What’s next for Alex Volkanovski? Former champ weighing up options after Ilia Topuria KO

What is it about long-reigning UFC featherweight champions having their runs ended in brutal fashion?

First it was Jose Aldo, who was finished by Conor McGregor and Max Holloway, and now it’s Alex Volkanovski’s turn to ask himself whether father time has caught up with him.

The 35-year-old Australian, who many consider to be the best 145-pounder the sport has ever seen, was violently knocked out by Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 in Anaheim, California.

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Topuria landed a right hook flush on Volkanovski’s chin mid-way through the second round to bring an end to his 1,526-day run at the top of the division.

It also saw Volkanovski knocked out for the second straight fight, and lose for the third time in four outings, although two of those came at the hands of Islam Makhachev while challenging for the lightweight title.

So what’s next for Volkanovski? Did the result signal a changing of the guard at featherweight or can “The Great” reclaim his title?

What’s next for Alex Volkanovski?

It will come as little surprise to those who’ve followed his career, but the always-game Volkanovski wants a rematch.

Immediately after the fight, the Aussie confirmed he’d be willing to do it in Topuria’s adopted home country of Spain.

Later, Volkanovski told reporters he felt he deserved another shot at the new champion.

“I’ve been a champ for a long time and I want that rematch, you know,” Volkanovski said.

“It’s something that needs to happen – I’ve been the reigning champ for how long, I’ve been a bit of a company man.

“I’ve backed up on short notice and fought Max [Holloway] three times. You name it, I’ve done it.

“I deserve that [rematch] and it’s going to be different next time.”

If the UFC grants his wish, the timing of the bout could be significant.

The loss to Topuria came just under four months removed from his stoppage loss to Makhachev, courtesy of a head kick.

Even before the fight with “El Matador”, some were suggesting Volkanovski was coming back too soon from a knockout defeat.

When listening to Volkanovski speak recently, you get the sense he’s conscious of how much time he has left.

Much has been made of male fighters 35+ in the lighter weight classes – in championship bouts at 170lb or lower, the younger fighters now have a 22-1 record.

In a rush to fight as often as possible before he slows down, he may have flown too close to the sun.

Beyond Topuria, it’s difficult to see what opponent he may return to face.

He’s shown he’s well clear of the rest of the featherweight division, while most of the top lightweights are tied up and he’s unlikely to get another shot at the title while Makhachev is champion.

Should a rematch with Topuria present itself, what would be Volkanovski’s ideal timeline?

Clearly he needs some time to recover from the knockout but, at 27, Topuria is only going to get better and history isn’t on the side of the older fighters in rematches, particularly in a division like featherweight.

If Volkanovski’s significant legion of fans are looking for positives from UFC 298, an argument can be made that he was winning the fight. Right up until he got iced.

The New South Welshman’s fight IQ is the stuff of legend, while he and his team have generally made the necessary adjustments and gameplanned to perfection for each opponent.

Would it surprise if Volkanovski pulled off what would now be considered an upset if they met again? Not really.

Would it hurt to watch one of the greatest of all time stopped for a third time in a row? Absolutely.

The California State Athletic Commission, who presided over the weekend’s event, releases all fighters’ payouts, so we know Volkanovski took home US$750,000 (AU$1.147 million) prior to any pay-per-view bonus.

As a result of stepping up to face Makhachev on late notice in October, Fox Sports revealed Volkanovski was able to negotiate a lucrative new contract.

Few could blame him for wanting to fight on and set up his family’s future.

While there’s plenty of evidence of fighters going on a run later in their career, they almost exclusively happen among the big boys.

Volkanovski has already proved countless times he’s not your average athlete, fingers crossed he can pioneer a fighting renaissance at the lighter weight classes.

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