It has taken some time, but Australia’s reigning UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is finally feeling the respect he deserves in America.
Despite beating Hawaiian superstar Max Holloway in back-to-back fights, the first time to become the champion and the second time defending his belt, Volkanovski wasn’t unanimously viewed as a deserving champion by MMA fans as both of those fights were decided by the judges.
But following his second title defence against Brian Ortega in September, Volkanovski feels that public sentiment has shifted, and he is now seen as a worthy titleholder.
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That bout at UFC 266 also went the distance, but it was a much more dominant performance by the Australian than the victories he scored against Holloway.
“You notice it everywhere, you really do,” Volkanovski told Fox Sports’ Fight Week when asked if he noticed a change in fans’ attitudes towards him while walking the streets in America.
“It has changed and I guess I was never really looking for it and I was looking for the wrong things maybe before, but I’m definitely feeling the love right now.”
Volkanovski will next be in action on Sunday (Australian time) when he attempts to defend his belt for a third time against “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung at UFC 273 in Florida.
“Everything’s going well, there’s a lot of hype around this fight, a lot of people talking about it, a lot of people are wanting to tune in and don’t want to miss it,” he said.
“It’s good, and I’m feeling that, we’re hearing nothing but good things from everyone.”
America isn’t the only place in the world where Volkanovski is being supported. Unsurprisingly, his hometown Illawarra is right behind him, so much so that The Illawarra Hotel has been renamed The Volkanovski in his honour.
“It’s cool,” Volkanovski said.
“It’s a local pub, a pretty popular pub too, that’s my spot so they just temporarily named it after me.
“That’s going to be the venue that holds my fights and all my family and friends and all that, they’re already sold out.
“The support down at home is incredible so that’s why they’re doing it.
“I think they’re going to have a street maybe blocked off, I think they’ve got flags (hanging) off big poles, they’re going all out, I’m feeling the love and appreciate it.”
Jung, 35, is a mixed martial arts stalwart, who made his professional debut in 2007 and has been on the UFC roster for 11 years, having fought the likes of Jose Aldo, Dustin Poirier, Brian Ortega, Yair Rodriguez, Frankie Edgar and Dan Ige in that time.
But as highly regarded as the “Zombie” has been throughout his career, he has only ever managed one title shot, which was against Aldo all the way back in 2013, and as a result, Volkanovski believes Jung views their upcoming fight as his last chance at the gold.
“He understands that this has come about by opportunity, obviously it was someone else that was going to be there, so he’s not going to take this lightly,” Volkanovski said of Jung after Holloway pulled out of the trilogy fight with the Australian earlier this year due to injury.
“He’s not going to be like, ‘Ah yeah, I’ll just give it a crack’, he’s going to be like, ‘This is my last chance. If I don’t get this now, I’m never going to get this’.
“He’s going to be fully prepared; I think that’s why he pushed it back a month just so he could make sure he was in top condition and have a chance to take this belt from me.
“But that belt ain’t leaving me, my family and Australia – no way. I’m expecting to go out there and get that other ruby.
“This isn’t any disrespect to him and his capabilities, it’s just purely my capabilities, where I’m at – I’m just too good right now and I can’t be beaten right now.”
Despite originally being scheduled to fight Holloway for a third time in early March, Volkanovski was rapt to be locking horns with Jung.
“I’ve always wanted this fight, I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said.
“There were times where we could’ve fought and he lost and it wasn’t going to happen, he was even saying some things, he was one fight away and it didn’t go his way, and then he came back and fought, there was an injury (to Holloway) and now he gets that chance.”
And Volkanovski has some added motivation to extend his 20-fight winning streak which dates back to December 2013.
“I do remember some of the stuff he said, he has been talking some shit previously,” he said.
“Will I punch him in the face for it? Yes I will. I’m going to remember while I’ve got his head squashed into that canvas and I’m throwing a couple (punches), I might throw a couple extra knowing that he’s said some pretty disrespectful things in the past.”
Volkanovski acknowledged that Jung’s biggest strength is his knockout power, but was adamant it wouldn’t be a factor come Sunday.
“He knows how to find the chin and he knows how to put people away, but my chin ain’t going to be there, so that’s something that’s not going to go well for him,” he said.