Alexander Volkanovski is aiming for his second defense of the UFC featherweight title, but for the 32-year-old Australian, a bigger goal bubbles under the surface: an ascent to lightweight.
Volkanovski doesn't care if the fans don't take it seriously. In fact, he's ready to use it as further motivation for a UFC universe he believes still doesn't show him the respect he deserves.
However, if it looks like he's leaving a more immediate featherweight challenge that is likely to come against Brian Ortega, possibly also in February or March of next year, that's not the case either. But at the heart of the Volkanovski is the unwavering urge to be not only the greatest featherweight of all time, but an all-time UFC star. Period.
"It's something I definitely see across the board," Volkanovski told ESPN when he became a multi-division champion. "But I don't talk about it because I have jobs to do; I have goals in mind.
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"But people need to realize that while I have goals in front of me, those are not my ultimate goals. So my goal could be the belt, it could be to defend that belt, and my goal is still." defend this [feather-light] belt, but I want to be the best fighter there is and that's one of my goals. And for that I want to go upstairs and fight [in the lightweight].
"But I have another division that I want to take out. I want to be the best that the featherweights have seen, so I want some defenses here. But I definitely want to have an easy fight too." ""
The first thought that comes to mind when analyzing a possible advancement to lightweight is the size and strength Volkanovski could concede in a division that includes some of the sport's biggest names.
Khabib Nurmagomedov [maybe], Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Dan Hooker – the UFC's lightweight division is stacked.
While Volkanovski's 71.5 "range is actually pretty good against many of these top lightweights, his leg range – kicks are a key part of the Australian arsenal – is 4.5" lower on average.
But given that he once played rugby league in Australia – just one step below the country's national rugby league competition – and could really move at 213 pounds, a weight gain of just 10 pounds would actually be pretty good sit.
Alexander Volkanovski raised his hands in victory after defeating Max Holloway at UFC 251 on July 12, 2020 via Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Still, Volkanovski knows that UFC fans and experts alike would instill a disdain for a possible shift to lightweight.
"People will say what they want," said Volkanovski. "To me, I think people don't understand the skills that are involved. People will say I'm hype or I got lucky because they don't understand the skills. I'll get people who say , I can't deal with lightweight.
"But I'm not worried about her because people who know the game, especially my opponents, know where my level is and I've trained with guys who are much bigger than me and I still do and I always have. So I do. " I know how I would hold up against some of the best lightweights in the world, even the best world champions.
"I've trained with so many people; Dan Hooker; I've even trained with Israel Adesanya, middleweights, so I know I can hold my own in heavier divisions. People will doubt me, but I love that, I love prove they are wrong.
"And I want people to think that people like Ortega or whoever is going to be after him, I want them to think 'that's the guy'. I want them to be ours Exaggerate fights because I love to prove them wrong. And when I go upstairs [they will say] it's too small whatever. I love these doubters and it drives me more, it motivates me more, and I'll just go out there and prove them wrong. "
Ortega's win over Chan Sung Jung in mid-October, nearly two years after his last fight in the UFC, gave Volkanovski a clear # 1 competitor after the Australian defeated Max Holloway, the man he dethroned and then defeated for the featherweight belt a second time in a separate decision in July.
Alexander Volkanovski poses with the UFC featherweight belt back in Sydney, Australia, July 28, 2020 Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images
Volkanovski says he would have loved to have had another fight in 2020, but he's instead headed to his Freestyle Fighting Gym base south of Sydney to help out some teammates and access the official records for the Ortega fight and the start of his camp waiting.
"The training is good, it was fun because there is no pressure. When you don't have a fight, there is no pressure," he told ESPN. "But obviously I'm still in the gym doing the rounds.
"We had a couple of teammates who were struggling. So it was good to focus a little on them, helping them as teammates and helping them prepare for their camp. So it was good to calm the mind without Pressure, I can go to the gym and it's exciting, it's different from what I usually do. "
In Ortega, Volkanovski agrees that there is an improved fighter out there, though one he says is not on the same level.
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"He's the # 1 contender, that's exciting. And he's improved a lot since before that fight. That makes it exciting and a lot of people call him 'Ortega 2.0'," said Volkanovski.
"Again I hope people think he's the guy who does it [defeat Volkanovski] and I can prove them wrong. I just really believe in my abilities, I think I'm just too much and who Whatever it is in front of me I'll show this every time.
"I see improvements in what he [Ortega] was, but I still think it's not enough. I'm on another level. There are things I didn't expect him to [against Jung ] does that surprised me Now I realize that he showed different tools, but there won't be any surprises when he tries to throw some of these things at me. "
As for Holloway, Volkanovski says it's good to see the former champion doing what he "has to do" to return to another title shot in relation to the Hawaiian's upcoming fight with Calvin Kattar.
Alexander Volkanovski [R] lands Max Holloway during his UFC world featherweight title on Yas Island, United Arab Emirates, July 12, 2020, Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC
After some featherweight uncertainties, particularly around Holloway, Volkanovski is pleased to see the division moving again, saying that some "exciting" fights on the horizon should further clear the defenses that follow what he thinks of a win via Ortega early next year.
That would be the perfect start to a new year that the whole world longs for.
"How was 2020 for everyone? It's been a crazy year but I'm lucky enough to still get it working," he told ESPN. "It could have been better, but a lot of people had it a lot worse than me.
"In 2020 we did what we had to do, we made it and we were thwarted. But in 2021 we will take over, we will be at the top and everyone will know my name."