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Aleksandr Volkanovski remains UFC champion with a TKO of Yair Rodriguez

Aleksandr Volkanovski remains UFC champion with a TKO of Yair Rodriguez

Mark RaimondiESPN staff writerJuly 9, 2023, 01:10 a.m. ET2 minutes to read

LAS VEGAS – Yair Rodriguez had his best moment in the fight, landing a right kick that slashed back Aleksandr Volkanovski’s head, then followed it up with a combo, including a left that landed to Volkanovski’s jaw.

Volkanovsky nodded in acknowledgment of the blows. Afterwards, he delivered a painful right hook of his own that badly hurt Rodriguez. Volkanovsky walked into the takedown and unleashed a barrage of uppercuts from the first place on his way to a TKO at 4:19 of the third round on Saturday in the main event of UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena.

With the victory, Volkanovski retained his UFC featherweight title. Rodriguez came out as interim featherweight champion.

“I am the king of this division,” said Volkanovsky in an interview after the fight in Octagon. “No one ever stops me.”

Prior to UFC 290, ESPN had Volkanovski tied for No. 1 on the MMA list with pound-for-pound with UFC Lightweight Champion Islam Makhachev. At featherweight, Volkanovski was ranked number one, and Rodriguez was number three.

Some “fear” crept in during this training camp, Volkanowski said, due to how powerful and creative Rodriguez’ offense was. Taller than Volkanovski, Rodriguez is a stunning specialist who attacks from all angles with all his weapons, from fists to elbows to knees and whipping kicks. It certainly didn’t help Volkanovski that the crowd was in favor of Rodriguez with many Mexican fighters like Rodriguez on the card in an area with a large Mexican American population.

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But Volkanowski said he was able to turn the tide this week and focus on the task at hand.

“You have to expect the unexpected,” said Volkanovsky. “This is Yair. Everyone who knows this game knows how dangerous he is.”

Volkanovsky (26-2) advanced to challenge Makhachev in his previous fight, losing by a close unanimous decision. He said this is still a fight he wants on the road, but he will likely need surgery on his right arm. Volkanovski said he still wanted to fight before the year was out.

The Australian-born fighter had won 22 consecutive fights before losing to Makhachev, including his first 12 fights in the UFC. Volkanovski, 34, has been the UFC Featherweight Champion since his victory over Max Holloway at UFC 245 on December 14, 2019. This was his fifth successful defense of the UFC Featherweight Title. Volkanovski is 11-0 in the UFC at 145 lbs.

“You’re talking about something good,” said Volkanovsky. “I’ve shown that I can grapple, grapple and hit with the best of them. I’m coming for all the records…the sky’s the limit.”

Rodriguez (15-4, 1 NC) won the interim title by defeating Josh Emmett via second-round submission at UFC 284 in February. The fighter from Mexico’s Chihuahua has won twice in a row and three of four coming. Rodriguez, 30, had only had one loss since 2017 before Saturday.