Most fighters suffer some kind of nervousness before a fight, even if it’s just on the walk to the Octagon. Not UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. Not even when thinking about defending his belt against the dangerous Brian Ortega at UFC 266.
“I’ve just always been this way,” explains the 32-year-old Australian. “I’m very mentally strong – I just don’t accept nerves. Even as a kid I was like this. I like to be in control of all the things I’m doing. Not just with fighting, but even if I’m out drinking. I don’t have too much because I like to keep myself in check and have control and know what’s going on.
“It’s a good skill to have and it’s something that a lot of athletes lack,” says the featherweight. “I’m ready for war against Ortega and I know I’m going to come out on top. I don’t just want to beat him, I really want to put on a show and get the finish. I want to show that not only will I beat these guys, but I will beat them bad!”
Alexander Volkanovski Interview | UFC 266
Alexander Volkanovski Interview | UFC 266
This isn’t spoken with arrogance, just years of competing in combat sports and before that rugby league, often against men twice his size. And the fighter nicknamed “The Great” is especially happy with his latest camp after recovering from a bout of COVID-19 that saw him withdraw from his scheduled fight against Ortega at UFC 260.
“I’m feeling really good,” he reveals. “I’ve been focusing on all the little one-percent things like hydration, recovery, diet and all the stuff I never paid much attention to. I’m really cruising through these camps and I feel young again.”
And what does he think of his opponent, Brian Ortega?
“I’m sure he’s fit, but my pace and pressure will be too much,” predicts Volkanovski. “One man to deal with me round after round? I will break him. I do ‘shark tank’ with bigger boys and wear them out, then get fresh guys in and then wear them out. I know it’s only talk now, but the beauty is I’ll get to prove it soon. My pace and my stress levels will be too much. Opponents can’t figure out what I’m doing and it’s hard for them to keep up physically and mentally. It breaks them. That’s what I see happening against Ortega.”
Brian Ortega’s last fight against Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night 180 was an almost flawless performance, especially after being away from competing for almost two years, but Volkanovski wasn’t as impressed as others.
“He did some great things in his last fight, but that was against a ‘Zombie’ who let him work his game. I’m a different breed. He will have no time against me. I’ll be in his face and he will be under pressure for every moment. There will be so many things for him to worry about.”
Volkanovski admits his personal opinion of Ortega seems to have soured a little since appearing on The Ultimate Fighter, where he and Ortega coached against each other.
“I’m easy going, but if I’m annoyed at somebody, I will tell them, that’s who I am. Is it a crazy rivalry between him and me? Probably not, but do I want to go out there and hurt him? Yes, I do. One hundred percent. I don’t really like the guy, I’m sure he doesn’t like me. We aren’t friends. Yes, I want to punch him in the face.”
Though he’s undefeated in the UFC, the 145-pound champ still has something to prove to the doubters and haters. Even when he’s not technically the underdog, he feels like to a section of the audience he always will be.
“I’m just a no-bullshit regular guy and some people don’t appreciate my style. I take notice of that disrespect – I actually go looking for it. Then I take pleasure in proving them wrong. I use that negative energy and turn it into a positive.”
I don’t really like the guy, I’m sure he doesn’t like me. We aren’t friends. Yes, I want to punch him in the face.
One thing nobody can criticize the man from Wollongong, NSW for is his blue-collar work ethic, which at one stage saw him working as a concreter, playing footy and fighting MMA on weekends.
“Yeah, I’m not afraid of hard work,” he says. “It’s the same with life – there are challenging days, challenging weeks and challenging years. But all of these challenges make you who you are. I’m in a sport where there are a lot of great lessons to be learned. I try to use those to better me.”
As far as future challenges, the impressive win by Max Holloway over Calvin Kattar has sparked calls for a third meeting between Volkanovski and the Hawaiian former champion.
“Yeah, a lot of people have been asking me questions about him lately,” concedes Alex. “Right now, I’ve only got my eyes on Ortega. I’ll answer questions about Max afterwards. I don’t hate on the man. He’s got a lot of fans. Let’s leave it at that.”
Asked how he believes his second title defense will play out, “The Great” doesn’t mince words.
“I’m too complete a fighter for him. Sure, anybody can get caught, but I’m going to be doing everything to prevent that from happening. We have a good game plan going into this one. I’m confident and in very high spirits.”
“I’m too much for him. I’m very confident about this and I want to put on a show,” admits Volkanovski. “You hear people talk about the entertainment business, and now I really understand it. I want to put on a show and Ortega’s chin is going to cop it.”
If all goes to plan, the Aussie aims to celebrate with his team, before heading back home to Australia. It’s clear this is a man who truly appreciates the people around him as well as what he’s achieved.
“It’s important that I win this not just for me, but for my family, for my coaches and training partners, and for Australia. I want to thank them all and show them it was all worth it.”