Pound-for-pound greatness – Alexander Volkanovski on why he’s fighting this fight

Pound-for-pound greatness – Alexander Volkanovski on why he’s fighting this fight

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  • February 11, 2023
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Alexander Volkanovski is ranked the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world by ESPN. He has never lost in the UFC and has an impressive 12-0 record since his debut in 2016. The Aussie has won 22 straight fights and has four successful title defenses as the UFC Featherweight Champion.

Yet despite all those stunning accolades, Volkanovski will be a +320 underdog (via Caesars Sportsbook) when he fights Islam Makhachev for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 284’s main event in Perth, Western Australia on Saturday (10pm ET on ESPN+PPV).

Makhachev, a dominant wrestler from Russia’s Republic of Dagestan, will have a 4-inch height advantage and many believe he will also have a strength advantage over the featherweight champion. Makhachev is ranked #2 pound for pound by ESPN.

Given the rarity of such a situation, ESPN’s Marc Raimondi asked Volkanovski to explain why he took up the challenge, whether he sees himself as an outsider and how he thinks he can match his opponent.

Islam Makhachev, left, has a four-inch height advantage over Alexander Volkanovski. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

I played rugby front row before I started MMA training. At 5-foot-6, I was always too short. I might have been heavier then, but I was the smallest on the pitch. The little people who play rugby were still taller than me.

You would see the other team’s big front rowers grin when we were in packs and scrums. I knew these mountains of men I had to run into were like, “Look at the size of this guy.”

The next minute they can’t touch me. The next minute after that, they’re all plotting to slow me down because I’m ruining their team. I’ve always been undersized and always proved the doubters wrong. It happens every time. And it will happen on Saturday.

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Then I, the UFC Featherweight Champion, move up a division to challenge Islam Makhachev for the UFC Lightweight Title in the Main Event of UFC 284 in Perth, Western Australia. Yes, he’s taller than me at 5ft 10 and I’m moving up a weight class. But I’ve been there before.

Islam is a small baby compared to these heavyweights I’ve seen in rugby league.

The smaller guys are like light heavyweights. Absolute monsters. Are you telling me that a little lightweight will scare me? No. Is he good? Yes he is. I will show him that respect, but I will not give in and worry.

He will be taller than me, but everyone has been taller my entire life and it’s never been a problem. So, I’m not going to let that become a problem now.

Some people have asked me why I’m doing this. I’m the world featherweight champion. I could stay at 145 pounds and take one competitor at a time. I still intend to do that, but why not challenge myself?

I’m not doing this to say, “I’m a badass,” and whatever happens, will happen. I’m doing this because I think I’m going to win. And I really believe that. As I prepare, I believe in myself. And I want people – the underdogs or the underweight people, whoever it is – to believe in themselves, to take on challenges and to challenge themselves. We should do these things every day of our life. I’ve done it my entire career. I did it from the start and that’s what made me who I am.



Volkanovski handles business in the trilogy fight against Holloway

Alexander Volkanovski wins all five rounds in judges’ eyes to retain his featherweight belt at UFC 276.

I’m already the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. I don’t have to prove anything, but I’ll go there and show you why you put me at #1. There’s no better way to prove it than by stepping up and battling the next guy below you in the rankings, the champion of the division above. You wanna talk pound for pound? I’ll risk everything to show you that I deserve first place.

Yes, it’s a challenge. But look at the rewards you get for completing these challenges. Not just in terms of legacy and your bank account, but do you know how much it will make me a better fighter? Do you know how much this makes me a better person?

I’ve improved my strength, takedown defense, and even my wrestling. I did the bulking thing and the strength program and it was crazy how noticeable the changes were. I have respect for Islam, their team and their strength, so I knew I had to move up in that department. I knew I had to get stronger.

So I got that in my head overnight, and that’s the mindset I have. Knowing I had to do it made my hips stubborn on takedown defense. Like right away. My hips were like, “I’m not taking anything.” That’s it. People who have wrestled with me before have not only felt the difference in body shape, but immediately felt that strength and said, “Oh, that’s significantly different.”

I’ve also worked a lot on wrestling and floorplay with the Hickman brothers, amazing trainers with MMA specific wrestling skills, training from City Kickboxing and Bangtao Muay Thai in Thailand, and Craig Jones, one of the world’s best grapplers and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -Expert. Jones studied these guys from Dagestan to see what made them so good. And he sits there doing rounds and rounds and rounds to understand these positions, to put himself in these positions. And you have to remember, Craig Jones weighs between 210 and 220 pounds. It’s funny because people say I should take care of Islam. Can you imagine what Craig Jones would do to an Islam or this guy? This is just another world when it comes to grappling.

Alexander Volkanovski, right, has held the UFC featherweight title since 2019. Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

I think 2023 will be my year and I want to start with a bang. And there’s no better way to do it. I’m #1 pound for pound, and then you win the second belt. It’s not my decision, but you go from being a great fighter to one of the all-time greats. You fit yourself into the category where people say, “This guy does things that other people don’t do.” I’m starting to separate myself from the others. So this is massive.

I am glad that Islam is the opponent. I think Charles Oliveira would have been an easier matchup. Islam as an opponent makes it bigger. That’s going to cement me as the #1 pound for pound – and nobody could take that away from me. There’s no better way to prove it than to go out there, raise your hand, get another belt and take out Islam Makhachev, who’s supposed to be so much bigger than me, so much stronger than me, a bad matchup for me.

As I said, this sounds familiar to me. I’ve always been undersized – from rugby to MMA. And I’ve always proved the doubters wrong. Yes, at first glance they might grin. But that’s always changing, especially in the Octagon. It will happen again on Saturday when I finish two-part champion ahead of my fellow Australians in Perth.

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