Alexander Volkanovski wanted to finish Max Holloway in their featherweight title rematch at UFC 251 on Sunday morning, to prove beyond a doubt he is the better of the two. Instead, the second meeting proved to be much closer than the first -- but ultimately, Volkanovski maintained the title via split decision.
The final scores reflected how close the 145-pound championship bout was. Two judges gave the fight to Volkanovski by the thinnest of margins, 48-47. A third judge saw it for Holloway 48-47. ESPN also scored the fight 48-47 for Holloway.
The rematch co-headlined UFC 251 on Fight Island -- Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Volkanovski, of Australia, wanted a finish in the rematch, to silence any observers who felt his first win against Holloway, in December, was close. In the end, Volkanovski wasn't able to do so, but he said he was pleased with the result.
"We had 10 rounds," Volkanovski said. "I was able to dominate some; of course, he won some rounds, as well. Credit to him. He's durable. I thought I could take him out of this fight, but we prepared for the worst. I wanted to finish him, but we got the job done."
Holloway, 28, appeared to seize control early, as he dropped Volkanovski in the first and second rounds. Holloway knocked the Aussie down with a head kick in the final minute of the opening round and dropped him again late in the second with an uppercut. Volkanovski recovered quickly on both occasions.
Momentum started to change in the third. Volkanovski continued to rack up leg kicks -- a big theme in the first fight -- and began to find a home more frequently with his jab and left hook. In the fourth and fifth rounds, Volkanovski started to mix in his wrestling. He scored takedowns late in the fight and stayed consistent with his jab and leg kicks.
"It was a tough fight. He stood there and didn't take a backwards step," Volkanovski said of Holloway. "He made it tough for me in the earlier rounds; I didn't use the kicks as much as I would have liked, but I got the job done. That's the main thing. I knew it was two rounds apiece going into that last round. I had to win that last round. I wanted a finish. He went for the finish. Unfortunately, neither of us got it.
"I won the decision, and that's what counts."
According to UFC Stats data, Volkanovski landed 139 strikes to 111 for Holloway and converted three of nine takedown attempts.
Volkanovski said having a short camp to prepare for the fight was tough but that he knew Holloway was dealing with the same circumstances.
"We both had short camps, so no excuses," Volkanovski said. "He made some good adjustments, so it took me a while to get used to that.
"I got there in the end. The first two rounds were tough, but I came away with the last three. I had to use all of my tools this fight. It just shows you what type of fighter Max Holloway is."
Holloway, of Hawai'i, was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet not long ago, but he has now lost three of his past four contests. He suffered a decision loss to Dustin Poirier in an interim lightweight title bout in April 2019. He rebounded with a 145-pound featherweight title defense against Frankie Edgar three months later, before dropping two in a row to Volkanovski.
Volkanovski said he hopes he isn't finished fighting this year.
"I definitely want to get another fight in [before the end of the year]. I want to stay active," he said. "I'm one of the champions who is chasing the contenders. We've got a lot of guys in the division who are about to fight each other, and I'm eyeing every one of them. I want to make defenses and take out No. 1 contenders. That's what I want to do."