Even as the burly ex-rugby player rode into the Ultimate Fighting Championship on a 10-fight win streak amassed mostly in his native Australia, then proceeded to extend it, “Alexander the Great” seemed like an afterthought in the incredibly deep and dynamic featherweight division. Not until his December 2018 knockout of perennial contender Chad Mendes did the general public realize that Volkanovski was closing in on a well-deserved title shot.
Volkanovski’s dark-horse run to becoming the fourth man to win the UFC featherweight belt was made possible in part because for most of his UFC tenure, his three predecessors were battling it out in the spotlight. Jose Aldo, Max Holloway and Conor McGregor dominated the division for the first nine years of its existence, before McGregor took off for the lightweight division and non-MMA distractions, then Aldo made his surprisingly fruitful drop to bantamweight. Volkanovski took the belt from Holloway in December 2019 in a terrific battle, but after a razor-close split decision in their rematch last summer, it still seemed he was missing a definitive title defense.
That changed on Saturday, as the 32-year-old took a dominant decision over the ultra-dangerous Brian Ortega in the main event of UFC 266. Despite the lopsided final scores and challenger’s grotesquely lumped-up face, Volkanovski had to show his grit and resolve as well as his skills. During a third round that will likely top quite a few “Round of the Year” lists, the champ had to gut out a deep guillotine choke and an even deeper triangle choke from one of the most venomous grapplers in the UFC. He managed to escape both holds, and while they fought on for two more rounds, both men probably knew on some level that Ortega’s best chance had passed.
Here is the history of the UFC men’s featherweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. Interim title fights are omitted with the exception of Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar 2, since the winner of that fight ended up being promoted to undisputed champ without a unification bout.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration