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When Alexander Volkanovski touched down in the Ultimate Fighting Championship with an eye-popping 13-1 record in 2016, the former rugby player was not hailed as future contender. Less than four years later, he sits on the featherweight throne.
Volkanovski will carry an 18-fight winning streak into the UFC 251 co-main event this Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where he puts his 145-pound title on the line in a rematch with the man he unseated as champion: Max Holloway. A Freestyle Fighting Gym and City Kickboxing rep, “Alexander the Great” has compiled an 8-0 record since he joined the UFC roster, his march to the top initially fueled by victories over former Sengoku champion Mizuto Hirota, Canadian prospect Jeremy Kennedy and the notoriously durable Darren Elkins.
As Volkanovski prepares for his rematch with Holloway, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Size Matters
Only once in his 22-fight career has Volkanovski failed to leave the stage with his hand raised. He confronted Corey Nelson as an undersized welterweight under the Australian Fighting Championship banner on May 10, 2013 at the Melbourne Pavilion in Melbourne, Australia, where he succumbed to head kick and follow-up punches in the quarterfinals of an AFC tournament. Nelson broke down Volkanovski with a series of partially blocked kicks upstairs, floored him with a vicious uppercut and closed the deal with a burst of rapid-fire hammerfists 13 seconds into the third round. Roughly a year later, the 5-foot-6 Volkanovski had moved from 170 pounds all the way down to featherweight, where he found a much more hospitable environment.
2. Arrival Time
Volkanovski was stellar in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, as he disposed of Yusuke Kasuya with punches in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 101 lightweight showcase on Nov. 26, 2016 at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Kasuya packed his bags 2:06 into Round 2. Volkanovski weathered some adversity in the first round and dragged the Shooto veteran into the abyss. He executed a takedown, set up shop in top position and cut loose with measured but maniacal ground-and-pound. Elbows, punches and forearm strikes all fell with devastating ferocity. Kasuya latched onto a leg in a final desperate bid for a submission but left his head exposed in the process. Volkanovski then pounded away until referee Greg Kleynjans had seen enough.
3. Money Maker
“Alexander the Great” at UFC 232 on Dec. 29, 2018 made his intentions known as a serious featherweight title contender, as he buried Chad Mendes with punches in the second round of their featured pairing at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Mendes wilted 4:14 into Round 2. Volkanovski waded through some choppy seas—a left hand from “Money” sat him down briefly and he conceded a few takedowns—but he overwhelmed the Team Alpha Male stalwart along the fence late in the middle stanza. A left hook to the body followed by a right hook upstairs had Mendes searching for a way out and prompted referee Mark Smith to act.
4. No Way, Jose
Volkanovski affirmed his place as one of the sport’s premier featherweights at UFC 232 on May 11, 2019, as he pushed around former champion Jose Aldo for three rounds on his way to a unanimous decision at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. All three cageside judges scored it 30-27 for the Australian, who extended his remarkable run of consecutive victories to 17 and proved unflappable in hostile territory. The statistical data was jarring: Volkanovski outlanded Aldo 129-39 in total strikes and 95-29 in significant strikes. The 145-pound weight class had identified a new No. 1 contender.
5. The Coronation
Volkanovski leaned on crushing leg kicks and power punching combinations, as he captured the undisputed featherweight crown with a unanimous decision over Max Holloway in the UFC 245 co-main event. The Australian swept the scorecards with 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45 marks from the judges, ending Holloway’s 922-day reign atop the 145-pound weight class. Volkanovski never once deviated from his game plan. He shredded Holloway’s base with kicks to the upper and lower leg, forcing him to switch from orthodox to southpaw. The Hawaiian fought well in spurts—he occasionally doubled up on his jab and connected with hooks to the body—but ran into an opponent who was unwilling to back down. Volkanovski kept his counterpart’s patented multi-punch volleys to a minimum, fought fire with fire when the situation called for it and emerged as the fourth undisputed featherweight champion in UFC history.
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