Las Vegas, NV — It’s been a long road back to the octagon for UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski. At times, a treacherous one, after the Australian contracted COVID-19 earlier this year.
There’s been a layoff of over a year, and the battle against a deadly disease. Yet as he heads into UFC 266, where he’ll defend the promotion’s 145lb title against Brian Ortega, Volkanovski (22-1) insists that he never thought his career might end.
“I never think like that. You’re not going to think like that while it’s happening,” Volkanovski told media outlets including Cageside Press during Wednesday’s UFC 266 media day. “But obviously, let’s not let it get to that point type of thing. We just wanted to look after it. We knew it was in the lungs, and all that, like the infection. So we just wanted to keep on top of it, and it was getting a bit worse, but we got it all looked after.”
Easing back into training, Volkanovski added, “you had to be careful. It was a little scary, when you talk to doctors and they’re like ‘we’ve got to make sure there’s no scar tissue in your lungs,’ and you hear other horror stories of people’s career ending because of it and stuff like that. So that does cross your mind, but I was always positive. You’ve got to stay positive.”
The match-up with Ortega has become just a little personal, it seems. “I can’t wait to put some hands on him,” Volkanovski said Wednesday.
The pair served as coaches on the recently concluded The Ultimate Fighter 29, and it was clear that Ortega got under the champ’s skin over the course of the series, even as the show mercifully downplayed that angle in comparison to years past.
“I’ve never been in this position. I’ve never had to spend so much time with an opponent. It’s never happened before,” admitted Volkanovski. “So this is different. And then a long time off. So I’m just eager to get back in there. Just have some fun in there, enjoy it, enjoy everything about it. On top of that, I get to punch him in the face.”
In terms of just what it is that makes Brian Ortega so punchable to him, Volkanovski highlighted a handful of factors. “He’s unprofessional, he’s got a bunch of yes-men around him, and he’s obviously constantly late. You would know, you’re not going to say it but I guarantee he’s f*cking late to your interviews and whatnot,” he continued, gesturing to the assembled media. “That annoys me. I’m professional, and I’m all about that. He wants this belt. You can’t be unprofessional, half-assing it, telling his coaches— I’ve seen video of his coaches asking him ‘are you ready, are you ready to do things?’ My coaches are gonna be ‘eh f*cking get in there, let’s go.’ That’s the difference between us. So that annoys me.”
Then again, Volkanovski added, “some of the things he would say under the pump, maybe because I’m confronting him, he’s not good at confrontation, he would just say some sort of real douchebag sort of statements. Just little things like that. I just think he puts on a front, acts like he’s all chill, and all that type of sh*t. I see through the bullsh*t to be honest with you.”
Asked whether Ortega had ever given a reason for his tardiness during filming of TUF 29, Volkanovski replied “doing his f*cking hair or makeup or something. I don’t know.”
Ortega will no doubt be on time for once this Saturday, when the pair face off in the main event of UFC 266.
Watch the full UFC 266 media day appearance from Alexander Volkanovski above. More coverage from the event can be found below.