UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is leaning toward a title defense later in the year with his recovery from a hand injury delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Volkanovksi was set to return to the Octagon at UFC 251 in Perth, Western Australia, on June 7 in a likely rematch with Max Holloway, the man he dethroned as featherweight champion late last year.
While contracts were yet to be finalized, Volkanovski held promising talks with the UFC while he was in Las Vegas for City Kickboxing teammate Israel Adesanya’s forgettable victory over Cuban Yoel Romero.
But Volkanovski then found himself in the middle of the international travel uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, and while it wasn’t mandatory for 31-year-old to self-quarantine at that time, the Australian saw it best to err on the side of caution upon his return Down Under.
“We’d [Volkanovski and coach Joe Lopez] come from America, and even though the [self-quarantine] rule wasn’t in yet, we decided to not train with others; so we just trained with each other, we just hit pads and were doing whatever we could,” Volkanovski told ESPN.
“We didn’t go and do any strength and conditioning at the other place [gym]; I’m trying to take all the precautions I can because coming from America they were saying you were higher risk. So even though we didn’t have to [self-quarantine], we thought it was best to do that. And we’ve been doing that ever since.
“We’re just adapting to this situation right now, and I think we’re going to be stuck at home soon, so I’m getting my home workouts prepared.”
Volkanovski had flown to Perth from New Zealand for the announcement of UFC 251 after watching another of his City Kickboxing teammates, Dan Hooker, emerge from a brutal five rounds with victory over American Paul Felder.
The Australian’s appearance in Perth was a clear message that the UFC wanted his first title defense to headline the 251 card, but with the state’s border now closed and huge uncertainty as to whether the event will go ahead at all, it is likely Volkanovski will set course for another date later in the year.
“To be honest with you, nothing was signed; nothing was locked in,” Volkanovski said of the touted rematch with Holloway. “Everything was pointing towards Perth, but we’re still not sure whether it’s going to go ahead or whether it’s not.
“But I’m in a weird position where I’m being quarantined; not being able to train properly; not being able to get over to New Zealand … so are we still going to be doing that card? I just don’t think that’s a good idea for me, especially coming off a broken hand. For me to try and overcome an injury and then go into a camp, and not be fully prepared in the camp, it’s not a good idea. So I don’t think the Perth card will go ahead, but if it does I don’t know the chances of me being on it.”
UFC president Dana White last week told ESPN that a new venue was “99.9 percent set” for the Apr. 18 fight after it had to be moved from Brooklyn due to the coronavirus outbreak in New York.
With almost every other sport on the planet suspending its season, the UFC has drawn criticism for its desire to push on with the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson bout. On the other side of the ledger, many sports fans are thankful to have some content to consume amid the virtual global shutdown.
Asked to comment on whether UFC 249 should go ahead, Volkanovski admitted it was a difficult situation.
“I can see why they would definitely want Khabib-Tony to happen, they’ve been working on that for a long time,” Volkanovski said with a laugh. “If they take all the precautions, and there may be a lot of commissions that might not take it on, but I don’t know what they’re doing right now. It’s a tricky one.
“Some people are saying that it’s ridiculous to be trying to make it happen, but on the other side we may finally get to see Tony Ferguson and Khabib actually fight. As long as everyone involved can stay healthy and they abide by all the rules, then so be it.”