Alexander Volkanovski keen on UFC return even as exact plans up in air

Alexander Volkanovski doesn't know who his next opponent will be. Nor does he know what weight class he will fight in when he makes his highly anticipated return to the Octagon. What he does know is the fire to compete at the highest level in the UFC is burning as great as ever.

The Australian star is continuing to recover from his brutal and unexpected knockout loss to Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 in February. The defeat saw Volkanovski relinquish the featherweight title, which he had held and repeatedly defended since defeating Max Holloway in the first of the pair's trilogy fights almost five years earlier.

Volkanovski, speaking to ESPN in Melbourne on Wednesday, confirmed he will be offered a chance at recapturing the belt he had made his own, though scheduling and opponents remain up in the air.

"My next fight at featherweight will be for the title. I know that for a fact," Volkanovski said. "After the last one I said I'd wait until the end of the year, and that's still the plan, [so] it's just the timing. Obviously, I wanted to wait. I don't know exactly what the plans are because I haven't been hounding the UFC. I've just been taking it easy. I don't know if they've got plans."

A rematch against Topuria would generally be rubber-stamped for someone who has dominated the division for as long as Volkanovski, but a curveball was thrown when Topuria declared his desire to next fight second-ranked Holloway.

Topuria was in attendance for Holloway's buzzer-beating KO of Justin Gaethje in April and has labeled a fight between the two as "legacy" defining. It's one the UFC appears keen to bring to fruition later this year.

If that fight was to be green lit, the likelihood of the winner battling Volkanovski in 2024 would appear slim. And that doesn't align with Volkanovski's plans of making his Octagon return this year. To that end, speculation continues to mount that Volkanovski could be in action sooner, or even unveiled as part of what's shaping up to be a stacked UFC 305 card at RAC Arena in Perth later this year.

That card is currently rumored to be headlined by the return of former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, who was famously upset by Sean Strickland the last time he featured in the sport.

"I went to Thailand to do some training and it just kick-starts that fire again," Volkanovski told ESPN. "I said [I would next fight at the] end of the year, but I'm already talking to my manager, 'What do you reckon? What could we tee up?'

"I'm hearing this is happening, that's happening. Maybe I could fill in ... a late replacement Volk. I'm getting that itch again, and that's the fire you want to see in me. I can't wait to get back in there."

If the UFC has promised Volkanovski a shot at recapturing his featherweight title, an appearance in Perth this August could very well be at lightweight. Volkanovski is no stranger to the division, having famously twice shared the Octagon with reigning champion Islam Makhachev, though on both occasions he suffered defeat.

The first of the two fights -- which was also staged in Perth in February 2023 -- would go down as one of that year's best battles. Volkanovski took the second fight in October on just 11 days' notice.

Regardless of what unfolds for Volkanovski over the coming months, the brawler from Wollongong has enjoyed his mini break from the sport and has relished the opportunity to spend more time with his family.

"I'm honestly great. It's been good. I haven't had a break for 13, 14 years," Volkanovski said. "But that's the commitment I've had to the sport and it's what has got me to where I am.

"I'm very, very proud that's the sort of mindset and mentality I had. It's been good to just have a little bit of a break from that. That extra family time has been great."