UFC 298 news: Alex Volkanovski eyes lightweight return, slams Topuria, Whittaker brings back the animal

First though, the featherweight champion must defend his title against upstart challenger Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 on February 17.

The cocky Topuria has a perfect 14-0 record and is on one of the hottest streaks in the UFC, but Volk is adamant the Spaniard is out of his depth.

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“I’m not trying to throw shade at him, but – and it’s the same with a lot of other fighters – but we earned our respect,” Volkanovski said at Friday’s UFC 298 press conference in Sydney. “We earned it by fighting tough opponents, and he hasn’t had the opportunity to do that.

“I don’t think he’s as good as he thinks he is.

“But, I’m preparing for a man as good as he says he is. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I’ll be waiting, and if he’s not up to that standard, it’s going to be a humbling experience.”

Volkanovski is the longest reigning current UFC champion, and his bout with Topuria will be his sixth title defence as he continues his journey to becoming an all-time great.

The 35-year-old fell short in his two lightweight title fights against Makhachev last year, but has relegated both fights to the past.

“Unless I’m getting asked about it, I’m not really thinking about it, I’m just trying to be in the best shape physically and mentally,” he said. “Even when I win, I forget about it and go back to the gym and try to be better.

“It’s all part of the story, and I can’t wait to show the world.”

Eager to stay as active as possible, but rapidly running out of opponents at featherweight, Volkanovski says he still has plans at lightweight.

“Lightweight’s definitely in the near future,” he said. “I’m not expecting a rematch (with Makhachev) straight away, but (on February 17), everyone will be reminded.

“They’ll say there’s nothing left at 145, and I’ll go back and take that lightweight belt.

“I want to fight a few times this year, and who’s next? Movsar (Evloev) and a few other guys aren’t far off at featherweight, but while we’re figuring that out, let’s have some fun fighting at lightweight.”

Meanwhile Rob Whittaker is promising to bring “the animal” back when he fights Paulo Costa in the co-main event at UFC 298.

Whittaker is coming off a shock second round TKO loss to Dricus du Plessis last July, and, although he took an injury into the bout, admits he wasn’t fully prepared for the fired up South African.

“When you fight for so long, and have so many changes in life, it just takes loosening the reins a little bit,” he said. “Fighting these hungry dudes – Dricus is a hungry guy – and I think I underestimated that hunger.

“(He’s) a big, strong guy who’s hungry, and willing to leave it all there. You need to match that, and I didn’t.”

The loss forced a rethink within Whittaker’s camp, with the former middleweight champ adopting a new mindset as he prepares for Costa.

“The Du Plessis camp and fight itself was a good wake up call,” he said. “From that fight, camp and preparation, we went back to the gym, took things away we liked, made some tweaks here and there.

“Honestly, it’s for the better, I’m hungrier than ever, I’ve been really focusing on bringing the animal back. I’m not in it to win, I’m in it to hurt Costa, and that mentality is powerful.”

Heavyweight knockout artist Justin Tafa rounds out the three Aussies fighting on the blockbuster card, taking on veteran Brazilian Marcos Rogerio de Lima.

All four of Tafa’s UFC wins have come via first round knockout inside two minutes, and with the Logan-based slugger knocking on the door of the heavyweight rankings, he’s planning on adding another to his resume.

“That’s what I’m more excited about, I go well with all these guys in the top 15,” he said about cracking the rankings. “I’ve done all this ground work and it’s time to put it to work.

“I think this guy will try to take me down, but … I’ll probably knock him out.

“My coaches are like, ‘Stick and move, find an opening’, but my arse is telling me to throw down and go to war.”

Originally published as UFC 298: `Not as good as he thinks he is’: Alex Volkanovski knocks upstart Ilia Topuria