From engineer to prizefighter, Volkov taking step forward vs Struve

There are easier ways to make a living than prizefighting, even for those who stand at an imposing six-foot-seven and have been training in martial arts since childhood. 

And though this can’t be called easy, working in engineering, a field where Alexander Volkov got his degree from Bauman Moscow State Technical University in 2011, would be less taxing on the body. Volkov didn’t care. He was a fighter, and he wasn’t concerned if anyone had a dissenting opinion.

“Engineers are taught to take personal responsibility for their professional activities, to be ready for self-decision,” Volkov said through a translator. “So, I took the decision and my family accepted it.”
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Truth be told, by the time graduation rolled around, it was already too late. Entering 2011, the Moscow native was 9-3 as a pro mixed martial artist and gaining positive notices around Europe. By the end of that year, he added five more wins and was two months away from defeating former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez.

Fast forward a little over five years, and he’s headlining Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card in Rotterdam against Stefan Struve. It’s a whole new world for “Drago,” whose nickname came from an obvious source.

“I was nicknamed Drago for my resemblance to the character in the sports drama Rocky IV,” he said. “Or, rather, to Dolph Lundgren, who played Ivan Drago.”

Yet unlike the fictional Russian destroyer who wilted at the sight of his own blood, the 28-year-old Volkov has weathered the ups and downs of a fight career and is not only still standing, but on the verge of big things in the UFC heavyweight division, especially if he beats Struve this weekend.

“It’s a new chapter and a step forward on the long way to a title fight,” he said when asked where a victory over Struve puts him in a weight class where he has already ascended to the No. 7 spot in the rankings after wins over Tim Johnson and Roy Nelson. But he knows he’s not “there” yet.

“I have defeated just two contenders,” he said. “So much still remains to be done.”

The first order of business is figuring out a unique puzzle in the 6-11 ½ Struve. For the first time, Volkov is in with someone he will have to look up to on fight night, but he has made the adjustments in training camp, and he’s ready to take that challenge.

“This time my sparring partners are taller,” he said. “You know, there are nuances when one works on techniques for fighting a tall opponent. It’s more challenging to adjust distance and reach and make head-level kicks.”

The man with the engineering degree does know a little something about breaking down a problem and figuring it out, though. And on Saturday, all his worlds collide in an eight-sided cage, a prospect he can’t wait for.

“MMA fans deserve to see great show,” he said. “I am going to do my best to give that to them.”

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