Alex Volkanovski laughs heartily. Regardless that he got here to the choice to attempt to compete in blended martial arts late in life, he has by no means had second ideas. He’s by no means puzzled if he ought to have caught with rugby or contemplated going again.

It looks like a lifetime in the past that he was a giant deal in one of many few sports activities that may legitimately be thought-about on the identical degree as MMA by way of toughness required. 

He was barely recognizable within the yellow and blue of the Warilla Gorillas, barreling down the sphere as knowledgeable rugby participant in New Zealand. Volkanovski was a 5-foot-6, 214-pounder who would take the ball and rocket downfield, working over males 50, 60 and even 80 kilos heavier than himself.

He was a nationwide champion wrestler in Australia as a 12-year-old, however at 14 took up rugby. In 2010, he was chosen because the South Coast Rugby League’s finest participant. 

Whereas he cherished rugby, it dawned on him in the future that he cherished martial arts much more. And so in 2012, he made what may very well be seen as a controversial alternative when he was 24 and opted to strive MMA.

If individuals criticized him on the time, they’ve lengthy since conceded the error of their methods. 

He’s making ready to make the primary protection of the title he received from Max Holloway at UFC 245 in December once they meet in a rematch Saturday at Flash Discussion board in Abu Dhabi within the co-main occasion of UFC 251.

Alexander Volkanovski lands an elbow to Max Holloway of their first battle at UFC 245 on Dec. 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Picture/John Locher)

A second consecutive win over Holloway would imply that since 2018, he’s overwhelmed, in succession, Darren Elkins, Chad Mendes, Jose Aldo and Holloway twice and firmly proved he made the fitting option to take up MMA.

He’s on the verge of stardom, a fearless, heavy-handed fighter whose fan-friendly model and willingness to tackle anybody at any dimension and at any time makes him an ideal slot in Dana White’s UFC.

Featherweight could also be the perfect and definitely the deepest division within the UFC, with Holloway, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung, Yair Rodriguez, Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett amongst many others as harmful opponents.

“You take a look at all of the killers in that division, it says quite a bit about you once you’re on the high,” White mentioned.

Volkanovski received a unanimous resolution the primary time round. He swept the primary three rounds on all three judges’ playing cards, however two of the three judges gave Holloway Rounds four and 5.

Holloway felt he’d completed sufficient to win and so White gave him the rematch.

“I can see why Max thinks he received that battle,” White mentioned. “However I may perceive why individuals thought Alex received it. It was a terrific battle and it was razor-thin. You might make a respectable case for both of them having received that. The one factor that made sense after a battle like that was for them to do it once more.”

Volkanovski will deliver an 18-fight successful streak into the bout, together with an ideal 8-Zero mark within the UFC. 

His solely loss got here in 2013, a couple of 12 months after he turned professional when he was stopped by Corey Nelson in Melbourne, Australia.

Although he misplaced that battle, it let Volkanovski know he’d made the fitting resolution to desert rugby and pursue MMA. Nelson was thought-about the highest fighter in Australia and the battle was held at welterweight.

“I wasn’t anyplace close to the fighter I’m in the present day,” Volkanovski mentioned. “If I’m being trustworthy, I most likely shouldn’t have taken that battle, however that’s not me. If there’s a problem there, I settle for it. I’ve even fought at middleweight and people boys towered over me. However you study as you go and also you develop the talents you must compete.”

Volkanovski’s success within the first battle got here by chopping at Holloway’s leg repeatedly. He landed calf kicks early and sometimes, and was prepared to eat a punch if want be with the intention to assault the leg.

It decreased Holloway’s mobility and piled up factors for Volkanovski. He thinks the changes within the rematch might be refined, however believes there might be one important distinction between their first contest.

“You’re going to see the identical winner, however the outcome could also be totally different,” Volkanovski mentioned. “I really feel he’s going to do some extra and that can go away him open and provides me extra alternatives to land my large pictures. I do know he’s sturdy, however I actually consider I can put him away, particularly if he’s going to return at me and take extra dangers. 

“I believe he’ll assault extra and never attempt to counter me and make me miss, as a result of he is aware of that didn’t work. Now, he’s simply going to go, go, go. He’s going to run straight into my sport. That’s the place I’m harmful, and so I believe the distinction is I’ve the chance to get the end.”

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