On Sept. 25, UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski will defend his title and position as the UFC's fourth-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC 266 main event against his The Ultimate Fighter Season 29 coaching rival Brian Ortega.
Australia's Volkanovski, 32, is one of the UFC's most technically proficient fighters. The winner of 19 straight, Volkanovski is seeking his second title defense and his first win over a fighter other than Max Holloway since 2019.
The City Kickboxing product won the title against Holloway at UFC 245, then defended it for the first time against the Hawaiian superstar in an immediate rematch at UFC 251. While both fights were considered controversial among a large sect of MMA fans, Volkanovski emerged victorious by decision both times. The wins represented the culmination of a longtime dream for Volkanovski, who turned pro in 2012. But MMA was not the featherweight's first sporting love.
UFC 266 profile: The rise of Alexander Volkanovski
Standing just 5-foot-6, Volkanovski is far from a large featherweight. In fact, he was a full five inches shorter than Holloway, an admittedly towering competitor for the weight class. However, the man who now routinely weighs in at 145 pounds the morning before fights was once a whopping 214 pounds. You read that correctly.
Prior to winning UFC gold, Volkanovski was a massive semi-professional rugby player for the Warilla Gorillas in the South Coast Group 7 Rugby League. He even earned the 2010 Mick Cronin Medal, which is awarded to the best player of the league, and "Man of the Match" honors for his performance in the 2011 CRL Grand Final.
During his rugby days, Volkanovski fought four times as an amateur. His first professional MMA matches were contested at welterweight, a full 25 pounds above his current weight class. As a welterweight, he suffered his lone loss via technical knockout to regional veteran Corey Nelson. It was lopsided booking at the time as Volkanovski was a green 3-0 on fight night, compared to Nelson who had won 12 of 16 pro bouts.
Volkanovski has been perfect since, as he dominated the Oceania fight scene until 2016 when the UFC came calling. He is 9-0 inside the Octagon, in a flawless run that has seen him dispatch of featherweights such as the aforementioned Holloway, the great Jose Aldo, and perennial contender Chad Mendes.
The Australian has earned a reputation as one of the promotion's most well-rounded fighters, known for his incredible ability to craft and adhere to brilliant opponent-specific game plans. Credit is due, in part, to his coaching staff and teammates at City Kickboxing, the home of UFC middleweight champion and Volkanovski's friend Israel Adesanya.
Outside of the cage, Volkanovski is a true character. When he isn't battering opponents inside the Octagon, Volkanovski can be found sharing videos of his adventures in nature, fishing, or his true passion: Cooking. His burgeoning YouTube channel has already amassed more than 10,000 subscribers as he documents his fight camp and external hobbies.
Ortega vs Volkanovski headlines UFC 266
Against Ortega, Volkanovski will compete in his first-ever UFC main event. The bout, which will be for the UFC featherweight title, has added major implications for both men.
Volkanovski and Ortega faced off against one another on this season of TUF, which pitted top bantamweight and middleweight prospects against one another in the famous reality TV-sporting tournament hybrid. The two verbally sparred throughout the show, and pranks -- a longtime feature of the show between coaches -- were common.
"Ortega is a spoiled little brat. He's high maintenance. He thinks it's all about him," Volkanovski told Australia's Wide World of Sports in July. "Him and some of his coaches were very arrogant. There was no bad blood going into it, even our first fight of the year. Going into this one, there is a bit of bad blood."
At UFC 266, Volkanovski will have the chance to let his frustrations out against Ortega, potentially allowing him to silence his detractors adamant that he should have lost one or both of the Holloway contests in the process.
"I'm ready for war against Ortega, and I know I'm going to come out on top," Volkanovski told UFC.com in August. "I don't just want to beat him, I really want to put on a show and get the finish. I want to show that not only will I beat these guys, but I will beat them bad."
UFC 266 goes down on September 25 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main card will air exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 pm ET, for a cost of US $69.99.
--Field Level Media