Why Alexander Volkanovski deserves your respect
How about that for a championship clash?
When you break down the notion of what a title defense actually is, belts and five-round fights aside, it’s one fighter, the champion, seeking to prove to the challenger - and through them, all of us, that they are the top dog, that they are the single best example of an athlete within the weight class in question.
Sometimes you champions do that with an absolute shut out, a win that reminds the world that there are, in fact, levels to this game.
Often its a quick finish, another notch on the belt of the king or queen of the division - another step towards a greater goal, one that revolves around legacy.
In the UFC 266 main event, we saw a champion, in Alexander Volkanovski who was pushed to the absolute edge of their capacity to hold on to that coveted belt.
And he’s a fighter who has been forced to defend himself as his status as the number 1 featherweight in the world on many occasions.
And not just inside the octagon, but through his relationship with the immensely popular Max Holloway - so much so that many people, even after Satuday, still see the Hawaiian as the premier 145lb talent in the sport.
But as I watched Volkanovski in that mounted guillotine and in the triangle choke that followed - as we all witnessed how he just would not accept the defeat that was right just millimetres away from becoming a reality - I think that was a title defense in the most compelling sense of the phrase.
He took what Ortega had to offer and simply would not relent, would not give in where many others likely would have.
As far as the singular moments of greatness that define a champion’s legacy, Alexander Volkanovski just had his and my goodness were they impressive.
Ok, I know the title of this video is a bit misleading - no this is not a step-by-step guide designed to make you understand what you’re doing wrong in your assessment of the champ and his reign so far, but I do think that even if you called that last razor-close fight for Holloway, if you looked at his subsequent matchup against Calvin Kattar and were like ‘yea, that’s the best featherweight on the planet’ - what Volkanovski did on Saturday was sure to have left you impressed.
Because for me, I scored both of his fights with Max in his favour - the second obviously being one of the closest battles round by round in UFC history.
But either way, it doesn’t really matter.
We are lucky to have two insanely good featherweights together at the top at the same time.
And though I’ll dive further into the Holloway trilogy bout in a future video, for now, let’s just focus on Alexander Volkanovski and what he overcame last weekend.
Because that was one incredible showcase - a fight that brought all of the subtleties of his game to the surface in a way that was completely inarguable by the time the final bell went.
As most of us know, Alex’s game is built around feints, around footwork, around stifling the offense in front of him.
At the elite level, we saw it first when he shut out José Aldo - a fighter who is still clearly in that A-level tier in terms of his technical proficiency.
But when he got in there with Volkanoski - it was almost like he had no idea what to do with him.
I’ve heard it said that the champ’s greatest strength is mesmerising his opponents, leaving them baffled as he feints and pivots awkwardly in front of them.
It put Holloway’s follow-up performance against Calvin Kattar into a greater level of perspective, where Volkanovski himself said that while he was indeed impressed by the record-breaking showing, that when it comes to trying to beat him, he doesn’t allow you to open up that much.
And that’s what he displayed wonderfully against the inhumanly tough Ortega.
In the exchanges early, Alex moved constantly, potshotting this improved version of T-City - testing his iron chin and resilience consistently through those opening two rounds before the complete and utter madness of round 3 changed everything.
Ortega managed to catch a kick, firing off a counter that put Volkanovski on his back - and then, I swear I’ve never seen a fighter in MMA latch onto submissions quite like this guy.
Within half a second, he already had a guillotine with fight-ending potential locked in, sliding perfectly into position in a manner that even Volk himself admitted post-fight had him thinking he was about to lose his title.
But he didn’t.
He flailed wildly like a fish out of water, eventually finding just enough space to survive - before then being caught in Ortega’s signature triangle choke, which he also evaded.
But even with those moments of resilience, I think this fight showed the world a bit more of what Volkanovski is about.
Over the course of the last four fights - his wins over Chad Mendes, José Aldo, and Holloway twice, the narrative had kind of been skewed in most of our minds to place his opponent as the likely winner.
It was Chad Mendes’ comeback, José Aldo’s resurgence, just another contender to Holloway’s throne, and in the rematch, Max’s chance to recapture his belt.
But this time around, it was a lot clearer just how good Volkanovski was - how much of a challenge Ortega was up against, where after seeing the artistry of Max Holloway’s win over Calvin Kattar - we were kind of forced to ask just how good Volkanovski must be to stand up to that.
And when he wasn’t fighting for his life in those submissions - he looked like an absolute world-beater out there, composed under fire, with cardio for days, pop in his punches, and just a level above T-City for the most part.
Ortega is an elite talent, don’t get me wrong.
But if we did learn anything on Saturday night, it’s that Alexander Volkanovski is as much a cut above these featherweights as Max Holloway is - and for the health of the division, having a rivalry like this - where the margins are so fine, yea, I’m quite excited to see these guys dance again.
Because that second pairing in particular was some of the most technical MMA I’ve ever seen in my life - it truly was a treat for the senses.
And I think that the Holloway Kattar fight and the Volkanovski Ortega fight have allowed us to really put the greatness of these two into perspective.
So yea, all credit to T-City he would have tapped 99% of fighters with that first submission, but if there was one major storyline to emerge from UFC 266, it was that Alexander Volkanovski is truly as great as his billing would suggest!