There’s something especially intriguing about the matchup between Alexander Volkanovski (16-1) and Jeremy Kennedy (11-0) at UFC 221 this weekend.
These two rising stars in the UFC’s featherweight division will now collide three months after they were originally supposed to battle at UFC Fight Night 110 in Sydney, Australia. After Kennedy suffered a severe neck injury, Volkanovski instead faced off with Shane Young and picked up his third win in the organization.
Both Kennedy and Volkanovski are now 3-0 in the UFC, and a dominant performance by either fighter at UFC 221 would likely boost them into the UFC’s official rankings.
That’s not where the similarities end, though.
Beginning in Thailand
Despite originating from opposite ends of the world, Kennedy and Volkanovski made their way to Thailand just a few years ago. It was this experience that has boosted both of these two featherweights to entirely new levels in their career.
At the age of 20, Kennedy packed his things and decided to join Team Quest in Chiang Mai in March 2014.
“I was kind of in a weird spot at home where I kind of outgrew the gym I was training at and Team Quest was offering a sponsorship,” Kennedy explained.
“I went out there and just focused on fighting. It was perfect for the beginning of my career because I just went out there and had a few fights.”
The move dramatically accelerated Kennedy’s mixed martial arts career when he returned to Vancouver.
“By the time I got home, it was easier to get fights because people pick and choose their fights here in Vancouver. I came home with a bit of recognition and people were jumping at the chance to fight me.”
Training in the north of Thailand, Jeremy Kennedy had his sights set on Alexander Volkanovski down in the south just in case the two were ever to run into each other.
“I’ve known of Alex for a while now. He spent some time in Thailand the same time as me. He was at Tiger Muay Thai the same time I was up in Chiang Mai and we were fighting around the regional scene together. I’ve had him on my radar for a long time now. And now, after all these years, we’re lined up to fight in the #1 organization.”
For Volkanovski, he was looking for a way to dedicate himself to mixed martial arts full-time and it was Tiger Muay Thai that provided him with that opportunity in April 2014.
“I went to Thailand for a holiday, and I went there [Tiger Muay Thai] because I heard about it,” Volkanovski reflected.
“Roger Huerta and Brian Ebersole were there and I just thought, how cool is this? I wanted to take it full-time, but I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I saw the application for the tryouts and I thought, this could be it.”
“When I got the go-ahead to try out and that’s where I made the decision to go full-time. It all went so well from there, I went up so many levels from Tiger Muay Thai. The training was very high level there and the training partners are very high level. Ever since then I’ve been on fire, I haven’t lost a fight since I went there.”
Backseat at the “big boy” show
Kennedy (3-0 UFC) and Volkanovski (3-0 UFC) will finally cross paths, albeit their highly anticipated clash is unfortunately buried in the preliminary section of UFC 221 and not showcased on the main card.
Both fighters were a little surprised when they discovered that they would be fighting on the UFC 221 prelims.
“I think we should have been [fighting on the main card],” Kennedy shared.
“We’re rising prospects and both have great records. We’re undefeated in the UFC with three outings. A lot of people are unsure how this fight is going to go because our styles as so similar and different at the same time.”
Volkanovski agreed, and shared that the organization is clearly showcasing the local “big boys” on the main card.
“We’re both just outside of the top 15 so I thought we would definitely be on the main card. I was a little shocked, but they’ve got the big boys putting on some big fights on the main card. But it is what it is. It’s going to be a good card from start to finish. I’m going to put on a good show for the Aussie card.”
A battle of grinders
If you’re still wondering what is especially intriguing about this contest, it’s that Kennedy and Volkanovski share remarkably similar strategies. Yes, there are some subtle differences, but these two featherweights want to overwhelm their opponent’s with pace, pressure, and persistence.
Volkanovski describes it as ‘grinding’, and also sees the many similarities between their styles. Despite the similarities, Volkanovski believes he has ‘more tools’ to work with.
“He’s a grinder. It’s very hard, he’s not the most exciting fighter, but at the same time I’m a grinder myself. We’re hard guys to fight, bad matchups for a lot of people.”
As we head into UFC 221, the rest of the featherweight division can be thankful that one of Alexander Volkanovski and Jeremy Kennedy will have their journey up the featherweight rankings temporarily slowed. The winner, however, will be ready to power through any featherweight that the UFC puts in front of them.