Alexander Volkanovski is a mixed martial genius, although his greatness is lost on all but the keenest eyed combat enthusiast.
At the highest level, MMA has more complexity than a chess match. While the uninitiated see nothing more than a blood sport, analysts witness something sophisticated and cerebral. There are thousands of actions, reactions, game plans from A to F or G. Sideline coaches construct strategy on the fly and the fighters peer through the blur of chaos and swollen eyes to determine if a single leg take-down really is the best course of action midway through a close third round.
The genius of Alexander Volkanovski has not been widely acknowledged prior to his comprehensive title defence at UFC 266. He arrived in the UFC back in 2016 via a victory at Wollongong Wars 4, which probably had 200 drunken fans in attendance. Volkanovski made the UFC grade though and remains undefeated in the company across an impressive 10 fight streak. He has beaten Jose Aldo, widely considered the greatest featherweight of all time, Max Holloway, another future Hall of Famer, twice, and just dismantled the very talented and durable Brian Ortega.
Where Did Alexander Volkanovski Come From?
So how does Volkanovski do it? How has he ripped through one of the toughest UFC divisions after graduating from Wollongong Wars 4? FYI- Wollongong is a small Australian coastal town with a population of 213,000. It’s fair to assume it is not bursting with mixed martial arts talent. How has he gone on to be crowned the UFC champion?
The fight against Jose Aldo was a curious affair. Volkanovski seemed to casually pick Aldo apart, and there was little the Brazillian could do. Aldo appeared ineffectual, and some commentators wrote it off as a bad night at the office. But Volkanovski won the fight with a combination of movement and footwork, areas in which he excels. He may just have the best footwork in the UFC. It’s that good. He’s never where his opponent wants him, and then appears where he can inflict damage, it’s an uncanny yet almost invisible ability.
The first fight versus Max Holloway followed a similar path. Volkanovski was the contender, but he wrested the belt in a dominant 5 round display. He’s always giving away height at a mere 5’6, but his sublime skills overcome this disadvantage. Volkanovski is as tough as an old boot, can walk through punishment, and that might appear the depth of his arsenal. But if you look beyond this exterior you will see the subtle footwork that no UFC fighter has yet to master.
Following his dominant title defence, Volkanovski was vocal about the lack of respect afforded by MMA fighters and fans. Save a few moments in the 3rd round when Ortega had submission opportunities, Volkanovski played with the challenger and left him bruised beyond recognition. The respect is set to flow.
The joy of MMA is the tactical battles that fighters play out in the heat of battle when split second mistakes can lead to unconsciousness. Old boxing trainers used to spend months honing the footwork of their students. Punching came much later, because fighting is all about balance and positioning, and generating power from close range. Alexander Volkanovski might look like a tough little nut who trains harder than the next guy, and he is, but it’s his sublime and subtle skills that have allowed him to scale the MMA peak. Watch a replay of the Aldo fight and try to figure out how a former world-beater failed to land any meaningful offence on the audacious Aussie.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Editor