Tuesday, May 28, 2024

UFC news, rumors: Alexander Volkanovski putting a spotlight on mental health among top stories from October

October was a busy month in the combat sports world. A super fight between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski took place under unexpected circumstances, Francis Ngannou penciled in an inspirational boxing debut against Tyson Fury and the world was duped into watching Logan Paul vs. Dillon Danis.

Some stories and impressive performances are bound to get overshadowed by all the chaos. With October coming to a close, it’s a perfect time to look back on topics that deserve more attention. Volkanovski’s vulnerability highlighted the importance of fighter mental health, Makhachev is pining for a new challenge and the UFC had a messy pay-per-view in Abu Dhabi.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest stories that shaped the MMA landscape in October.

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Volkanovski brings fighter mental health to the forefront

UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski was very open following his knockout loss to Islam Makhachev at UFC 294. Volkanovski admitted it may have been a “silly decision” to fight Makhachev on 11 days’ notice, but said he needed the activity to keep his head straight.

“I never thought I’d struggle with it, but for some reason, when I wasn’t fighting, or in camp, I’d just do my head in,” Volkanovski said at the UFC 294 post-fight press conference. “I needed to fight, and this opportunity came up. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t training as much as I should’ve, but I had to do it. I had to take [the fight].

“I don’t know how. Everything’s fine. I’ve got a beautiful family, but I don’t know.”

Volkanovski urged fans not to worry in a follow-up video posted to his official YouTube channel.

“I want everyone to know that I’m OK,” Volkanovski said. “I think that people have to remember that I did just come off getting tagged, knocked out. I lost. I knew that legacy-wise and all that, all those things started coming into play, so that was obviously hurting me… Sometimes you put a lot of pressure on yourself because I know I need to make the most of me in my prime because my days are numbered. Me and my wife, we’re great. We have a beautiful family, and we’re good. I want everyone to know that.

“I’m sort of glad you guys got to see that raw emotion, and we do touch on the mental side of things when it comes to everyone, not just fighters and athletes, anyone in general. I think that it’s good for awareness. I think these are conversations people should be having.”

Volkanovski has insisted that a quick turnaround is in his best interest despite concern from some fans and analysts. Volkanovski has repeatedly asked to defend his featherweight title against Ilia Topuria at UFC 297 on Jan. 20 only three months removed from a KO loss.

“I talked to the UFC and I said keep me busy, and I say that because, again, I’m in my prime, I need to fight,” Volkanovski said. “A lot of people are like, ‘He needs a break and this.’ I don’t need a break. I want to get back in camp. 

“I obviously talked to doctors to make sure there’s no concussion, the stitches and whatnot, but as I said, I’m the best version of myself inside and outside the cage when I have a clear direction. The clear direction is having a fight.”

UFC president Dana White told reporters that he was open to Volkanovski vs. Topuria in January — which was rumored to have been planned prior to Makhachev vs Volkanovski 2 — if Volkanovski is medically cleared.

Islam Makhachev needs new challengers

Segments of the UFC fanbase are tired of constant rematches and so is one of its brightest champions. Makhachev was craving new competition ahead of a planned rematch against Charles Oliveira in October. It’s an appetite that likely wasn’t satiated after he pivoted to a second consecutive fight with Volkanovski at UFC 294.

“I feel the same thing like last year,” Makhachev told ESPN on Oct. 4. “In September, I come to Dubai. Same hotel I stay, same training center, nothing changed. I need some new challenge. I like to travel, Australia, bring some guy, new city, new country, something new. When you do all the same things, it’s not fun.”

Makhachev, who recently expressed his desire to challenge for the welterweight title, told reporters he’d defer to UFC matchmakers in the aftermath of UFC 294. Makhachev had a laissez-faire attitude about facing Oliveira or Justin Gaethje but outlined them as the most likely challengers.

White sided with Oliveira when asked who most deserves the next title shot. Makhachev vs. Oliveira 2 has not officially been rescheduled, but it sounds like UFC brass have “Do Bronx” higher in the pecking order than Gaethje.

“Oliveira was ready to go; unfortunately, got cut…” White said. “I think you give it to Oliveira.”

A more patient, mindful Gaethje has “no issues waiting” for the field to clear.

“Who do I fight?” Gaethje asked ESPN. “There’s no one. I did what I had to do… I don’t know what else I need to do.

“As I get older I get to understand from now until the time I’m gonna fight him I’m gonna be building strength, I’m gonna be working on my cardio, I’m gonna be refining my skills. So, I’ll take as much time as they give me and I’ll be that much more ready.”

UFC’s regulating abroad becomes a bigger question

UFC 294 was marred by a number of issues while self-regulating in Abu Dhabi. The promotion acts as its own commission in regions without governing athletic commissions. The ringside doctor made a number of questionable calls. He denied the legitimacy of arguably the worst groin kick in UFC history and didn’t have a translator present while evaluating Johnny Walker after an illegal strike. Scorecards were another issue at UFC 294, but that’s nothing new. The most revolting of all the issues was the sheer number of staph infections that fighters were allowed to competed with.

Victoria Dudakova revealed that she had a staph infection on her butt and “places that isn’t necessarily OK to announce to the world.” She also shared that her “butt is completely bloodied up” after the abscess burst during her fight.

Mike Breedan scored an exhilarating come-from-behind victory against Anshul Jubli that same evening. His victory was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that he too competed with a staph infection. In fact, fighters competing with staph went three-for-three on Oct. 21 with Muhammad Naimov joining the infectious winner’s circle.

It’s not unusual for fighters to hide injuries to avoid being pulled from cards, but it’s disturbing that all three passed their medicals without any red flags. In fact, Paulo Costa was slated to fight in the co-main event against Khamzat Chimaev until he revealed he had to undergo surgery on his elbow to remove a nasty staph infection.

Fighting with an injury is primarily a disservice to the athlete fighting. Competing with staph can impact everyone on the card.

If you thought UFC brass would be concerned by the sheer volume of fighters competing with staph, think again. White denied any changes needed to be made to the medical process. He instead recommended fighters follow through with their lies if they’re going to deceive doctors in the first place.

“No [we’re not going to change medicals],” White said. “I mean, if you look at how many fights… we basically do fights every single Saturday. Here’s one of the things: if you’re going to lie and hide injuries like that, lie all the way home.

“Why are you going to lie and do that and then sit up here and say, ‘I had a staph infection. It’s just a very f—ing weird thing to do, to be honest with you. Very weird.'”

The UFC president’s dismissive attitude toward health protocols comes at an interesting time in athlete safety. UFC is parting ways with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency at the end of the year and moving to a new program overseen by an independent administrator selected by the UFC.

Fighters dig into their bags of tricks, treat fans to stellar stoppages

A busy month in combat sports may have overshadowed some of the better efforts from undercard and preliminary card fighters. Jonathan Martinez continues to establish himself as the next big thing at bantamweight following consecutive wins over Adrian Yanez, Said Nurmagomedov and Cub Swanson. His vicious leg kicks immobilized Yanez from the beginning, leading to a finish at UFC Fight Night on Oct. 14.

No amount of damage can keep Darren Elkins down for good. The veteran fighter completed professional fight No. 39 by age 39, coming up victorious with a second-round submission against T.J. Brown on Oct. 14. A celebration is in order anytime a battle-worn veteran can turn back the clock.

There are few fighters as dangerous in the opening round as Terrance McKinney. He joined Martinez and Elkins in the winner’s circle on Oct. 14, stopping Brendan Marotte with strikes at the 20-second mark.

Drew Dober delivered his own brand of violence one week before the trifecta of finishes above. The heavy-handed striker scored a first-round stoppage of Ricky Glenn in Dober’s 40th professional fight. Dober is 4-1 in his last five fights — all via knockout — and hasn’t won by any other method in five years.

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