Building a Legacy: Breaking down Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski before UFC 266 1

Few champions may be as under-appreciated as Alexander Volkanovski. On his way up through the ranks, the former champion of Australian Fighting Championship was not a brash outspoken contender but rather a dark horse of the division quietly building his resume and knocking off rivals.

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By the time he met his first top-tier name in Chad Mendes, he was a +130 underdog. After defeating Mendes, he was a +135 underdog against Jose Aldo and after defeating Aldo he found himself at +170 against Holloway in Volkanovski’s first-ever UFC title fight.

By this time Volkanovski had defeated both the top two consensus featherweights of all time in Aldo and Holloway, yet still, he was not heralded among the greatest pound-for-pound or talked about among the UFC’s legions of fans alongside other champions like his teammate Israel Adesanya and other brash talking stars.

In a rematch with Holloway, the two men would have one of the most competitive fights in recent memory with many finally giving Volkanovski the notoriety he had long deserved and many others calling for a third fight between the two. It was also at this time that Volkanovski finally became vocal, he had beaten the best featherweights and even beat the best before him twice and he wanted a new challenge.

Appearing on the long-awaited return of The Ultimate Fighter, Volkanovski would coach opposite Brian Ortega, a confident young talent from LA. The show provided a platform and kicked off a much-needed rivalry for the Australian standout. As he looks to once again defend his belt against Ortega, Volkanovski has taken the route less traveled in this age of cocky and outspoken trash talkers but is on his way towards becoming a featherweight great in his own right and cementing himself in the history books.

Stylistically, Volkanovski is fascinating. Although he came into the UFC taking his opponents down and asserting a ground and pound strategy, he has proven himself able to challenge some of the UFC’s best strikers on the feet. At this point, he seems just as happy to pound out a victory from inside the guard just as much as he is to pressure standing. Often he will push his opponents back with his boxing in order to set up that ground and pound afterward.

His striking is erratic and he leans on his extremely solid conditioning. It is well known that earlier in his life Volkanovski weighed easily north of 200lbs competing in Rugby and then at higher weights in MMA. As he has brought down that weight in order to fit his frame properly, he has found a way to carry down that strength as much as possible with him and it is evident in his control and punching power. However, he is also comfortable carrying athletic cardio with excess weight, so at 145 pounds he can keep an astounding pace.

Even when not actually looking to make an impact, Volkanovski is shifting side to side and dipping in and out, often freezing up his opponent before committing to entering with power. He will often enter one or two times, throwing at 50% or so before committing to a double step overhand combination and catching his opponent as they feel relatively safe.

One way he does this is he shifts in and throws a right cross but immediately slides back out of range. He gives his opponents this read, but once they have it, he doubles up, steps through into the opposite stance after the first switch, and fires the overhand left, or doubles up on the right. He will do a similar sequence off the skipping left leg kick, stepping back into the opposite stance and throwing the lead right overhand or feinting and stepping across again with the left.

The overhand is a particularly important weapon for Volkanovski’s build because as a shorter fighter, it is easy for him to dip low and fake the takedown, which often causes his opponents to drop their hands in reaction. The actual resulting overhand is accentuated because although only 5”6, Volkanovki’s reach of 71 inches is actually fair for the weight class, allowing the punch to come longer than expected.

If the overhand doesn’t do its job the first couple of times, what it does definitely do is force his opponents to be aware and react too readily, opening up the takedown, which Volkanvski will also happily take advantage of. What makes Volkanovski’s grappling game so special is his use of posts. Often fighters, who love to smother and use volume-based wrestling and ground and pound, will hit constantly even if they are just annoying shots. This strategy is used to break down opponents by taking away any opportunity to recover or breathe, but this is not really what Volkanovski does even though he does use a high-pressure wrestling style.

Volkanovski is happy to sit in guard or half guard because he will always use one arm to frame and control his opponent’s head, neck, or collarbone this forces them one step away from initiating any counter offense while also baiting them to push back on his force. If they do push back it just means they move their own head into his oncoming elbow or punch. By doing this Volkanovski maintains control of his opponent’s body while on top but also increases the impact of his ground and pound per shot.

Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski has a power-driven fast-paced style that more than often causes finishes if not memorable wars. He has a brutality to his style but a high-level fight IQ behind it, and more often than not, the outcomes of his fights are a product of high-level setups and game plans. While not the most vocal champion, Volkanovski finally has the opportunity to showcase himself in a rivalry built upon the Ultimate Fighter, and if he can do so, he will be taking one more step towards the featherweight legacy he has been chasing.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega takes place on Saturday, September 25, and airs only on ESPN+ PPV in the United States. Order UFC 266 PPV here.

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