London — There was a point where Alexander Volkov arriving in London for this week’s UFC Fight Night card at the O2 seemed anything like a certainty.
COVID-19. Russia invading Ukraine. The roof blowing off the O2. It seemed as if anything that could happen to prevent Volkov from fighting Tom Aspinall atop UFC London did happen.
The promotion even reached out to ask Volkov (34-9) to head to London early — but the Russian heavyweight declined. That, he explained during Wednesday’s UFC London media day, was thanks to a second bout with COVID-19 during camp.
“The case is, about a month and a half before the fight, I got COVID [for the] second time,” Volkov revealed, speaking via translator. “To prepare myself, I need a full camp, and I couldn’t spare even a week without the preparation, the full team, the sparring, everything. We’re very grateful to the UFC that they’re trying to help us to get to the fight early, but I couldn’t. We weren’t quite sure that we’d be able to get here, and it turned out to be okay.”
Getting to London “okay” required a 24-hour flight, twice as long as it normally takes the Russian to get the the U.S, let alone England. He’ll endure a similar trek on the way home as well.
With so many potential distractions ahead of the card — Volkov’s native Russia invaded Ukraine in the middle of fight camp, bringing about heavy financial sanctions and travel restrictions — he took a few extra steps to maintain his focus.
“The preparation for the fight is always hard, even without all this,” he told Cageside Press. “The only way how I was able to prepare, I turned off all my social media networks and everything, and I stopped reading any news. It was the only way for me to prepare, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to prepare or do anything in training.”
The state of the heavyweight division is up in the air at the moment, with champ Francis Ngannou injured, and still bogged down in contract talks with the UFC. Cageside Press asked the former Bellator MMA champ if he expected to see an interim title up for grabs later this year as a result. He does — what he’s wondering is, who will fight for it?
“I think an interim title would be quite a logical decision now because we frankly don’t know what will be,” Volkov responded. “But the only question is: Who will fight for this interim title? [Ciryl] Gane lost, and [Tai] Tuivasa only entered now as a third. Right now it’s very dark times even for UFC heavyweights.”
Watch the full UFC London media day scrum with Alexander Volkov above. More coverage from the event can be found below. Volkov faces Tom Aspinall atop the Fight Night card this Saturday, March 19, 2022 at the O2 Arena in London, England.