The first time Alexander Volkanovski raced out to a big early lead and then hung on at the finish to claim the featherweight title from Max Holloway at UFC 245 in Las Vegas.
In the rematch Saturday at Flash Forum on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in the co-main event of UFC 251, Volkanovski was dropped in each of the first two rounds but came on down the stretch to claim a split decision victory and retain his belt in a pitched battle with Holloway.
Judges had it 48-47 twice for Volkanovski and 48-47 for Holloway. Yahoo Sports had it 49-46 for Holloway.
They’ve now fought 50 minutes over 10 rounds and there was little to choose between them. But Volkanovski was confident he’d done enough to retain the belt.
“It was a tough one,” said Volkanovski, who had swelling underneath both his eyes from Holloway’s hands. “Max brought it. I stood there and didn’t take a backward step and I got the job done. It was two apiece I felt and I felt I had to win that [fifth] round.”
The first fight, Volkanovski took hard aim at Holloway’s legs, using calf kicks to slow him and eventually force him to switch into a southpaw stance. He went with the kicks again, but Holloway used angles, moved, threw his own kicks and wasn’t as troubled by them.
He dropped Volkanovski at the end of the first and again at the end of the second and seemed to be moving toward regaining his belt. But Volkanovski never surrendered and didn’t get discouraged despite the early deficit.
He picked up the pace, closed the distance more in Rounds 3 and 4 and pulled himself back into the fight. He scored two takedowns in the fifth round and got the better of the exchanges, clearly taking the final round.
The question was whether it would be enough. Holloway, who said he’d trained for the fight at his home by watching his coaches on Zoom, said as the bell sounded, “Zoom works,” believing he’d won.
But only one of the three judges agreed with him and he’ll now have to get back in line in one of the sport’s deepest divisions.
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