinary one by accepting these fights on short notice. However, they took on substantial risks themselves, as evidenced by the results on Saturday. Makhachev was ranked third on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list, while Chimaev was ranked fifth. Volkanovski was ranked second before the fight, and Usman, seventh.

Former UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has now suffered three consecutive losses after Saturday’s majority decision defeat to Khamzat Chimaev. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Taking a fight on short notice against a mid-card fighter is one thing, but doing so against one of the greatest fighters in the world is an entirely different challenge, regardless of weight class. It’s akin to not swinging a golf club for two months, then playing against a prime Tiger Woods after only a couple of days of practice.

More often than not, the outcome won’t be favorable.

In MMA, fighters are rightfully celebrated for saving the show, and they are generously compensated for stepping up. However, Volkanovski expressed that it wasn’t about the money, but about establishing a legacy—a chance he missed out on. Perhaps Makhachev would have emerged victorious regardless of the time frame, but the uncertainty will undoubtedly haunt Volkanovski.

When asked about what went wrong and why he was hesitant to strike, Volkanovski’s emotions got the better of him. He hesitated before responding, “Man, I’m not… Yeah, I’m not going to… You know, I don’t want to sit here and make excuses. I believe in preparation, and I back myself. That’s the decision I made, and, you know, maybe I could have made a better decision, but look, he’s not someone you should take a short-notice fight with.”

Usman mentioned not having adequate time to focus on his wrestling, considering Chimaev’s style. He took a gamble by accepting the fight without proper preparation, and against this particular opponent on that night, it didn’t pay off. The decision-makers, including Usman and Volkanovski, must ponder whether such a strategy can work consistently when facing one of the sport’s elites.

“I mean, it’s miscalculations for me… That’s a part of camp for me. I love to wrestle, and I love to prepare for those positions,” said Usman. “I didn’t have adequate time to prepare, and I’m mostly disappointed about giving up those positions.”

They were aware of these circumstances before agreeing to the fights. They deserve credit for stepping up and salvaging the event, but they also deserve respect when they decline and conclude that facing arguably the best opponent in the world on short notice isn’t the wisest choice. Let’s not forget that the next time someone makes a different decision from Usman or Volkanovski.


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