Alexander Volkanovski wants to be remembered as one of the greatest featherweight champions in UFC history, and he’s well on his way to doing just that.
After beating Max Holloway twice in the space of seven months, the Aussie then retained his belt against main contender Brian Ortega at UFC 266 in September.
Former featherweight champion Holloway isn’t one to go down without a fight, but he proved no match for Volkanovski in their two battles.
At UFC 254, the five-inch height advantage for “Blessed” was completely negated by the challenger’s aggression as he claimed a unanimous decision.
It was much closer in their rematch on Fight Island, with “The Great” dropped twice, but he was able to change tactics and pick up a decision victory.
But for those who watched the Australian grow up in New South Wales, ‘Volka’ was just doing what he had done throughout his sporting career.
The 5ft 6in superstar was a former semi-professional rugby league striker – a position reserved for much taller men – and was even considered one of the best in his region.
Former Warilla Gorilla teammate Ngatai Hetet told The Athletic how Volkanovski used to regularly ruffle men way bigger than him, including a heavy hitter known affectionately as ‘Shrek’.
“[His opposition was] three times bigger and he was the best in the whole league,” Hetet said. “These guys are heavyweights like Brock Lesnar.
“Alex was just carrying guys. He would always push a player away. He was amazing. If he had an extra foot, he would definitely be in the [National Rugby League].
“He didn’t care about people’s height. He was running the ball all day. He was not afraid, no matter how small. And even if someone twice his size started picking on him or tried to fight him off, he would clean them up. You wouldn’t want to fight him, no matter how small.“There was a guy named Shrek who was probably the tallest in the league. Almost 7 feet and 150 pounds. Him and Alex ended up having a little fight, a little fight. Because Alex was so short, he had to jump to try and hit him in the head.
“But Alex was not afraid. He didn’t care about your size. If you wanted to fight, Alex would.
Although Volkanovski is on the precipice of greatness in the 145-pound division, he weighed around 60 pounds more than that during his rugby career.
After initially undergoing MMA training to maintain his fitness during pre-season, the former Greco-Roman wrestler began to fall in love with the sport again and revealed on the Joe Rogan experience how he finally made it to the top. to the world title.
He said: “I had four amateur fights [when playing rugby] then turned pro. [My first loss] who was against at the time, Corey Nelson; he was number one pound for pound.
“Obviously it was at welterweight, it was very early in my career and I shouldn’t have taken that fight. But we were in a tournament and I got it first, so I got the favorite right away.
“And again, it was in a division that I probably never should have been in. But, you know, I took it and I did well, I held on, but things didn’t go well.
“It went a lot better for me after that because I realized he was too strong so I thought ‘well I have to go down, or I have to start struggling too’. So that’s what that’s when I started to struggle after that.
“I remember doing this jiu-jitsu competition, I was on the podium and I got gold, so I was on the first podium, they’re on the second and third and they’re always bigger than me.
“That’s why now I’m fighting at featherweight.
“I’m used to footy players, big guys, early rowers and middleweight fights, and all these different divisions.
“Now I look at these featherweights, they’re puny compared to what I’m used to.”
“Obviously, dieting is absolutely essential. Even now, when I’m training so hard, if you don’t diet well, the weight doesn’t come off.
“Starting early, I didn’t know much. I don’t know what I know now having dieticians, I’ve never done that. I literally ate next to nothing.
“I was training a lot; I was coaching rugby league, fighting, coaching and then concrete [work]. And when I got closer to the fights, I ate almost nothing.
When Rogan asked if he got sick from yoyo dieting, Volkanovski was extremely honest.
“Yeah, 100%,” he replied, “staph infections all the time.
“It’s crucial, diet – the science of everything – now it’s an absolute game-changer.
“I had to miss fights because of bad staph infections, MRSA and all that kind of [stuff].”
He is back in action at UFC 273, where he will make his third title defense.
He was originally slated for Holloway in a trilogy before an injury forced him to pull out. After calls from several fighters, Volkanovski opted to face former title challenger Chan Sung Jung, better known as “The Korean Zombie”.