Nearly seven years into his UFC tenure and fresh off back-to-back first-round stoppage wins, Alexander Volkov is still focused on doing anything and everything he can in order to improve and keep climbing the heavyweight ranks.
Following his win over Alexandr Romanov in March, the 34-year-old Russian veteran opted to stay in Las Vegas, spending time at the UFC Performance Institute and traversing the combat sports hub for places he could continue improving his game.
“It’s about changing camps to learn new information and develop myself in martial arts,” said Volkov, who seeks a third straight victory this weekend in Sydney when he takes on local boy Tai Tuivasa in the co-main event of UFC 293 at Qudos Bank Arena. “I want to improve my skills, especially in jiu jitsu, in wrestling — in everything — so that’s why I had this camp in Las Vegas.”
Tai Tuivasa vs Alexander Volkov Preview | UFC 293
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Tai Tuivasa vs Alexander Volkov Preview | UFC 293
That constant search for ways to get better permeates every fiber of the life-long martial artist’s being, including the way he thinks about the totality of his time on the UFC roster to date.
While he carries a two-fight winning streak into Saturday’s battle with Tuivasa in Sydney, Volkov stands at 10-4 inside the Octagon and is currently positioned at No. 7 in the heavyweight rankings. He’s had several quality victories, but there have also been those four setbacks, each of which came just as the towering Russian was on the cusp of taking the next step towards title contention.
In reflecting on his journey, Volkov admitted, “My first fights in the UFC were nervous for me — it was a high level and I (thought) about the UFC my whole life. It was really tough because here, all fighters are going for gold, everybody wants to take the belt, and everybody is putting everything in the Octagon.
“It was difficult fighting here, mentally and physically, and I had to grow up and get better,” continued the veteran. “Being here in the UFC has made me get better and better from fight-to-fight.
“Up to this point, when I look at all my fights in the UFC, I’m happy because some losses push me to work really hard and become better and better,” added Volkov, who acknowledged that if things didn’t break that way, perhaps he wouldn’t have felt pressed to make those improvements. “I’m really happy with everything that has happened in the UFC for me. I’m here, I’m getting better, and I have a lot of motivation to keep getting better and better, and one day take the belt.”
Because of those past defeats to current contenders Curtis Blaydes, Tom Aspinall, and Ciryl Gane, all of whom are currently stationed ahead of Volkov in the rankings, there is a tendency to dismiss his chances of climbing the ranks and competing for championship gold.
But over his last two outings, we’ve seen a different version of Volkov — a more aggressive, more confident fighter who has been less content to work from space and let the fight come to him. Instead, he’s started each of his last two contests by marching to the center of the Octagon and meeting his opponents head-on, and it has resulted in quick, impressive finishes of Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Romanov.
“My fight with Alexandr Romanov was really short because before it was a lot of hard work,” he said with a smile, noting the game-planning that went into preparing to face the wrestler from Moldova. “We worked a lot with wrestlers and positions he always takes, going to the wall.
“In the fight, I believed in myself, believed he couldn’t take me down, so I defended and then did what I usually do and knocked him out.”
While the approach with Rozenstruik was different, the outcome was the same, with Volkov closing the distance, welcoming big exchanges with “Bigi Boy” and dispatching him in just over two minutes.
“I’m a pain in the ass for everybody who fights with me,” he said when asked about how he matches up with the rest of the fighters in the heavyweight division. “I will never be an easy fight for anyone in the division because I have high-level striking, good wrestling skills; I’m strong, I’m big, and I’m looking for the belt.
“I don’t think a fight with me is good for anyone in the division because I will go to the end to finish everybody.”
That includes Tuivasa, the proud West Sydney knockout artist who competes at home for the first time in seven years this weekend, and returns to the scene of his UFC debut looking to snap a two-fight skid.
“Tai Tuivasa is a good guy with a good career in the UFC,” Volkov began when asked about his UFC 293 opponent. “He’s really funny and a very powerful puncher. He’s a good fighter with good striking skills, but I think I have an advantage in (all areas). I’m more technical, better wrestling, better in jiu jitsu, too, I think. This is how I feel and I will try to show it in the fight.
“It will be a good show this night because he has a lot of fans in Australia,” he added. “I’m really excited to be here, fighting with Tai Tuivasa in his home. He’s a stand-up fighter, same as me, so it will be an exciting fight for all fans.”
For Volkov, all the work — the changes, the constant search for ways to improve — is in service of reaching his ultimate goal of standing atop the UFC heavyweight division, and he sees this weekend’s fight with Tuivasa as a chance to show he’s ready to challenge for championship gold.
“A win over Tai Tuivasa will mean that I show everybody that I’m ready for a title shot right now,” said Volkov. “That’s why I want to show a good fight, exciting for everybody. I will try to do my best and put everything into this fight to show that I’m ready for the belt.
“The ultimate goal for me is to be champion, for sure; I want the belt and to be the best heavyweight,” he added. “It’s what I think about all the days, all my sporting life — it’s my goal to be champion of UFC one day.”
The next step towards reaching that goal comes Saturday in Sydney, where the surging Russian that likes to keep things as simple as possible will step into the Octagon with the local hero and seek to dispatch him as swiftly as he has his last two opponents.
“At UFC 293, I’m pretty sure it will be a knockout.”
UFC 293: Adesanya vs Strickland took place live from Qudos Arena in Sydney, Australia on September 9, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!