LAS VEGAS — Alex Volkanovski is the epitome of what we expect a fighter to be in 2023.
Although he may not be the most talented fighter in the world, he may well 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 fight in the main event of UFC 290 at T-Mobile Arena, he was talking about getting back to work and practicing.
“I’ve got a lot of goals ahead but hey, the sky’s the limit,” Volkanovski said after stopping Rodriguez at 4:19 of the third round after pummeling him for the first two.
“I might be in this position right now, but I guarantee you, I’ll be in the gym next week busting my ass again.”
That is the essence of Alexander Volkanovski.
This is a guy who seems almost too good to be true. If you catch him at home, you might find he mows the neighbor’s lawn while they’re on vacation, helps little old ladies across the street and coaches the local rugby team.
The UFC’s featherweight division has produced the greatest champions the sport has seen in the 12-plus years it existed. 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, lean fighter’s body. Volkanovski is 5-6, shorter than most guys he fights, and not the quickest or most nimble guy in the world.
No one works like he does, as evidenced by the fact that rather than talking about downing a beer or six at his afterparty, he was more focused on getting back home to Australia and getting back to work.
There’s no secret how to succeed at this level in this sport:
You have to work harder than everyone else.
You have to be willing to sacrifice birthdays and holidays and fine meals and good wines and trips to the amusement park and trips to the ball game and nights out with the spouse and days at the beach with the kids. The life of a fighter, an elite, top-level, world-class fighter, is a solitary and often selfish one.
You have to have the patience and toughness to tolerate an incredible amount of pain, everyone wanting a piece of you or a minute of your time, and the toughest guys in the world saying nasty things about you.
Alexander Volkanovski is all that and more. He’s second in the UFC’s pound-for-pound ratings, but he’s performing now like the No. 1 fighter in those rankings, heavyweight champion Jon Jones, did for several years.
Jones is still great, 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 couple of days,” UFC president Dana White said, laughing, when told there were reports that Jones was seen drinking in public — remains the best.
Volkanovski, though, isn’t far behind.
“He’s a savage,” White said, using one of his favorite terms to describe Volkanovski.
That he is, but he’s also one of the smartest and classiest men in the sport. He was given the opportunity to toot his own horn on Saturday when he was asked if it was fair to say he’d surpassed Jose Aldo as the greatest featherweight in UFC history.
Volkanovski is clearly proud of his achievements, but he was classy enough not to dump on Aldo.
“The man just got in the Hall of Fame,” Volkanovski said. “I’m not trying to take that from him. I’ll let everyone else decide.”
He’s managed to stay on top for 43 months, an extraordinary amount of time in the UFC. His staying power, he said, is in large part due to his love not only of what he does on fight night, but also in preparing to get to the fights.
You can’t last that long if training, if pushing yourself past what you thought your limits were, becomes a chore.
“It’s my passion for the sport, my mindset,” Volkanovski said of what allows him to stay on top. “I don’t need to be motivated. It’s discipline. You hear people talk about doing all this fancy s*** to get motivated. I don’t need that, because I’ve got discipline and I’m going to turn up every day.”
He’s so focused on being great — and thus being able to provide handsomely for his family — that he sometimes loses sight of what he’s doing.
He’s on a historic roll in the UFC. He’s beaten Max Holloway three times, and that’s a career’s amount of work to most people. He’s also defeated Aldo, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung and Rodriguez.
It’s next-level stuff and it’s a shame he’s not able to enjoy what he’s doing.
“I wish I did soak it in more,” Volkanovski said.
But he works and works and works and given that the results keep going his way, who’s to argue with him? If one wants to call him the featherweight GOAT, in a division that includes as champions Aldo, McGregor and Holloway, go right ahead. You won’t get any argument here.
He’s a special fighter with a special attitude and we should appreciate him while we’re witnessing this greatness unfold in front of our eyes. It’s once-in-a-lifetime type of stuff we’re seeing.