A win at UFC 297 this weekend could put England’s Arnold Allen on a collision course with Australia’s featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski.
But first, both men must overcome intriguing challenges in the form of rapidly rising upstarts in the 145-pound ranks.
Allen, ranked third in the division takes on ninth ranked Movsar Evloev in Toronto this weekend, with Volkanovski defending his title against Ilia Topuria at UFC 298 next month.
But Arnold wonders if Volkanovski is rushing into the Topuria fight too quickly following his knockout loss to Islam Makhachev in October.
“He usually seems to be very intelligent with his approach – and I guess it’s easy to say for me because I haven’t been offered the kind of money and all the incentives he was offered for that last fight – but it seemed a bit off-script for him,” Allen told this masthead.
Allen can put himself back into title contention with a win at UFC 297 in Toronto this weekend. Picture: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
“It seemed like something he wouldn’t do.
“A very calculated, smart fighter doing that? Now, on the back of it, on the back of a knockout loss straight into another training camp?
“Again, it was another miscalculation in my opinion. I hope he’s recovered from that and his training camp has been great, because it would be a shame to see a great tarnish his legacy because of a couple of missteps.”
In the aftermath of the Makhachev loss, Volkanovski revealed he had been dealing with some mental health issues.
Allen applauded the Aussie’s move, and genuinely wished his potential future rival a speedy recovery.
“He’s one of the best featherweights of all time, but he came out and spoke about his own troubles,” he said. “In my mind, I’m like, ‘He’s done everything I want to achieve and then some and he has the world at his feet’.
“But he is a human, and I just hope that that isn’t what’s pushing these decisions to stay so active and keep his mind off whatever’s bothering him. I want to see the best version of him.”
Volkanovski admitted to dealing with mental health issues following his loss to Islam Makhachev. Picture: Getty Images
First though, Allen must contend with 29-year-old Evloev, who is 17-0 as a professional and 9-0 in the UFC.
Despite the difference in their rankings, Allen believes a good win will see him back in title contention following his decision defeat to Max Holloway in April.
“It’s good timing for him, he’s undefeated and he’s on a tear,” Allen said. “It’s nice though, because I remember when I was in that position, fighters above me wanted to protect their spot.
“They didn’t want to fight.
“But, there’s easier fights up the rankings, so a win puts me back in the title picture again and amoungst the elite of the division again.”
Allen doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. Countrymen Leon Edwards and Tom Aspinall both currently own UFC gold, and the 29-year-old desperately wants to join them.
“When Leon won the title, I was training with him and was around him, and being part of those camps and seeing the work ethic, that was really inspirational,” he said. “Then with Tom, he’s similar to me and had his dad in his corner.
“When he won the title, he gave the belt to his dad.
“That’s exactly what I want to do – give the belt to my dad. He probably won’t know what to do with it, but that’s the moment I want and that’s the moment I’ve visualised for myself and my dad.”