Alexander Volkanovski: Our Pound-for-Pound #1
Anyone who tuned in during fight-week will be aware that there is a very interesting discussion brewing within the MMA community.
Call it recency bias or a very credible argument worth making - but once Alexander Volkanovski moved past Max Holloway - at least for now - and began to pick off some of the rest of the featherweight top-5, a lot of fans really started to reposition his status within the sport in their minds.
This brought about reconsiderations of even his earlier high-level wins - the victories over Chad Mendes and in particular, José Aldo - helped by the continued success the legendary Brazilian has been able to have in the time since.
Volk: Coming Into His Own as Champion
Now, where a lot of fans would have been angered by Volk’s position as champion due to his pair of victories over the well-loved Holloway - even if the first one wasn’t that close - all of a sudden, after two title defenses that saw Alex The Great given the chance to be exactly that - we’re finally seeing this guy get his dues.
And look, the circumstances that brought us that fight and deprived us of a third fight with Holloway were unfortunate - and realistically, Chan Sung Jung was shown to be several levels off being a real threat to the champ.
But I am a firm believer in this type of champion-management.
Even if it was accidental - I think there’s a lot to be learned from the blueprint set out by boxing - how each challenger isn’t necessarily the type of fighter who will trouble the reigning champ.
Now, of course, boxing takes this and goes way too far - putting on far too many bouts that are devoid of substances - but in moderation - seeing a champion getting a chance to perform in a fight that is overly pivotal to their legacy does allow a healthy level of growth - both to their skillset and to our perception of them.
And that’s what Volk was able to get out of the matchup with Jung.
It wasn’t a tune-up fight - but it was an opportunity for the champion to keep his gloves warm, to earn another notch on his title-reign in a fight that, while not being without its risks - wasn’t a career-altering battle with Max Holloway.
Who is next?
And now, due to the fact that Max has fought and beaten Yair Rodriguez and Calvin Kattar and Volk has gone through Brian Ortega and Korean Zombie - I’d argue that the third matchup between these two is bigger than ever.
Both guys have seen their stock hit unprecedented levels - and both appear to be in the absolute prime of their careers.
So yea, I think that’s the fight to make - without question. A pair of athletes who have gone 2 and 0 in their last two fights since their most recent meeting.
And if you watch this channel often, you’ll know that I regard the second matchup between Volkanovski and Holloway as one of the greatest displays of high level MMA we’ve ever seen.
Couple that with the fact that both are clearly better than they were then, and we have ourselves a fight!
But the purpose of today’s video isn’t to sit here daydreaming about just how incredible a fight that would be - instead, I’d rather address one of the burning questions that has been a constant in the MMA community ever since UFC 273.
Is Volk the P4P best?
Is Alexander Volkanovski the pound for pound best fighter on the planet?
Now, of course, this is a question that is full of recency bias - furthered by the fact that we haven’t seen Kamaru Usman in the last six months and when we did, he was going to a narrow decision against his greatest rival Colby Covington.
And trust me, as easy as it is to forget just how great a fighter is due to not being bombarded by the entire pre and post event media circus around a recent appearance - a lot can change in one fight - and if Usman were to go out there and absolutely smoke Leon Edwards - who knows where the public would stand on this one.
But based on what we know for sure about both guys and where they stand - there is little doubt that these are the top-2 in my mind.
During fight-week I put out a video where I dropped Petr Yan’s name into that conversation - and believe me, as much as people jumped into the comment section straight after UFC 273 to tell me to take him out - that’s just not how I judge these things.
Sure he lost, but skill for skill, he’s still right up there.
And obviously there are others who deserve mentions - but I won’t get into them now.
For this video, it’s all about Usman and Volkanovski - their strengths, their resumés, the general air they bring to their respective divisions.
Because I think the title of pound for pound #1 - while totally open to your own personal interpretation - I do see it, above all other things, as the one fighter who is at the peak of the sport right now - in terms of their position as champion, how watertight that is, how they relate and compare to their competition, the skills they bring to the octagon, and the strength and depth of the names on their resumé.
And as I outlined before, no fighter in the UFC has a win as good as Volkanovski’s over Holloway. Sure, these fights were narrow - but if you’re talking about the heights a fighter needs to reach just to get marginally ahead of a fighter like the former champion Blessed - that, for me, is a true indicator of greatness.
Volkanovski did what others drown attempting to do. And if it didn’t come across as overly flashy or eyecatching, that’s because it wasn’t - in fact, there was no room for that kind of approach - or at least there wasn’t at that point in time.
He’s a fighter whose strengths lie in his subtleties - how he can make a fighter as active and thoroughly enjoyable as Holloway appear far more static than usual.
That is a special level of talent.
Along with the two victories over Holloway, we also have his battering of Chad Mendes, his shutdown of José Aldo, his decimation of Brian Ortega, and his most recent showing against Chan Sung Jung.
So how do I compare it to Usman’s best wins - his duo over Colby, his knockout of Gilbert Burns, his mauling of Tyron Woodley, the two-fight shutout of Jorge Masvidal, earlier wins over Rafael dos Anjos, Leon Edwards, Demian Maia - even a young Sean Strickland.
Couple that with his five title defenses and the clear improvements and rounding out of his game that he has shown - and it is easy to make the argument that the Nigerian Nightmare is the pound for pound king at this point in time.
But does that make it true for me?
Well, not necessarily.
To be honest, my own jury is still out on this one.
I don’t think that Usman has a win as good as a victory over the legendary Holloway - but Volk clearly doesn’t have the depth to compare with Kamaru’s resumé.
As far as the eye-test goes, I don’t think Usman ties the whole MMA skillset together quite as well as Volkanovski - that’s not to say that he isn’t well-rounded, but in the featherweight king I see a greater representation of the full package.
Usman brings a long reign that does not look like it’s going to be ended any time soon - looking dominant in a way that has seen him double back over some of his past victories as he edges closer to cleaning out the division.
But I would argue that featherweight is a much stronger division around that upper tier.
Also, look, for every reason I can give for Usman being P4P king, I can just as easily throw one out that serves up a strong argument for Volkanovski.
And that’s the thing about these discussions - it truly is a matter of personal preference.
I could make the argument to you that Israel Adesanya possesses the single greatest grasp of a single realm of MMA combat in the entire sport - with his control and understanding of striking being the most comprehensive tool any pound for pound candidate has in their arsenal.
Just as I could say that in a scenario where an opportunity is given, there is no fighter as good as Charles Oliveira at punishing you for it.
Can't Go Wrong with Either
So when it comes to my own personal pound for pound vote - my own personal preference comes into play in a way that I might not even be able to fully articulate.
But based on that feeling - I do see Alexander Volkanovski as the single greatest example of a mixed martial artist on the planet today - on the back of his overall game, his progression of the MMA skillset, his greatest moments and the names he has beaten - or to put it more clearly - the names he has shut down.
That’s what I’m looking for in a pound for pound king - and though Kamaru Usman is all of those things in his own way - I can’t help but edge the reigning featherweight king ahead by a narrow margin for now.
So set up the Holloway fight if you can Dana - and if not, I’d absolutely love to see Volk put that P4P status to the test at lightweight.
Either way, it’s been a slow burn, but there are only a handful of fighters in the sport I enjoy watching as much as Alexander Volkanovski.