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Alexander Volkanovski Has Eyes On The Whole Division

Alexander Volkanovski Can't Wait To Defend His Belt At UFC 266 And Start Chasing The Featherweight Contenders Once Again

“It’ll work out all right in the end.”

That’s what Alexander Volkanovski tells himself whenever life’s road takes a sudden, unexpected turn, as it did earlier this year when his highly anticipated title defense against Brian Ortega was put on hold a week before the fight when the featherweight champion tested positive for COVID-19.

Initially penciled in as the co-main event at UFC 260 in March, the change in plans and subsequent delay resulted in a chance to coach opposite the top contender on The Return of The Ultimate Fighter and for his fight with Ortega to become bigger in every way.

The tensions between the two simmered all season on the long-running reality TV competition, where members of Team Volkanovski won both the bantamweight and middleweight competitions, and this weekend, the coaches will settle their differences and do battle for the featherweight title in the main event of UFC 266.

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“The extra paycheck earlier in the year would have been good, but you get to hype up the fight, it can get a little more personal, and the experience on The Ultimate Fighter was incredible,” began the energized featherweight champion. “It would have been good to fix him up earlier in the year, but it’s doesn’t matter — we got to hype the fight up, now we’re on a crackin’ card, main event, and I’ve even more of a reason to punch him in the face.”

While things between Volkanovski and Ortega never got heated and didn’t escalate to “Rampage and Rashad” levels, it was clear throughout the season that the Australian champion wasn’t particularly impressed with the way his counterpart operated and carried himself.

Volkanovski bristled when Ortega was late for scheduled events, and took aim when the standout from Los Angeles’ Harbor Area didn’t take the departure of Team Ortega’s Miles Hunsinger as seriously as he would have expected. While he could dish it out, Volkanovski said Ortega had a little tougher time taking playful return fire, which added to the animosity between the two.

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“There’s a lot of things I’m fighting for right now,” began the champion. “I’m always fighting for my family, and I’m fighting to keep that belt here in Australia, for my team; it’s much bigger than me. But then you get a little cherry on top with Ortega, where I get to sit there like, ‘There’s one more up on you.’

“Am I taking it personal to where it’s going to get in my head and I’m going to fight a completely different fight because I’m going crazy in my head? No, I’m going to go out there and do what I need to do. But at the same time, putting my hands on him, getting that finish and getting my hand raised will make that so much sweeter.

“It will be the cherry on top,” he added with a laugh. “Good paycheck, belt’s coming home with me, show for the family and the team, and give him a look like, ‘I told ya! I told ya that belt ain’t going nowhere.’”

Alexander Volkanovski of Australia punches Max Holloway in their UFC featherweight championship bout during the UFC 245

Despite Volkanovski’s perfect 9-0 record inside the Octagon, a 22-1 record overall, and an incredible 19-fight winning streak, Ortega isn’t the only person he needs to convince that the featherweight title is going to remain in Australia for the foreseeable future and that its current owner is, in fact, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

After winning and successfully retaining the title in a pair of close, thrilling clashes with Max Holloway, Volkanovski has listened as scores of fans and media have questioned his victories, proclaimed Holloway the uncrowned king, and generally not given the streaking former rugby man the credit and respect he deserves for what he’s accomplished inside the cage.

While it used to rile him up, the 32-year-old featherweight title has reached a place now where he’s accepted the pushback as part of life, reveling in the absurdity of it, while happy to play the role of the underdog champion.

Order Now! UFC 266: Volkanovski vs Ortega

“Did it used to get to me? It did, but now I’m completely over it,” said Volkanovski, asking and answering his own question. “I’m at a stage where I know that I could go out there, finish Ortega in the first round, fight a Holloway trilogy and knock him out in the first round, and you’re still going to have these guys saying, ‘Lucky punch!’ It’s just going to happen.

“Obviously, he has loyal fans, and they’re very vocal on my social media, but I use that as motivation; it drives me. Does it make me want to shut them up? Yeah, but that’s because I love being the underdog.

“I might not be the underdog in this fight, but there are still people doubting me,” he added. “People say I’m the most underrated champion and I love it; keep doubting me. Keep thinking that I’m not going to win because I’m going to prove you wrong.”

Alexander Volkanovski training for UFC 251

And while his focus is locked on Ortega this weekend, Volkanovski has always kept a close eye on everything taking place in the featherweight division, scouting the next challenger and paying attention to the emerging names working their way up the rankings.

When Giga Chikadze defeated Edson Barboza earlier this month, there was the champ, sending out congratulations on Twitter.

“I’m always keeping a close eye on the featherweights, and I’m still a fan of the sport,” began Volkanovski, who quote-tweets fight announcements that get him excited and was shouting out fellow Australian Jack Della Maddalena’s contract-winning performance on Dana White’s Contender Series last week. “I’m a champion, but I’m not sitting there laying back, feet up on the chair going, ‘Look at me; I’m the king!’ I know there is more work to do.

“These guys are coming up — we’ve got a stacked division, and they all want that belt. They ain’t gettin’ it, but they all want it. I’ve got my eye on all of them. 

“I’m the champ chasing these contenders, and that’s why you see me keeping a close eye,” he continued. “I’m watching, I’m looking at every single one of them going, ‘You, you, you — you’re good at this, this, and this, but I’ve got you here, here, and here.’

“I’ve already got built-in game plans just from watching them, even though I might not be facing them for a couple of fights, plus I’m going to have my team doing their work when the time comes, just making me a whole different beast when I understand and know what I’m up against.

“I’m a professional and that’s how I look at it: I am the champ chasing these contenders.”

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It’s an approach that ties into his perspective on records and compiling a legacy as well.

“I forget my record,” he said with a cackle. “I was doing an interview last night and they asked me my record and I don’t even know. I’m sitting there going, ’22-1? 23-1? Something like that?’

“I’m a professional and that’s how I look at it: I am the champ chasing these contenders.”

Alexander Volkanovski

His record — for the record — is 22-1, and with a victory on Saturday, Volkanovski would become just the 10th fighter in UFC history to earn 10 or more consecutive victories inside the Octagon, joining an exclusive group that includes current champions Kamarau Usman (14) and Amanada Nunes (12), and legends in the sport like Anderson Silva (16), Khabib Nurmagomedov (13), and Royce Gracie (11).

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“You threw out those stats and I had no idea; I’ll be completely honest with you,” he said when I mentioned the potential of his joining that elite collection with a win this weekend. “At the end of the day, I need to be successful, and I take it each fight at a time, but legacy is something that I’m growing towards.

“I always said when I was champion I was going to go, ‘Whoever is next in line, bring him to me,’” continued Volkanovski, who has maintained that approach so far and intends to continue doing so after this weekend. “I do want to be pound-for-pound, No. 1 in the world. I want to be ‘The G.O.A.T.’ of the featherweight division, and I am interested in that stuff, but I take it each fight at a time.

“I do look ahead, but the stats and numbers and all like that — I’m probably going to use that now in my next interview, but I’d be lying if I told you I’m going out there to break records and all that.”

The perpetually happy champion let out a laugh, tickled by the idea of playing off an impressive record he had no clue about moments earlier as a record he’d been chasing all this time in future conversations about this fight and his legacy.

“I can tell you that I’m going out there and beating my next opponent, no matter who it is, and every time you ask me, I’m going to tell you the same thing for all these guys, one by one.

“And then, at the end of my career, we can talk about all these stats and records.”

This weekend, it’s all about Ortega and headlining UFC 266; getting the finish and bringing the belt back to Australia.

After that, it’s The Blueprint 3, Track 7 — “On to the Next One.”