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Say what you want about Alexander Volkanovski, but the man who dubbed himself “The Great” shortly before his Octagon debut in 2016 does not lack confidence. The former professional rugby player recently usurped long-reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway at UFC 245 in December, lifting the 145-pound title and taking his Ultimate Fighting Championship record to a perfect 8-0 in the process. Now, as the Australian admires his handy work from his home in Wollongong, New South Wales, he is candid about the fact that everything has gone according to his expectations.
“Even before UFC, I was always trying to fight the best,” Volkanovski told Sherdog.com, as he reflected on his uninterrupted rise from debutant to contender to champion. “I wanted to be the best in Australia, so I fought the best in Australia. I wanted to fight the best of the fighters outside the UFC, and I did. I knew once I was in there, I had to fight who they put in front of me. Then I fought ranked opponents and not just ranked opponent that I thought I matched up well with. I fought names that were hard matchups, like Chad Mendes. That wasn’t an easy fight. I just knew he was ranked, I knew he was a big man [and] I knew [a win] would get me noticed. These are just things that I’ve always sort of done. I guess that it was sort of how I thought it would be. I would fight the best to get that title, so no, to answer your question, I’m not surprised to be sitting here as champion.”
Volkanovski made his first Octagon appearance in November 2016, kickstarting his UFC journey with a second-round technical knockout of Yusuke Kasuye and quickly earning a reputation as an Australian contender to keep an eye on. Just three years and some change later, he has run through a who’s who of the 145-pound weight class, including Mendes, Jose Aldo and the venerable Holloway, becoming the first Australian-born champion (Robert Whittaker, Australia’s first UFC champion, was born in Auckland, New Zealand) and the second man—teammate Israel Adesanya captured the undisputed 185-pound crown in October—to bring an undisputed UFC title back to Auckland’s City Kickboxing gym in 2019.
When asked about the experience of overcoming Holloway in a hard-fought unanimous decision at UFC 245, Volkanovski claims to have enjoyed the event but admits he felt like the same person in the aftermath.
“So many people have asked me how my life has changed,” he said. “It’s weird. For me, I’m just me. I get recognized more on the street and am a bit busier, but to be quite honest, I’m just daddy. I’m the same bloke I was 10 years ago. That seems to be a good thing. Maybe someday it’ll hit me, [and] I’ll feel like the real world champion. [UFC 245] was unreal, but it’s also like it didn’t happen. As I always say, I always keep myself so level, so calm and composed, why all this is happening. I can’t explain it, I’m just calm. Even while we’re all celebrating … we’ve got the belt, [and] I love seeing [my teammates’] reactions, but I just don’t have that reaction. Maybe I’m waiting for the real big money to roll in. Then I can look at my family … maybe that’ll be when I feel it, when I really know that I’m successful. Maybe that’s what I’m waiting for, those million-dollar checks.”
After a weekend in which Conor McGregor made a guaranteed $3 million dollars—the Irishman claims to have banked more than 25 times that in total—for his return fight against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246, it is little wonder that Volkanovski regards his flat $250,000 for UFC 245 as falling on the low side. With a stated intention of defending the throne and creating a legacy, like his predecessor, as one of the great 145-pound champions of all-time, Volkanovski hopes to translate longevity into increased revenues. However, he also concedes that the more profitable path, at least in the short term, would be to chase superfights as so many of his counterparts are doing.
“Yeah, look, you’re probably right [that I’ll make less financially defending against featherweights than chasing a superfight]” he said, “but I have a division to hold. It’s always been done, and that’s what I want to stick to. Don’t get me wrong: If I get offered a big fight, a money fight, I would definitely take it. I’m not going to say no, but I’m not going to go look for it. If that got offered to me, to fight the champion at lightweight, of course I’d do it. I’m not scared of no one. I believe I’d be a dangerous draw for people at lightweight.”
With Volkanovski unlikely to return to competition until the middle of the year on account of a broken hand sustained in the Holloway fight, the new champion has made headlines in recent weeks by challenging the featherweight division to sort out itself and produce a clear No. 1 contender in his absence. It is a sentiment on which he has doubled down while also sharing his thoughts on what event he would like to see in his first title defense.
“We’ve got a very stacked division,” Volkanovski said. “[There are people saying] Max Holloway deserves a rematch, but while I’m sitting on the sidelines, [he should] do something to solidify the No. 1 spot. They all should be trying to do that. I won’t be able to punch on this right hand for probably another couple months. I want to rehab that right up; I’m sort of doing rehab now. It shouldn’t be too bad. I want to be able to use that right hand before I get into camp. I think midyear is doable [in terms of when I have my next fight]. One option would be to have a card in Australia. That would be huge, but then you look at being on a massive card, [and] midyear, there’s the International Fight Week card. That would be good in terms of being the champ and getting on the pay-per-views.”
When asked how he intends to spend his down time before getting back into fight camp, Volkanovski confirmed that he has plenty to keep him busy. Between spending time with his family and embarking on a United States media tour, he has made inroads into the commentary game—a space he would not mind occupying more in the future.
“The next 10 days after this weekend are my holiday,” he said. “Just going to soak up some family time. Then when I’m back, straight back into it. I’ve got to get my name out there, get in front of everyone again, let them not forget who’s the featherweight champion. I’ll do a little tour in America and stuff like that. I’ll be getting around, but at least I get a bit of a holiday. I knocked over a bit of media this week.”
Volkanovski recently served as a commentator at Eternal 48 in Melbourne, Australia, and believes broadcasting suits him.
“I like to talk,” he said. “Obviously [with] the commentary, you can’t just wing it. I could get used to that sort of stuff, having a chat [and] watching what’s in front of me. Not only do I enjoy it, but I could be OK at it. It’s something I wouldn’t mind doing. It’s also the best seat in the house.”