On the night of April 10, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will take on the Korean Zombie in his third title defense.
Volkanovski has not lost since May 2013 – the last and only person to beat him, Corey Nelson, now works as a crane operator in Australia. Since that high-kick-knockout defeat (which happened, by the way, at welterweight, two categories above Volkanovski’s current division), Alex has gone on a 20-match winning streak, half of which is in his UFC career.
Volkanovski embodies the evolution of MMA in terms of not just versatility, depth of arsenal, but specifically positional skill. Each subsequent featherweight champion fought more and more positionally competent. More calculation, more adaptation, more defense, more feints and so on. Holloway was more positional than Aldo, and Volkanovski was more positional than Holloway. Add to this excellent functionality, physical strength and year-round tone (also a new milestone for UFC fighters – now you don’t just need to live and eat right only in 8-12 weeks of camp for a fight, but always in general) – and we get an idea who Volkanovski is and why he is a champion.
This time, due to a whim of circumstances and the specifics of the UFC business, the Aussie’s opponent is not one who pulls on the first contender or a new breed of featherweight. Although the Korean Zombie is a veteran of this division with his iconic victories and golden highlights, and in his last five fights he is 4-1, he still lost to Ortega in the fight before last without the slightest chance – 0-5 in rounds, defeating the middle peasant Dan Ige such defeats are not closed, and even more so the title holders do not receive. Especially considering that after Zombie Ortega himself later received his 0-5 rounds from Volkanovski (albeit with that guillotine) and now the Korean is fighting Alexander. Of course, it has long been proven that MMA math does not work, in a single battle anyone can defeat anyone at this level, but still the Volkanovski-Zombie sign turned out to be completely faded.
The duel is going very badly in all social networks, much behind Jan and Sterling, and we can’t even talk about Chimaev and Burns. One way or another, Volkanovski doesn’t care about all this, he is on his great path – only 10 fighters in UFC history have achieved 11 victories in a row – and now Alex has the opportunity to get into this meager percentage.
A couple of days before the fight, we phoned the Australian to talk about the upcoming fight, sparring with Petr Yan and Movsar Evloev, as well as nightmares after the fight with Ortega.
You are always in great shape. Was there a period in the UFC when you were in poor physical condition?
– I am always in good shape, I always carefully treat the preparation. Of course, there were fights on short notice, but I was still in good shape. In the UFC, you have to be ready to be offered a fight at the most unexpected moment, so you need to be in shape.
– If you could do only three endurance exercises for a fight, what exercises would they be?
– Wrestling, it absolutely helps endurance, sparring and an exercise bike-aerobike. The stationary bike is a very intense cardio workout.
What is your attitude towards running?
– I don’t run much. That cardiovascular sequence that is created when running – I do its counterpart in the gym. Some kind of wrestling work, technique development, some other practice – I create exactly the same cardiovascular chain. I don’t run much.
– Among all the current UFC champions, you hit low-kicks most often. It’s not often you see a small, tight wrestler throwing so many low kicks. How did you come to this style?
“It slowly and gradually entered my game. Now low kicks are a very big thing for me, it depends on how I move, how I control opponents, how I prepare certain things. For all this, it is important to damage the opponent’s legs. Low kicks became part of my style in the later part of my career. At an early stage of performances, I successfully tried them somewhere and began to use them a little more often. Then even more often. More and more. I began to develop them more often in sparring, I saw that it works, that it helps me to adapt. I saw that I got some kind of adaptation, and I thought about why it turned out, and I drew certain conclusions.
– It always surprised me how steadfastly and easily you hold heavy blows to the body. Max Holloway just hit you with a spinning back kick, Chad Mendes landed powerful left hooks to the liver, and you kept everything lightly.
– It’s about the strength of the muscles, and the fact that I’m just a tough guy on my own. We work a lot on strengthening the core muscles, and plus this moment – can you see the blow. If you see a blow to the body, it is easier for you to withstand it and somehow group, partially block. And another story – my friend and I once got together and drank, and then I asked him to hit me in the body. He beat off all my guts. Maybe that’s why I also became stronger ( laughs ). I raised my hands and shouted to him: “Beat me.”
People underestimate your victory over Chad Mendes. Maybe he had already passed his peak at that time, but he fought brilliantly and in the first one and a half rounds that evening he could have finished anyone. At that time, by the way, you fought more risky than usual, exchanging a lot. Was it part of the plan?
— Yes, it was a strategy for a fight. He is very powerful, muscular, strong. I knew that he was prone to fatigue in a duel. And if I make him throw power punches, panic, crush him, he will be all tense, start throwing bombs at me and get tired. And then I can take over the fight in the later rounds. Of course, all this had to be done without missing out. I blocked well, I saw his blows, a couple, of course, went in, but these are the costs of the style that we chose for that fight. And, despite the missed blows, it was really the best plan. Plus, it was great to show resilience, mental toughness. Again, I saw all of these hits, just a few of them blew my block.
— You trained a lot with Petr Yan in Tiger Muay Thai. Do you remember your first meeting and impression of it?
– I have known Petr Yan for a long time, long before he joined the UFC. It was immediately clear from him that he was in order, that the fights were his. I have always had a liking for him. Tiger often had guys who wanted to work really hard in sparring, many of them were much bigger than Peter, but he worked with them coolly and beat them all in a row. I remember we sat and looked at him, big guys came into sparring and started working hard against him, and he tamed them. We thought, “What’s he like, huh?” We somehow immediately agreed with him, sparred a lot, treated each other with great respect. I always knew it was a beast. When he got into the UFC, I realized that he would pave the way to the belt.
Our pluses with Peter are similar. Endurance, functionality, pressure, always the right attitude, fighting intelligence. He calculates opponents, slows them down and takes them apart. He is very smart. We are similar in that we have ticks in all the battle columns. Betting on him or me to win is always a safe bet.
– Movsar Evloev is rising in the featherweight division, he has already won 5 fights in a row. What do you think of it?
– He is good. The fact that this guy is in the top 15 shows how complete our division is. I follow all the guys at 145 pounds. By the way, I trained with Movsar in Tiger Muay Thai, a nice guy. He already has a couple of wins in the UFC against strong guys, he deserves a rating opponent. He is a good all-around fighter, fights well, relentless, strategically literate. Again, he also has many boxes ticked. Like me and Peter Yan.
— On your channel, you said that you would finish the Korean Zombie. Why, after four decisions in a row, such confidence in an early victory?
“Just because I know where I am right now. Two camps ago, I would not have been so sure of an early victory, but now… by what I feel, what I see, by the knowledge that I have, by functionality – I just reached a different level. In no case do I want to offend Zombies, I proceed purely from my condition. With my functionality and 5 rounds, I see a good chance to finish. And stylistically, I will have many opportunities to open some doors. And if I do not use them, then I will definitely not be happy with the fight, even if it ends in victory. I just know what I can do in this fight and what I expect from myself.
– You have 10 wins in a row in the UFC. After which of these victories were you most dissatisfied with yourself?
— There were several. Of course, the fight on Fight Island is one of them, the second duel against Max. There are fights when you didn’t show your best because you weren’t 100% ready. For the second fight against Max, I was preparing for only 6 weeks, this is not enough time for such a fight. We then signed a new contract, I was in a situation where agreeing to fight even on a short notice was worth it. In that fight, I did not show my best. There was also my third fight in the UFC, against Shane Young, then the opponent changed at the last moment, I felt a lot of pressure … After these two fights, perhaps, I was most dissatisfied.
– After the fight with Ortega, did you have at least one nightmare in which you do not get out of this guillotine?
– It wasn’t ( laughs ). The nightmare was in the fight itself, when I got into the guillotine. In reality, I felt like in a terrible dream: “What is happening?” But I broke through, and after the battle I never dreamed of her.
– You are 33 years old, the oldest champion in featherweight history. How much longer do you want to fight?
– I think, maybe, somewhere I can still master 9 fights. I have a few years for sure. I can’t say for sure, I don’t know (laughs). I would like to say that 20 more fights will be here, but you have to be realistic.