Outside the octagon, Alex Volkanovski is quite a genial guy. Inside, Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski is a monster.
But, for just a moment, less than a minute before referee Herb Dean mercifully waived off the featherweight champion’s UFC 273 bout against overmatched Chan Sung Jung — better known as “The Korean Zombie” — the two merged into one.
“You sure?” Volkanovski can be heard asking the challenger at about 1:30 a.m. local time Sunday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
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As Volkanovski (24-1, 15 finishes) tells The Post, the query wasn’t intended as disrespectful or some sort of trash talk. The champion simply saw the writing on the wall.
“It wasn’t an insult; I’m like, ‘You sure?’ but it was just purely because I knew this was gonna go bad,” Volkanovski said this week from Parker & Quinn restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. “And I knew I was about to just put an ending on this anyway. You can save the extra few punches right now.”
The native of Australia, who successfully defended his 145-pound UFC crown for the third time since winning it at the end of 2019, knew better than to expect his opponent to back down. It didn’t matter that Volkanovski saw that Jung (17-7, 14 finishes) was defeated both “mentally and physically.” He says so many fighters are “warriors” who won’t give up. The idea of going out on one’s shield is woven deep enough into the fabric of this young sport that corner stoppages are incredibly rare, particularly with a championship on the line.
Volkanovski admits he’s a fan of the 35-year-old Zombie, who rose to fame with a wild 2010 fight while competing for now-defunct WEC and whom the champ said “lived up to that reputation” as just as difficult to stop as the walking dead. But the Aussie knew he was going to have a good night from the time Jung threw his first jab.
“That’s when I knew there was a gap in speed, and what I’m seeing, and distance control and all that.” Volkanovski said. “What he thought was a good opportunity for him, ain’t happening. So this was an opportunity he saw and thought was gonna land; not only [was the jab] slow and I wasn’t in the right position for that, he wasn’t in the right position. And I got a read straight away that he doesn’t know where I’m at, what range I’m fighting at, and what speed I’m fighting at. So, I got out [ahead] pretty early.”
The 33-year-old, whose only career loss came two weight classes up in his fourth pro fight nearly nine years ago, has his sights set on being more active this year after two consecutive years of competing just once.
Volkanovski’s relative inactivity — he fought three times in 2018 before defeating featherweight legends Jose Aldo and Max Holloway, the latter for the championship, in 2019 — is easily explained. Travel to and from Australia during the height of the pandemic was challenging, complicating his ability to get to the United States and United Arab Emirates nearly every fight since winning the title. He also contracted COVID-19 less than 10 days before the first time he was scheduled to face Brian Ortega last year; the fight shifted to September following buildup as opposing coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter,” with the champ retaining via a riveting five-round decision.
Ideally, Volkanovski wants to fight two more times this year. Logic would dictate he needs to fight every four months to make that happen, and he agreed with a laugh that August is “a very good month” for his return to action.
It’s not just any fight that Volkanovski wants. Moments after having his hand raised over the weekend, he sent a clear-as-day message to contenders in his division to “get your s–t together, start fighting, earn that No. 1 spot; it ain’t gonna be given to you.” And until such a challenger emerges — many are calling for a third bout against Holloway after the rematch came down to a razor-close decision win for the Aussie in 2020 — Volkanovski is targeting more gold: the lightweight title.
“I’ve never called for a title shot because I never want to hold up a division,” he said. “But I’m not the one holding up a division. I’m waiting for these contenders. … So they can go do that. While that’s happening, I’m gonna stay active, and I want that double-champ status.”
It’s unclear whether that’s in the UFC’s plans or preferences once the May 7 title fight between champion Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje settles things at 155 pounds. Lightweight hosts several worthy title contenders waiting in the wings, headed by Islam Makhachev. It’s also Conor McGregor’s primary division, and it’s impossible to write off the possibility of him skipping the line despite a 1-3 record the past four years.
But Volkanovski believes he’s got some cachet now as perhaps one of the top-three pound-for-pound fighters in the world, saying he is “in the position where we can have that conversation” about making it happen. He pointed out that he was asked about challenging for the lightweight title while filming “UFC 273 Embedded” and in speaking with the UFC broadcast team in the days before the Jung fight.
“These are questions that are being asked, so they’ve come before,” he said. “So it’s not just us raising these questions and all that. The UFC are asking these questions about it as well.”
This article first appeared on the New York Postand was reproduced with permission.