Don’t forget Alexander Volkanovski despite end of reign at UFC 298

Saturday night in Anaheim, Calif., belonged to Ilia Topuria.

Republic of Georgia, the homeland of his parents where he grew up as a boy, revels in one of their own reaching the top.

Spain, where Topuria arrived as a teen and became a man and then a champion, can rejoice as it arrived at the top of the MMA world stage.

Yes, UFC 298 was the coming out party of Topuria as he exploded a grenade of a right hook on the chin of Alexander Volkanovski. What was once the Aussie’s — the featherweight championship — now is the Georgian-Spaniard’s.

The UFC is an organization of shiny new objects, and nothing shines brighter right now than its 27-year-old new champ.

But don’t get too distracted just yet as to quickly forget exactly what Volkanovski accomplished over the last four years.

Sustained excellence is about as rare as it gets in mixed martial arts, and Volkanovski’s five successful, consecutive title defenses over 1,526 days at the top of the 145-pound heap already have placed him among the legends of the sport.

Alexander Volkanovski reacts following the loss against Ilia Topuria during UFC 298. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Yes, it matters that there will not be a sixth. Yes, it matters that Day 1,527 as the top featherweight fighter on the planet will not come for Volkanovski (26-4, 16 finishes).

And yes, it very much matters that Ilia Topuria (15-0, 13 finishes) is the definitive and unquestioned top 145-pounder on Earth as he starts Day 1 of his reign.

But just days ago, it was Volkanovski who attracted the majority of fan adulation at the UFC 298 Press Conference. The good-humored, 35-year-old Aussie reprised the role from his popular ad for Sportsbet in his homeland — a character lovingly dubbed by fans as Old Man Volk — threw in a fake nap and some senior-isms and stole the show.

In rasslin’ terms, Volkanovski was over with the masses. Even Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerburg loves him, to the point Zuck accompanied Volk on his walk to the cage; they’ve trained together, too.

Two days later, “over” as it pertains to him means something else. Topuria ensured that.

Topuria had been confident throughout the lead-up to his first UFC title opportunity — first fight against anyone who’d ever competed for undisputed UFC gold, in fact — to the point of seeming delusion. He’d dubbed himself champion and added a win to his record in his social media bio. He’d foreseen a first-round knockout.

No delusion there; just a round late.

Ilia Topuria (right) punches Alexander Volkanovski during his victory in their UFC featherweight title bout. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

“That’s obvious that he has the power in the hands. We knew we gotta be careful about that,” Volkanovski said in the octagon afterward. “Well done to him. He caught me. I was gonna start working everything, and he got me, so credit to him.”

The opportunity to end it within 5 minutes never really manifested, as a patient Topuria favored calf kicks after a prolonged wait for his offense to open up. Before and after Topuria let the kicks and, later, his hands go, it was Volkanovski getting the better of the action. It looked like, maybe, he could beat the “over-35 curse” spoofed by Old Man Volk.

He could not. Not in Southern California, that is.

So where does that leave a dominant, dethroned champion who did not look old, per se, before he was unceremoniously crumpled on the canvas? We’ve seen such ex-champs get a second crack, an immediate rematch, in such scenarios before. We’ve also not. The whims of UFC brass can be fickle when it comes to such things.

Volkanovski floated an idea in the octagon moments after Topuria, during his first words as the best 145-pound mixed martial artist on the planet, called for Conor McGregor to face him on the Iberian Peninsula.

“I’ve been the champ of this featherweight division a long time,” Volkanovski said. “He keeps mentioning Spain. Maybe we do a rematch over there in Spain.”

For what it’s worth, UFC CEO Dana White deferred weighing in, telling reporters afterward that he is not thinking of whether Volkanovski would get a second chance right away. White did, however, note there interest in a Topuria-headlined Spain event.

The former champ’s idea is much more realistic, given the ongoing will-they-won’t they saga of when McGregor might actually face Michael Chandler after they coached against one another on “The Ultimate Fighter” last year. Who’s to say McGregor, whose villainous role in the upcoming “Road House” reboot, ever even fights again after nearly 3 years away and four since his last win?

Ilia Topuria celebrates after his UFC featherweight title victory over Alexander Volkanovski. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Topuria, when speaking with The Post during fight week, was dismissive of the top-five contenders as potential first title challengers.

“There is not any fight that makes sense for me because I’m gonna beat someone [Volkanovski] who already beat everyone in the top five,” Topuria explained. “… We’re gonna have to wait a little bit, and very soon we’re gonna have a new and clear challenger for the 145 title.”

He added that “the way I’m gonna beat [Volkanovski], they’re not gonna ask me for the rematch.” He might be right, although a case could be made for the highly accomplished ex-champ who beat Max Holloway three times, plus one win each against Brian Ortega, Yair Rodriguez and Chan Sung Jung.

Let’s not forget, though, the UFC has a way of compelling champions into fights the promotion wants, and White reminded reporters that UFC champions must face the top contenders.

Volkanovski’s aim has been to go down as the greatest featherweight of all time. Right now, Jose Aldo retains that title. But like Volkanovski, Aldo once lost his title via early knockout to a brash young international star — yep, another McGregor cameo.

If Volkanovski gets his way, he’ll have one more chance to make a run at Aldo’s GOAT status, maybe even in unfriendly territory in Spain. That means one more chance to prove those “old” guys can still win the big one once the biological clock his 35 years.

Don’t count him out, and don’t forget about him just yet.

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