UFC Auckland’s Alex Volkanovski talks transition from rugby league to MMA

At last year’s UFC Fight Night 101: Whittaker vs. Brunson, Alex Volkanovski won his UFC debut, advancing his record to an impressive 14-1. The…

By: Tim Bissell | 7 years ago
UFC Auckland’s Alex Volkanovski talks transition from rugby league to MMA
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

At last year’s UFC Fight Night 101: Whittaker vs. Brunson, Alex Volkanovski won his UFC debut, advancing his record to an impressive 14-1. The victory, in which he subdued Yusuke Kasuya with punches, was the 28-year-old’s sixth stoppage win in row.

“It’s always an unreal feeling to get the win, but to get it in the UFC – especially on my debut – it was amazing,” said Volkanovski to Bloody Elbow. “It was a long time coming and now I just want to get that feeling a lot more, so I can’t wait to get in there and get my hand raised again.”

Volkanovski came to MMA relatively late, taking his first classes in martial arts at 22 years of age. He did wrestle as a teenager (earning a national title) before taking up a completely different sport – rugby league. “I was just over wearing tights,” laughed Volkanovski while talking about his transition from wrestling to rugby.

Volkanovski’s decade-long rugby career began when he was just 14. His most notable playing years came while suited up for the Warilla-Lake South Gorillas of the Group 7 Rugby League. “In 2011 we won the Grand Final,” said Volkanovski. “And that year I got Man of the Match and Player of the Year.” During this year Volkanovski was also able to compete in his first ever MMA fights. Then he decided to make a full-time switch from ball sports to combat sports. “People thought I was mad.”

“I’ve only been doing MMA for six years, people don’t realize how new I am to the sport,” continued the Tiger Muay Thai fighter. “At the time, it was all new to me. Some people fight and stuff outside the cage, but I never liked that sort of thing. I just always wanted to do martial arts and I finally did it at 22 years old, so later in life, but it’s all good.”

The 5’6” Volkanovski weighed 210lbs when he was playing rugby and some of his early MMA fights took place at middleweight. Over the years, while he amassed a 13-1 pro record outside the UFC he eventually cut all the way down to featherweight, which he feels is closest to his natural weight. Despite this, his UFC debut last year came at 155lbs.

Volkanovski’s fight with Kasuya lasted a round and a half, and the majority of the contest featured the Australian raining down vicious blows on his grounded opponent. “I just really like ground and pound,” said Volkanovski. “The way I do it, it looks like I’m just throwing bombs, but there’s some technique to it too. I make sure I’m controlling the hips, palming his face to the ground, just little things like this that make sure that the ground and pound works and I’m not letting him tie me up to where I can’t throw punches.”

Though he hopes to employ the same aggressive ground and pound he displayed in his debut, Volkanovski is also planning to show off a more technical standup game this weekend, when he takes on Mizuto Hirota (18-7-2) at UFC Fight Night 110: Lewis vs. Hunt in Auckland, New Zealand. And he sees Hirota as the perfect opponent for him to showcase his striking on the feet.

“Hirota’s more of a grinder and I’ve noticed in a lot of his fights, instead of big knockouts, a lot of them he wears them down and then gets TKO finishes. I don’t know if I believe he’s a great striker, I know he can strike, but I still see some faults there and I definitely want to capitalize on that.”

The fight versus Hirota will take place at Volkanovski’s preferred 145lb weight class. After overpowering a natural lightweight in his last fight, Volkanovski is extremely confident that he will be able to out-muscle Hirota on Saturday night. “I feel just as strong as I do at featherweight as I did even when I was a welterweight,” he said. “I might have lost a little bit of that weight, maybe a little bit of that strength, but from lightweight to featherweight I definitely feel just as strong. I will not lose any of the strength I had in my last fight.”

At 28 years old, and making only his second UFC appearance, Volkanovski knows full well he doesn’t have a lot of time on his side to make an impact in the sport’s top promotion. “[My age] definitely affects how I’m approaching this UFC run,” admitted Volkanovski. “I’ve finally made it here, and it’s a relief, but since it’s a bit later in my career I want to shoot through these rankings as quick as possible. I want to fight as regularly as I can and make statements so I can take out that title.”

Versus Hirota in New Zealand, Volkanovski hopes an early stoppage will make the kind of statement he’s craving (as well as reward him with a coveted bonus check). He’s also hoping to win over fans with his aggressive style. “With all my fights, my style is to pretty much put a beating on. I don’t exactly like hurting people, but unfortunately that’s what we need to do in this game to win. So if you like to see big knockouts and savage ground and pound, definitely tune in, because that’s what I’m going for.”

You can see if Volkanovski delivers on his promises this Saturday, during the main card of UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Hunt live on FS1.

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at tim@bloodyelbow.com. Nice messages will get a response.

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