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Alexander Volkanovski was a 5’6″ rugby league forward who dropped SEVENTY pounds to become UFC featherweight champion – NewsASAP
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Alexander Volkanovski was a 5’6″ rugby league forward who dropped SEVENTY pounds to become UFC featherweight champion

Alexander Volkanvoski wants to be remembered as one of the greatest featherweight champions in UFC history, and he’s well on his way in his journey.

Having defeated Max Holloway twice in the space of seven months, the Australian now turns his attention to leading contender Brian Ortega this Saturday night at UFC 266.

The Australian wants to cement his reputation as a featherweight great
Getty Images – Getty

Former featherweight champ Holloway is not one to go down without a fight, yet he proved no match for Volkanovski in their two battles.

At UFC 254, the five-inch height advantage for ‘Blessed’ was completely nullified by the aggression of the challenger as he claimed a unanimous decision.

It as far closer in their rematch on Fight Island, with ‘The Great’ being dropped twice, but he managed to switch tactics and ground out a decision victory.

But for those who watched the Aussie grow up in New South Wales, ‘Volka’ was just doing what he had done throughout his entire sporting career.

Volkanovski played rugby league… as a forward
UFC on Bt Sport (Twitter)

Volkanovski came under the featherweight limit for his title fight with Brian Ortega

The 5ft 6ins superstar was a former semi-pro forward in rugby league – a position reserved for far larger men – and was even considered one of the best in his area.

Former Warilla Gorilla teammate Ngatai Hetet told The Athletic how Volkanovski used to crumple men far bigger than him on a regular basis, including a heavy-hitter known affectionately as ‘Shrek’.

“[His opposition was] three times bigger, and he was the best in the whole league,” said Hetet. “These guys are heavyweights like Brock Lesnar.

“Alex would just carry blokes. He would always fend a player off. He was unbelievable. If he had an extra foot, he would definitely be in the [National Rugby League].

Volkanovski dethroned the featherweight king at UFC 245
2019 Jeff Bottari

“He didn’t give a f*** about how big people were. He would just run the ball all day. He had no fear, no matter how big they were. And even if someone twice the size of him started picking on him or tried to fight him, he would clean them up. You wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him, no matter how big they were.

“There was a guy named Shrek who was probably the biggest in the league. Almost 7 foot and 150 kilos. He and Alex ended up having a bit of a scuffle, a bit of a fight. Because Alex was so short, he had to jump up to try to punch him in the head.

“But Alex had no fear. He didn’t care how big you were. If you wanted to have a fight, Alex would.”

Although Volkanovski stands on the precipice of greatness in the 145lbs division, he was around 60 pounds heavier than this during his rugby career.

The former rugby league forward had to cut 60lbs in order to realise his UFC dream
Getty Images – Getty

After initially taking up MMA training to maintain fitness during pre-season, the former Greco-Roman wrestler began to fall in love with the sport again and revealed on the Joe Rogan Experience how he eventually managed to go all the way to a world title.

He said: “I had four amateur fights [when playing rugby] then went pro. [My first loss] that was against at the time, Corey Nelson; he was pound-for-pound number one.

“Obviously, this was at welterweight, this was very early in my career and I should not have taken that fight. But we were in a tournament and I had him first so I had the favourite straight up.

“And again, it was in a division I probably should have never been in. But, you know, I took him on and I did alright, I held my own, but things didn’t go well.

Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo proved no match for the Australian
Getty Images – Getty

“It went a lot better for me after that because I realised that he was too strong so I thought ‘right I have to go down, or I have to start grappling as well’. So that’s when I actually started grappling after that.”

“I remember doing that jiu-jitsu comp, I was stood on the podium and getting gold, so I was on the first podium, they’re on the second and third and they’re still taller than me.

“So that’s why now I fight at featherweight.

“I’m used to footie players, big, front-rowers, and fighting at middleweight, and all these different divisions.

“Now I look at these featherweights, they’re puny compared to what I’m used to.”

The Great wants to leave UFC 266 with his featherweight title still wrapped around his waist
Getty Images – Getty

“Obviously dieting is absolutely key. Even now, when I train so hard, if you’re not dieting well, the weight won’t come off.

“Starting early, I didn’t know much. I don’t know what I know now having dieticians, I was never doing that. I literally ate next to nothing.

“I would train a lot; I was training rugby league, fighting, training and then concrete [work]. And when I was getting close to fights, I was eating next to nothing.”

When Joe Rogan asked if he got ill from yoyo-dieting, Volkanovski was extremely honest.

“Yes, 100 per cent,” he replied, “staph infections all the time.

“It’s crucial, diet – the science to it all – now it’s an absolute game-changer.

“I had to miss out on fights due to bad staph infections, MRSA, and all that type of [stuff].

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