UFC events are renowned for their high-octane action and drama, both inside and outside the cage. However, UFC 294 has set a new benchmark, replete with unexpected challenges and the unwavering spirit of its combatants. A meticulous analysis reveals not just the trials and tribulations leading up to the event, but also the grit and determination of its fighters.
Originally, enthusiasts and analysts were gearing up for a highly anticipated lightweight title rematch between Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira. The co-main event was shaping up to be equally electric, showcasing a grudge match between Khamzat Chimaev and Paulo Costa. The setting: the glitz and glamour of Abu Dhabi. But as fate would have it, unforeseen circumstances prompted both Oliveira and Costa to withdraw. The void left by such high-profile pullouts would be daunting for any promotion. But the UFC, ever agile and adaptive, swiftly rearranged the bouts. Fans were soon treated to the announcement of Makhachev vs. Alex Volkanovski 2 and Chimaev taking on the formidable Kamaru Usman.
However, the waves of uncertainty were far from over. A routine open workout session between Kamaru Usman and Justin Gaethje unexpectedly became the epicenter of speculations. The grapevine was abuzz with rumors that Usman, the former UFC welterweight champion, might have whispered about a potential injury to Gaethje. The alleged comment led to rife speculation about Usman’s fitness for the event. Usman, known for his candidness, swiftly addressed these rumors on his X account, saying, “This is why no one reads this sh***** a** blog. At what point while I was lightly drilling did you hear me say that to Justin. Stop with the clickbait you idiots.” Gaethje too offered clarification on his X page, emphasizing that Usman had not mentioned any injury.
In the midst of these swirling uncertainties, one facet remained crystal clear: the unwavering commitment of a champion. Islam Makhachev’s handling of the abrupt change in opponents serves as a testament to his fortitude. UFC’s stalwart, CEO Dana White, was effusive in his praise, sharing Makhachev’s words that encapsulate his undying spirit: “What does this title represent? It means you’re the best in the world and if you’re the best in the world, it doesn’t matter who’s going to be standing across from you. What do I say? No? Never. Let’s do this.”
Makhachev’s comments during the UFC 294 media day were equally impactful. He candidly addressed the standards expected of a UFC champion, even taking a jibe at Jon Jones’ past decisions. The Dagestani fighter said, “This is what a UFC champion has to do. Like a real champion. If you’re a real champion you have to take the fight, it doesn’t matter how many days, who it’s going to be, not like your pound-for-pound champion [Jon Jones] when they gave him Chael Sonnen. When you’re a real champion, you have to fight.” Dana White’s appreciation of Makhachev’s sentiments led to the fighter’s words being immortalized at the UFC’s renowned facilities.
The champion further addressed the dynamics of his upcoming fight against Volkanovski. He recognized the nuances at play, given that Volkanovski was stepping in on short notice against an opponent he had previously been defeated by. Makhachev’s outlook was clear and grounded, emphasizing his responsibility and readiness as a champion. He remarked, “I don’t have any pressure. Because I am a champion. It doesn’t matter who it’s going to be in front of me.”
Makhachev’s reflections extended to the realm of UFC rankings as well. His views, resonating with a segment of fans and fighters, were candidly expressed: “They put [Jon Jones] No. 1 [pound-for-pound]. Who has he beat his last five fights? I just want to say about the rankings, all these things, this is bulls*** and I am not following anymore. Because last time I beat [Alexander Volkanovski, No. 2 versus No. 1. If you beat No. 2, you have to be No. 1 but I don’t know who makes the rankings.”
As the date for UFC 294 draws nearer, it promises to be a landmark event not only for the action set to unfold in the cage but also for the narratives that have formed its intriguing prelude.