UFC Champ Alexander Volkanovski Shares Difficult Experience with COVID-19

By Tristen Critchfield Apr 6, 2021


The COVID-19 infection that forced Alexander Volkanovski from a title defense at UFC 260 proved to be a difficult experience for the reigning featherweight champion.

Volkanovski shared the details of his experience battling coronavirus in a video posted to his YouTube account. The symptoms began after the UFC informed Volkanovski of his positive test.

“I started feeling it in the lungs a little bit, and I started feeling uncomfortable,” Volkanovski said “I started coughing up phlegm, and it was coming up pinky bloody with a bit of blood in there … That’s when I thought maybe we should start looking into this. I was having bad fevers and headaches, but that’s sort of common. So I started talking with him about it, and that’s when I was thinking maybe we need a check up.

“They end up doing some scans on my chest and lungs and Dr. Davidson comes back to me and says, ‘Look, we’ve done scans and you’ve got COVID pneumonia. So the infection has spread into the lungs.’ Sort of mild case, it can be pretty common, but we didn’t need too much there. It can be pretty common and me being young and healthy, we don’t need no medication.”

Volkanovski was released from the hospital but given instruction to return if his oxygen levels became too low. After a while, he began coughing up blood again and his oxygen levels decreased to worrisome levels, so the City Kickboxing standout returned to the hospital. There was a point where Volkanovski began to get concerned as his heart rate continued to drop.

“My heart rate started getting very low,” Volkanovski said. “There was a stage where I started to freak out a little bit because I talked to the doctor the second time I went in there and he said I’d gotten a lot worse. The lung doctor came in and another doctor talked to me and was explaining to me, ‘Look, you’ve got to be on medication but don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We’ll keep monitoring.’ Then I asked him about can it spread to anywhere else, maybe the heart and all that because I was noticing my heart rate dropping each day. It just got lower and lower. So they said I would notice because it would hurt and my heart rate would go lower so I had that in my mind, which was freakish for me.

“The next morning, they had the ladies checking up on me because they had the heart rate monitor on me 24/7 and the guys go, ‘They’re just checking up because your heart rate is getting a bit lower so I need to just keep getting your vitals and whatnot. You’re getting down to 37 [beats per minute].’ So that started freaking me out,” he continued. “I start thinking, Oh s—t, maybe this is starting to get into my heart now, infection in the heart, so I started getting nervous. But the doctors assured me that I’m very young and healthy and fit so don’t worry, your heart is fine. So that made me feel better because I ended up averaging all night 37 and I got down to 35 beats per minute. That’s pretty low. After that, each day in the hospital, there was no more blood in my phlegm, my breathing started getting a lot better. Obviously, I was very uncomfortable previous to the hospital visit but I started really seeing improvements so the medication was working and that made me feel a lot better.”

Now that he’s recovering, the next step for Volkanovski is to gradually ease his way back into training. It’s going to take a little bit of time for him to get back to his normal levels of activity, however.

“Obviously, I haven’t done much training for the last few weeks but now that I’m better, [the UFC doctor told me] I can slowly, no more than 50 percent light week,” Volkanovski said. “Then 75 percent next week and then start to pick it up. I’ve got to ease into it... So I guess I can start to do about 50 percent. I wish I could go harder but I’ve got to ease into it. Obviously recovery is very important. It’s gonna be a fair few weeks where I need to ease into it and recover. Obviously I don’t want to have problems like some guys like Cody Garbrandt and Khamzat [Chimaev] got. Obviously they had a lot of lung problems and it was starting to affect them and now I feel it.”

Volkanovski elected to share his experience to detail how scary COVID-19 can be, even for a high-level professional athlete. His matchup with Brian Ortega that was originally scheduled for UFC 260 will now take place after the two featherweights serve as coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter 29.” An official date for that featherweight title bout is currently unknown.

“This whole COVID thing is no joke,” Volkanovski said. “That’s why I wanted to do this video. Again, everyone is going to have their thoughts, but a lot of people were asking me how it was like getting symptoms, and now you guys aware. The symptoms got pretty wild. We got the normal symptoms, and they can lead to other things. So I got the normal symptoms that led me to pneumonia and other problems. It got pretty serious.

“I think if I was unhealthy, maybe I would’ve got other problems, and you can see how people pass away and things like that. This is quite serious. I’ve always taken it seriously, but know I understand it’s very unpredictable and very, very contagious because, again, it’s something that got in and got a few members of the team, so it was a crazy experience, but we’re all good. I’m no longer contagious, so I can go out and about, which is good. And yeah, so now we just want to get home.”

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