UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski may be on an amazing 20-fight winning streak, but the Australian believes he can still take his MMA game to a higher level. And he’ll be looking to prove it when he faces Chan Sung Jung – aka The Korean Zombie – at UFC 273.
“You’re going to see a new me,” declares the 33-year-old. “I can’t wait to show everyone. I have one goal, which is to win, but I’m going to do it in wild fashion.”
While Volkanovski has beaten everybody who has stood across from him in the Octagon, he has had his detractors. However, many of them were surely silenced after his win over Brian Ortega at UFC 266.
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The third round of that bout was particularly dramatic, with commentator Jon Anik describing it as, “One of the best title rounds you’ll ever see.”
Volkanovski is inclined to agree.
“That’s the round everyone will be talking about for years to come. I was landing big shots and you could see it going downhill for Ortega, then he caught that kick, threw a jab and got me off balance. He jumped straight on it. Credit where credit is due, the way he snatched that up was incredible, and I didn’t expect him to put me in that submission straight away. It was deep.”
Did the champ think about tapping?
“No, either I go to sleep or his arms gas out. I don’t accept defeat – that’s just the mentality I have. I had to find a way. But the lights were dimming, and I was thinking. ‘Is this it?’ I could barely breathe, then I made space.”
Volkanovski somehow escaped the guillotine and immediately turned up the heat on the American, only to soon find himself trapped in another sub attempt. This time, it was a triangle choke.
“The triangle was a walk in the park compared to the guillotine,” laughs Volkanovski. “And after I got out of that, I needed to pay him back. I don’t like losing a position. I also don’t like getting punched in the face – not because it hurts, but because it means he’s getting one up on me. It’s an ego thing.”
The 145-pounder nicknamed “The Great” credits his ability to survive that round with the hard training he does at the Freestyle Fighting Gym, south of Sydney. Although he pays regular visits to New Zealand’s famed City Kickboxing, as well, it’s Freestyle that is his home base. The Aussie gym is run by former kickboxer Joe Lopez.
“Joe Lopez,aka Master Splinter,” jokes Volkanovski, in a nod to the wise old trainer fromTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “The first time I ever set foot in a gym, it was here with Joe – and I’ll stay here for my whole career. We have that chemistry. There’s banter, but nobody knows me better than Joe. He can immediately tell if something is up. When I go to NZ or Thailand, he’s there making sure I don’t kill myself, but I also don’t half-arse it!”
For those not familiar with Australian vernacular, to “half-arse” something is to do a poor job. There was no such behavior during Volkanovski’s latest fight camp, which he says went very smoothly and left him feeling fitter, sharper and stronger. At the same time, he’s still trying to hold on to an underdog mentality.
“I like to put these guys I’m fighting on a pedestal. No matter who is in front of me, I’m going to give them that respect. To expect them to be on their A-game. Then if I’m studying them and preparing for the best version of them, I know I’m going to crumble them.”
Volkanovski’s UFC 273 opponent is definitely pedestal-worthy. The Korean Zombie has had a career of highlight-reel finishes and performance bonuses, and was the first person in the UFC to successfully pull off a Twister submission. His many fans actually include the Aussie champion.
“I can’t wait to hear him walking out to the song ‘Zombie’ – it’s iconic. His style is exciting and he has that nickname for a reason. He walks forward and looks for the counter shots. And he’s been improving, showing a heap of different skills. All of these guys are improving, but I am, too.”
Volkanovski continues, “Zombie’s got a puncher’s chance and I’m not saying that with disrespect. I’m sharp and calculating, so his best chance is with me slipping up. My prediction for UFC 273 is I’m going to prove why I’m on a level above. If you want me to give you a round...I’m feeling a second- or third-round finish.”
UFC 273: Volkanovski vs The Korean Zombie took place on Saturday, April 9, 2022, live from a sold out VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!