UFC Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski has promised to send a message to the critics in his title rematch with Max Holloway, guaranteeing he will put him away inside five rounds when they face off on Fight Island.
Volkanovski, 31, is back into full training at his Freestyle Fighting Gym in Australia having been granted a special exemption for contact work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And with the fight confirmed for UFC 251 on Fight Island on July 11, there is a clear goal he is working toward, albeit one that has come about at shorter notice than what he is accustomed.
Volkanovski (21-1) had been tracking toward a rematch with Holloway (25-5), or another opponent, when the 251 card had been slated for June 11 in Perth, Australia, only for the coronavirus to scupper those plans and force the UFC to overhaul its schedule.
After events in Jacksonville, Florida, and in Las Vegas, UFC President Dana White at last revealed the location of Fight Island and its dates, and Volkanovski could not be more excited to claim a spot on the opener and make a statement by finishing off Holloway early.
"This is a rematch and I've got something to prove right now, this is bigger than just a win," Volkanovski told ESPN. "I don't want to go out there and just beat him, I've already done that. I dominated him for five rounds last time, but they give him a rematch anyway.
"People quickly forget how I did it, there were biased opinions and commentary, everything. So I'm a little bit annoyed, I feel disrespected. I've got something to prove this time, I'll put him away inside the five [rounds] this time. I guarantee you that. I'm sending a message."
Having suffered a broken hand in his unanimous decision over Holloway at UFC 245 in Las Vegas, Volkanovski had been limited in his training for the first few months of this year. But he says the injury has healed completely and hasn't been a factor in training for some time.
The uncertainty presented by the coronavirus wasn't ideal, but he has moved quickly to establish a training plan that is as close to his usual prefight preparation as possible.
There will, however, be no training block at City Kickboxing in New Zealand due to quarantine restrictions that exist in both Australia and New Zealand. Instead, Volkanovski has drafted in a number of leading Australian fighters to help him prepare for Holloway a second time, including One Championship's Martin Nguyen.
"It hasn't even been a couple of weeks since I got confirmation that it was probably going to be July 11," he said. "Obviously there are a lot of hurdles that people are adjusting to at the moment, but they let us know that that was what they wanted and I was lucky enough to have my team and everyone organised straight away.
"As soon as we knew that was happening we knew we'd better get something done; we need training; we need contact bodies; we need that contact training; so we got the police commissioners, health ministers and everyone on board, just so that we could get this training going.
"So we got the exemption [and] we're back into it, but it's only going to be a six-week camp. Luckily I'm a professional and I'm always staying in pretty good [condition]. I do need that contact training, but we're fortunate to have some of the best bodies in Australia to help out for the next two weeks."
While he has had to wait for his opportunity, Volkanovski has been keeping a close eye on the UFC events that have come and gone. The fact no spectators have been allowed in as yet has changed the atmosphere completely, though the Australian says he believes fight fans are instead being treated to a heightened experience of the bone-breaking sounds and the strategy that happens inside the Octagon.
"Obviously you want to entertain and you want to hear the crowd roaring when they see these big shots and when they hear these big shots -- but there's something special about the silence in there," he told ESPN.
"So the people watching on at home can hear the connections, they can hear the coaches talking and see the fighters reacting; they can hear the fighters talking to each other. It's something that I have really enjoyed -- the connections that you're hearing, the echoing through the TV and things like that, it's pretty incredible.
"And now this is happening on a Fight Island, there's something about it. I've been saying it's that 'Mortal Combat s---,' so it's pretty special and I can't wait to land some of those big shots so the world can hear my connections echoing through their TVs."
As for Fight Island itself, Volkanovski admits he doesn't know too much about what awaits him in the United Arab Emirates.
"I've seen some photos and it looks pretty amazing, so it will be some pretty good sights over there," he said. "But again it's just the timing of everything; it's going to be the first fight on Fight Island, three title fights on this card; this is going to be absolutely huge.
"We still don't have many sports happening right now, so I'm glad even though it's a short-notice fight, that I'm over there and going to be doing my thing."
While Holloway is his immediate focus, Volkanovski remains open to a fight with retired UFC star Henry Cejudo, should the former bantamweight champion be serious about stepping up to featherweight.
Cejudo earlier this week described Volkanovski as an "overgrown midget" whom he'd love to make "bend the knee".
The UFC hasn't yet raised the possibility of a fight with Cejudo to Volkanovski just yet, but the Australian is confident of how things would play out.
"At the start of it when he was still bantamweight champion and was calling me out, I didn't really care too much about it," Volkanovski said. "But then you hear that he is retiring and vacating his belt, and then he's saying that he wants to be in featherweight; I look at him as a featherweight contender now -- he's no longer in the bantamweight picture.
"So if that fight was offered to me I'd be happy to put him straight back into retirement. Again he's done some great things, so to say he doesn't deserve a title shot in that division would be pretty rude. But we're just a whole different beast in this division and I'll let him know that real quick."
It's all about UFC 251 for Volkanovski now, though, and making a successful -- and memorable -- first title defence when he throws down with Holloway.
"We've got the same schedule as we do every camp, which means we're busting our ass," Volkanovski said. "But I'll be doing everything I can here and then we'll fly out a week before, I can't really go any earlier than that because each day is crucial here [in Australia] and I want to finish my camp solidly. I don't want to go over there early and miss out on a few sessions.
"So the four weeks that I've got to prepare still, just busting my ass on the schedule that we always do; then head over to there to Fight Island and put on a show."