Australian Alex Volkanovski said he must be closing on the mantle of the greatest featherweight champion, but UFC boss Dana White and fans were left seething over his contentious split-points win over former champion Max Holloway in Abu Dhabi to retain his title.
Two judges scored it 48-47 to Volkanovski, with the third seeing it the opposite way.
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Some pundits, media, social media and UFC boss White felt Holloway did enough to win, as he landed more strikes in each of the first three rounds.
But the champion stayed composed under early fire and pushed the pace in the last two rounds of the UFC 251 bout on Yas Island.
But White was critical of the judges.
"You can't leave it to those guys, we've got some bad judging," White said.
“Did anybody in here score it for Volkanovski?
“Anybody have it for Volkanovski? Nobody in the media? I don’t know, we’ll have to figure it out.”
White even went as far to claim the UFC might have to ‘tighten’ up the refs and judges on fight island after uproar when Petr Yan was allowed to pummel Jose Aldo in the final round, which many thought should have been stopped.
“Looks like we’ve got to tighten up our refs and judges here on ‘Fight Island,’” White said.
Many fans and current fighters were torn to whether Holloway was ‘robbed’ or whether it was just a close decision going the champ’s way.
Volkanovski landed more significant strikes in R3, 4, and 5 while having 3 takedowns.— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) July 12, 2020
He landed 35 more significant strikes the entire fight.
Save me your robbery talk. #UFC251 pic.twitter.com/JJluGLdWGr
I’m sorry but that was not a good decision I had Holloway winning the first 3 rounds. Volkanovski closed the distance and took Round 4 easily, plus win around 5. But I had him losing the fight 3 Rounds to 2. Bad decision in my opinion.— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 12, 2020
Ok! I'm ready to say it. Holloway vs Volkanovski....might not be such a robbery. It does however, hold a seriously debateable 3rd round. #MMATwitter— Mister B (@MisterB1986) July 12, 2020
Volkanovski wants to be the GOAT
It is Volkanovski's 19th straight MMA win following his only loss and he improved his UFC record to 9-0.
He said he was just a couple of title defences away from being the best UFC featherweight of all time.
"I'm the best featherweight, in the world right now but I want to be the GOAT and you need title defences to do that and you need (to beat) number one contenders to do that," he said
As the Volkanovski camp predicted, Holloway came out more aggressively than in the opening rounds of their first fight.
Utilising a narrower stance than in thelr last clash, the much taller 28-year-old challenger showed good variety, landing shots with the knee, leg and hands and controlled distance, not allowing Volkanovski to get inside.
He put Volkanovski down with a kick to the head in the first and an uppercut in the second but the champion immediately bounced back to his feet after each knockdown.
The third was the closest round, with Volkanovksi starting to find his range with his fists in addition to the kicks that served him so well in their first meeting.
Volkanovski upped his work rate through the last two rounds, tagging Holloway with several punches in both and scored a takedown in the fourth and two more in the fifth.