LAS VEGAS – Alex Volkanovski is the epitome of what we expect from a fighter in 2023.
While he may not be the most talented fighter in the world, he may be the best. All you need to know about Volkanovski is that less than 10 minutes after his devastating third round finish of Yair Rodriguez on Saturday in their featherweight title bout in the main event of UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena, he spoke of a return to work and practice .
“I’ve got a lot of goals ahead of me, but hey, the sky’s the limit,” said Volkanovski after stopping Rodriguez at 4:19 of the third round after ravaging him for the first two.
“Maybe I’m in this position right now, but I guarantee you I’ll be back in the gym next week.”
That is the essence of Alexander Volkanovski.
This is a man who seems almost too good to be true. If you catch him at home, you may see him mowing the neighbour’s lawn while they are on holiday, helping little old ladies cross the street and coaching the local rugby team.
The UFC’s featherweight division has produced the greatest champions the sport has seen in its 12-plus years of existence. Before Volkanovski became champion in 2019, the featherweight champions were Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor and Max Holloway. Aldo is already in the Hall of Fame and McGregor and Holloway will soon follow.
All three have the prototypical long, slender fighter body. Volkanovski is 5-6, shorter than most of the guys he fights, and not the fastest or most agile guy in the world.
No one works like him, as evidenced by the fact that instead of talking about having a beer or six at his after party, he was more focused on getting back to Australia and back to work.
There is no secret how to succeed in this sport at this level:
You have to work harder than everyone else.
You have to be willing to sacrifice birthdays and vacations and fine meals and fine wines and trips to the amusement park and trips to the ball game and nights out with the partner and days at the beach with the kids. The life of a fighter, an elite fighter of the highest level, is a lonely and often selfish life.
You have to have the patience and toughness to endure an incredible amount of pain, everyone wants a piece of you or a minute of your time, and the toughest guys in the world say mean things about you.
Alexander Volkanovski is all that and more. He’s second in the UFC’s pound-for-pound ratings, but he’s now performing like the No. 1 fighter in that ranking, heavyweight champion Jon Jones, did for years.
Jones is still amazing, an amazing talent who despite a sometimes rough lifestyle outside the Octagon – “Who thought it was a good idea to leave Jon Jones alone in Las Vegas for a few days,” said UFC President Dana White with a laugh when told there were reports that Jones was seen in public drinking – remains the best.
However, Volkanovski is not far behind.
“He’s a savage,” White said, using one of his favorite terms to describe Volkanovski.
He is, but he’s also one of the smartest and most stylish men in the sport. He had a chance to toot his own horn on Saturday when he was asked if it was fair to say he had surpassed Jose Aldo as the greatest featherweight in UFC history.
Volkanovski is clearly proud of his achievements, but he was stylish enough not to ditch Aldo.
“The guy just got into the Hall of Fame,” Volkanovski said. “I’m not trying to take that away from him. I let the rest decide.”
He has managed to stay on top for 43 months, an extraordinary amount of time in the UFC. His stamina, he said, is due in large part to his love, not only of what he does on fight night, but also of preparing to go to the fights.
You won’t last as long as working out, when pushing yourself beyond what you thought your limits were becomes a chore.
“It’s my passion for the sport, my way of thinking,” Volkanovski said of what allows him to stay on top. “I don’t need to be motivated. It’s discipline. You hear people talking about doing all this fancy shit to get motivated. I don’t need that because I have discipline and I’m going to show up every day.”
He’s so focused on being great – and thus being able to provide for his family – that he sometimes loses track of what he’s doing.
He has a historic role in the UFC. He beat Max Holloway three times, which is the amount of work in a career for most people. He also defeated Aldo, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung and Rodriguez.
It’s next level stuff and it’s a shame he can’t enjoy what he’s doing.
“I wish I had soaked it in more,” Volkanovski said.
But he works and works and works and given that the results keep going his way, who will argue with him? If anyone wants to call him the featherweight GOAT, in a division that has champions Aldo, McGregor and Holloway, go ahead. You won’t get any argument here.
He is a special fighter with a special attitude and we should appreciate him as we witness this greatness unfold before our very eyes. It’s once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing that we see.