It was only announced earlier this week that Alexander Volkanovski would be defending his belt against former champion Max Holloway again, marking the third contest between the two at UFC 272 in March. Unfortunately for Holloway, he was forced out with a recurring injury, rocking the MMA world with that announcement on Friday.
That sent up a hail storm on the social media landscape, with anyone remotely near the top of the division whom the champion hasn’t disposed of yet offering their services. The Korean Zombie. Yair Rodriguez. Josh Emmett. Even former flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo threw his hat in the ring.
Perhaps the least surprising volunteer was Giga Chikadze. While Chikadze is scheduled to fight next weekend against Calvin Kattar, the Georgia native has proven he has no problem taking a fight on short notice, having fought a total of four times in 2020, including a turnaround of less than a month after his previous contest.
Volkanovski did respond to some of the voices, saying he was open to the idea of fighting Korean Zombie and reminding Rodriguez he has had one fight in the last two years, which happened to be a loss. However, he also dismissed Chikadze, pointing out to Chikadze he is fighting Kattar. While Volkanvoski’s efforts on social media are entertaining, the decision on who he fights isn’t solely up to him. No doubt Volkanovski has a say – he does have to sign the contract – but the UFC management will be having their say as well.
That’s why the UFC should wait until after Chikadze and Kattar settle their score. Should Chikadze win, his resume will arguably be the strongest out of all the candidates who’ve raised their hands. Korean Zombie’s win streak sits at one. While Cejudo is a former champion, he has never fought at featherweight. Plus, his last fight came in May 2020 and he isn’t the audience draw he likes to portray himself as. Volkanovski already pointed out the massive hole in Rodriguez’s argument as his last win goes even further back than Cejudo’s. That leaves Emmett as the most complete resume to compete with Chikadze.
Of course, that’s dependent upon Chikadze beating Kattar, which isn’t a given. It’s not like Kattar hasn’t earned the right to headline several other Fight Night cards besides this one. Regardless, it’s a very winnable contest for Chikadze and it would be his eighth win in eight UFC appearances if he were to emerge victorious. Emmett has won six of his seven contests since dropping to featherweight, including his last four in a row. While that streak isn’t as long as Chikadze’s, there’s a case Emmett has faced a higher level of competition overall during that time. Then again, if Chikadze does beat Kattar, he’ll probably be in possession of the highest quality win between the two of them.
However, given the UFC is a business first and a sports organization second, it’s going to pay attention to its bottom line more than who is most deserving. Thus, while Emmett may be right that he’s the most deserving – especially if Kattar ends up beating Chikadze – the Korean Zombie seems like he’s the front runner – for now. Zombie has always been given a strong push by the UFC promotion machine and he has consistently rewarded those efforts with several highlight reel finishes and barnburner fights. The UFC may decide Zombie could sell a few more PPV’s and slot him opposite Volkanovski solely on that reasoning. It wouldn’t be the first time they put a better money maker over a more deserving candidate.
That said, waiting until after Chikadze and Kattar have thrown down is obviously the ideal scenario. If Chikadze wins, wins impressively, and doesn’t have a lengthy medical suspension, it would be hard to deny him the opportunity to face Volkanovski for the belt. It’s not like it’ll be easy for Chikadze to accomplish all that, but waiting adds more intrigue to next week’s event and should add more to the promotion of UFC 272 as well. Plus, Chikadze could say or do something in that that changes their mind on his marketability in comparison to the Korean Zombie. Should Chikadze lose, the UFC should still have a debate between the Zombie and Emmett, but Chikadze deserves a chance to prove he should be in the conversation.
The biggest potential roadblock to this scenario would be Volkanovski. It’s only understandable he would want to know who he is facing in his next title defense as soon as possible. However, will an extra week matter that much provided he continue to train for a fight in that time? Volkanovski comes across as a guy who is willing to take on all comers, so the belief here is that he’d be alright with that. However, I don’t represent him, so it’s presumptuous for me to take that approach. Volkanovski is a world champion fighter and if he isn’t happy with that scenario, I’m sure he’d have some damn good reasons why. Nevertheless, the decision isn’t solely his to make as the UFC will have a say in this.
As it always does, the UFC will do whatever it wants. Given the continued growth of the organization, it’s hard to argue it’ll be detrimental to their organization if they chose to name Volkanovski’s opponent prior to next weekend’s event. However, just because a decision isn’t detrimental doesn’t mean it’s the best decision and in order to make the best decision, they should gather as much information as possible. They can only do that if they wait until after Chikadze and Kattar take care of business.