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UFC lightweight champion, Islam Makhachev (L) and UFC featherweight champion, Alex Volkanovski (R) face off during a UFC284 Media Opportunity on January 22, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Zuffa LLC)
Fight Coverage

Coach Conversation | Islam Makhachev vs Alexander Volkanovski

Elite MMA Coaches Break Down Saturday's UFC 284 Lightweight Championship Main Event

Ahead of every championship fight, UFC staff writer E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from the men that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.

How To Watch UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski In Your Country

For UFC 284, Kyte called upon Tyson Chartier, head coach of the New England Cartel, and Eddie Barraco, MMA Coach at Xtreme Couture, to provide their thoughts on four key points heading into the lightweight championship main event between Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski this weekend in Perth, Australia.

Best Trait of Each Fighter

Kyte: At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?

Chartier: Obviously, with Islam, I’m going to say it’s his ground game. People will say, “He has good striking, too,” but I think it’s one of those things where his striking is good because of his ground game. It’s his ground game, his strength, his size, his overall domination on the ground.

Main Event Preview | UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
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Main Event Preview | UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
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With Alex, it’s his ability to keep adapting. He doesn’t look the same in any of his fights. He came into the UFC as a grappler — kind of a “lay and pray” type guy, a boring fighter. If you look at him and Jeremy Kennedy, when they came to the UFC, they were basically the same fighter — take you down, grind you out — but as Alex has been in there longer, he’s evolved into this guy that can pick you apart on the feet.

It’s really impressive what he’s done, how much he’s changed. It’s his ability to keep adapting and his ability to follow a strict game plan. I think Joe Lopez puts together some good game plans, and he picks people apart with those plans.

Barraco: I think Islam’s is probably a glaring one — his ability to control on the ground and wrestle. We have seen that he can strike, I’m not sure I can say it’s on the level of Volkanovski, but I think his dominance on the ground is a big thing, a big tool for him.

Volkanovski, it’s his ability to control the range, strike from different ranges, and then get off line and draw you into shots. Things like that are where he’s second to none. He’s real long for his height, reach-wise, and I think that throws a lot of people off. I think we saw that with the Holloway fights.

UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski

Path to Victory for Each Fighter

Kyte: Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that’s not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it’s usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the Octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.

So, how does either man get it done on Saturday night?

UFC 284 Fight By Fight Preview

Barracco: It’s funny because it’s similar to (Josh) Emmett’s path, which is closing the distance, but I think for Islam, instead of setting up the striking and his big power off that, it’s being able to blend his striking into his wrestling and being able to get Volkanovski on the ground or on the cage, work his chain wrestling off the cage to get him down, something along those lines.

And then similar to Yair (Rodriguez) — especially early in the fight — Volkanovski needs to see the distance, control the ranges, get himself off line after his shots, not allow those easy takedowns. I think he needs to blend a lot of body work, digging uppercuts into the combos; make it harder for Islam to shoot under and make it uncomfortable to change levels.

As the fight goes on, he can get a gauge on how he’s doing defending the takedowns, and if he’s seeing the shots, he can let his hands go more.

Chartier: I think with Alex, it’s footwork — he’s just got to keep moving, not let Islam get on top of him, overwhelm him. There should be a size difference — naturally there will be a size difference, even if Volkanovski comes in the same size, that’s not his natural weight.

I think he’s got to use his footwork to keep the distance and look for those opportunities to engage on his terms, maybe even mix in some takedowns himself to keep (Islam off balance). I think he’s got to pick his shots, fight on his terms, and not be on his heels.

For Islam, it’s stay in his face, keep him on his back foot, and then close the distance and make him wear you. Be the bigger guy, wear on him — it’s five rounds — and get on top when you can.

Islam Makhachev | 2022 Résumé
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Islam Makhachev | 2022 Résumé
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X Factor

Kyte: If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out — that swings it in one direction or the other — what would it be?

Chartier: I have to think the X factor is going to be cardio, because I think Volk has gone into five-round wars and two of those were close — those Max fights were very close — and he dug deep. The second Max fight, he lost the first two rounds and won the last three, so cardio is something he’s got, and there aren’t a lot of fights that go deep for Islam.

It will be interesting to see how well he does with that, knowing that it’s five rounds, against a guy that has cardio for five rounds. It’s easy to say, “He’s gone three hard rounds with guys,” but it’s easy to go three hard rounds when you know there’s not a fourth and fifth, so I’m really interested to see how the cardio plays out if they go past that third round.

MORE UFC 284: Co-Main Preview | Volkanovski = Greatness | Michael Chandler Breaks Down Main Event | Jack Della Maddalena's Résumé | Islam Makhachev's Big Year

Barraco: I would definitely say it’s Islam’s wrestling, at least in terms of what we’ve seen out of him so far anyway. His ability to dominate on the ground is a real X factor. I think Volkanovski can do well in defending takedowns, it’s just a matter of can he defend his, and we won’t know that until they fight.

Alexander Volkanovski | 2022 Résumé
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Alexander Volkanovski | 2022 Résumé
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One Coaching Curiosity

Kyte: Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the Octagon.

Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach’s interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.

So what is that one thing in this matchup?

Barraco: Like a lot of people, I’m looking forward to this one and seeing who can enforce their game plan and impose their will because both guys do things so well, on a whole other level.

I will be looking to see how Volkanovski deals with the wrestling, how his takedown defense is — that will be interesting — and for Islam, if the fight does stay on the feet longer than it usually does for him, how good is he on his feet? How good is his striking? It’d be nice to actually see that, see it put to the test, and see how good he is there, really.

Michael Chandler Main Event Breakdown | UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
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Michael Chandler Main Event Breakdown | UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski
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Chartier: I think it’s two things: I’m really curious to see if Volkanovski makes him defensively wrestle. Does he go out there and poke the bear, looking to tire him out? Throw some shots that he’s not really committed on just to keep him honest, keep him defensive and tire him out a little.

And if he does that, is he able to take him down, because if (Thiago) Moises is able to take Islam down, you can assume Volkanovski would be able to take him down.

That’s one, and the other would be, is Islam as good on the feet as everybody talks? We hear Javier (Mendez), Khabib (Nurmagomedov), “DC” (Daniel Cormier) talk about “He’s the best fighter. He’s way better than Khabib was on the feet. He’s the complete package,” all this stuff. So if the fight stays on the feet, is he able to hang with Volkanovski, who has shown he’s been able to pick apart some of the best strikers in the UFC?

UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski took place live from RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia on February 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive all the action on UFC Fight Pass