UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is almost always respectful, but he knows how things get on The Ultimate Fighter and he expects some tension to build between himself and Brian Ortega as they coach against one another on the show’s 29th season.
“It’s friendly now, but I can’t promise it’ll be friendly by the end of it because I can already get that vibe that we’re both competitive dudes,” Volkanovski told UFC.com. “Both our teams want to win, and we’re going to do whatever we can to win. At the end of the day, we all have a little bit of ego as well, so we’re going to have something to prove as well.
Happenstance led the two featherweights to leading the teams in The Return of The Ultimate Fighter, which premieres on ESPN+ on June 1. Volkanovski intended to make his second title defense at UFC 260 against Ortega, but a positive COVID-19 test delayed the bout. As Volkanovski recovered from the virus, the timetable started to make a little more sense. After a quick call to his wife, “The Great” agreed to coach opposite Ortega in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter since 2018.
UFC 251: Volkanovski vs Holloway - Preview
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UFC 251: Volkanovski vs Holloway - Preview
After defending his belt for the first time in a rematch against Max Holloway, the opportunity to build some more excitement and anticipation for his bout against Ortega appealed to the Australian. As far as how Volkanovski is approaching his role as coach, it’s as methodical and refined as you’d expect from the champ.
“I go deep,” he said. “I don’t want to show you a move and that’s it. I want to explain why that move, and I want you to know the mechanics and the principles and things like that so you can get an understanding of why that move works, and not only that, you can use that move when you want. You can use a thousand moves just by knowing the little details.
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"There’s so many little things in every position that can be used in so many ways. That’s the type of guy I am. I like details, and the coaching staff we have, that’s how we are, so we’re going to be detailed in between different martial arts and all that type of stuff. It ain’t all about certain things. We’re all about the details, and that’s what I feel can really help the boys.”
Naturally, Volkanovski is as amiable as they come in the fight game. That said, several weeks seeing the same faces every day can cultivate some heat that inevitably bubbles to the surface. The way Volkanovski talks about he and his coaching staff’s approach to the show, there’s a sense that he knows there’s a chance to indulge in some mischief.
As we’ve all seen on previous seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, chances for that are aplenty.
“We not only got the knowledge, we got the banter (and) we got the pranks,” Volkanovski said. “We know how to stir the pot, so we’re going to have it all happen in this show, so I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m sure that a house full of guys in there, we all know how that obviously ends up a lot of times. Hopefully they can behave but have fun in there at the same time. I’m sure some stuff is going to go down.”
In terms of how he wants to create the environment on his own team, Volkanovski hopes he can build a sort of constructive camaraderie he personally relishes in his own camps and gyms. During tryouts, he intends to keep a close eye on how the contestants respond mentally as much as the physical aspect, and he believes his well-rounded coaching staff can assist any style of fighter they come across.
The best things are often happy accidents, and perhaps that’s exactly what the show stumbled into, turning some unfortunate circumstances into a window of opportunity. Volkanovski seems as game as they come, and given how he applies his competitiveness anywhere he sees fit, fireworks are as inevitable as anything in this season of The Ultimate Fighter.
“Let’s see what can happen,” Volkanovski said. “Stir the pot a little bit. What do you reckon, eh? A little bit of pranks, let’s do it. See how they react.”
Make sure you tune in to season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, which airs live on ESPN+ on June 1st at 9pm ET / 6pm PT.