FOR Australia’s two best UFC fighters, there is a red-rag-to-a-bull feel about the show in Perth next February.
Alex Volkanovski is the featherweight champion taking on lightweight king Islam Makhachev for his belt. Robert Whittaker is fighting Paulo Costa in a bid to reclaim the middleweight belt he lost to Israel Adesanya who has just lost it to Alex Pereira.
The pair will headline Australia’s charge to glory at Perth’s RAC Arena at UFC 284 on February 12, but it’s clear that both Volkanovski and Whittaker are being driven by what others say they can’t do.
For pound-for-pound No.1 Volkanovski, it’s successfully being able to win the lightweight title and then defend that and his featherweight crown simultaneously.
“I’m trying to do things that not only people don’t want to do, but people haven’t done,” Volkanovski said.
“Not many people are putting themselves in the position I am, they usually have a more calculated approach when they move up and fight the champion. They’re looking at who it is, the timing, all that type of stuff.
“Me? I don’t care who is holding that belt, bring it on.
“The bigger task, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the win. So I’m looking forward to going out there and really making history by doing something like that and defending both belts, which no one has done.
“I proved that I want to be active, and I’ll show you that I can by defending both belts.
“It’s going to be a historic event, but for me to go out there and take this bloke out, Islam Makhachev, Khabib 2.0, the feared fighter a lot of the lightweights don’t want to fight, here I am, a featherweight moving up a division to fight this guy.
“People think there’s no I’m going to get back to my feet. Just watch me shock the world.”
For 31-year-old Whittaker, whose been fighting in the UFC since 2013, it’s about proving that he can still teach new lessons to the young dogs coming through in a company he’s helped catapult to unprecedented success.
“It’s a pride that I hold that I’ve had a hand in bringing the spotlight to Australian mixed martial arts, because when I started it wasn’t what it is today, nowhere near,” Whittaker said.
“And the sport wasn’t as big, wasn’t as well known, and we didn’t have the support for the athletes to help it grow faster.
“We’re doing a pay-per-view card in Perth, and from top to bottom it’s Australian fighters, I’m very proud.
“It’s a weird concept for me to get around as the old dog now. I do believe the best is yet to come, I’m only starting to hit my stride.
“I really do feel my best performances are still ahead of me.”
If he gets through Costa, Whittaker will be in line to face the winner of an inevitable Pereira-Adesanya title rematch.
“I’m always looking to showcase my wrestling and grappling skills, I still feel that it’s a point I haven’t really shown in the division,” Whittaker said.
“I don’t think people really realise how good of a grappler I am. I’ve never been manhandled, never been held down, I barely get taken down, although I do the opposite to everybody else.
“Alex, just the way he stands, the way he fights, he’s not as defensive as Israel is. He doesn’t use his height and reach and length like Israel does. It’s much better stylistically for me to fight.”