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UFC 284, The Morning After: Despite loss, is Alexander Volkanovski still No. 1 pound-for-pound?

It’s hard not to walk away from UFC 284 wildly impressed with Alexander Volkanovski, who dropped a close decision after five rounds of war with Lightweight champion, Islam Makhachev, inside RAC Arena in Perth, Australia (watch highlights).

Despite clearly being the far smaller man, he may have just written the gameplan — or at least a major part of it — on how to deal with the Combat Sambo style that is currently producing so many champions around the globe. Early in the first round, Makhachev ducked into a well-timed takedown attempt along the fence, and the situation looked really bad for the Australian.

Immediately, Volkanovski bailed on defending the takedown itself, turning away and giving up the back clinch. Using his head to post on the cage for balance, Volkanovski went to work at prying apart Makhachev’s grip. It didn’t work in round one, but I cannot overemphasize how wearing it is to grip fight endlessly from that position. Later on, when Volkanovski did start winning more and more scrambles, know that the early commitment to turning away and fighting hands above all else paid dividends.

There were other great defensive wrestling moments from Volkanovski, too. His work from the crackdown position, turning back into Makhachev and attempting to elevator him, looking for his own trips and snap downs from the clinch — gorgeous stuff.

Really, the problems for Volkanovski came on the feet as much as on the canvas. By my account, there were four very clear-cut rounds (which makes a 49-46 scorecard f—king baffling). Volkanovski clearly took the third and fifth rounds, landing heavier shots and outright bullied Makhachev at various points. Conversely, Makhachev’s back control clearly won the first and fourth rounds.

It really all came down to the second, which was a razor-thin, mostly kickboxing affair. Volkanovski initiated more exchanges and did some deceptively effective work to the body and legs, but Makhachev certainly held his own with sharp counter punches, wild flurries and knees from the clinch.

In the most wild of these exchanges, it was clear just how much Makhachev’s size mattered in the kickboxing. Volkanovski was forced to really lunge forward and/or shift stances to connect with punches, whereas Makhachev could always touch his opponent. He could get sloppy at times, but his size meant that his punches were just as likely to off-balance compared to Volkanovski’s tighter punching.

That’s the game.

We all knew ahead of time Volkanovski was the smaller man, and that meant quite a few disadvantages for him in the match up. It’s the reason he was a substantial underdog. Fans, analysts and Volkanovski himself were all surprised by that advantage really materializing on the feet, but it still comes down to size.

The outcome here brings up an age-old problem: pound-for-pound is incredibly meaningless. Volkanovski just landed more strikes and did more damage to a bigger opponent, yet he’ll presumably lose his spot atop that silly list. How does that make any sense?

The following sentiments in the wake of last night’s instant classic are not uncommon:

If anything, Volkanovski improved the overall perception of his skills by taking Makhachev to the edge and arguably beating him as a smaller man.

He may not have swayed the judges, but “The Great” won the battle of public opinion ... and that’s all that pound-for-pound lists are anyway.

For complete UFC 284: “Makhachev vs. Volkanovski” results and play-by-play, click HERE.

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