LAS VEGAS — Alexander Volkanovski’s Wednesday was filled with hours and hours of conversation: He appeared at the UFC 290 media day, then spent a few hours doing interviews with reporters, bloggers, radio hosts and television sports directors, promoting his fight for the undisputed featherweight title on Saturday with Yair Rodriguez at T-Mobile Arena.
It was an exhausting schedule that Volkanovski happily agreed to handle.
He is the longest reigning UFC champion, having held his belt since Dec. 14, 2019, when he edged rival Max Holloway. Fighters strive to earn the belt for years, but in getting it they may lose their appetite for all the promotional work they are required to do. It becomes a chore, and most notably, Conor McGregor refused to break training camp in Iceland in 2016 to do a press conference in Las Vegas for an upcoming fight with Nate Diaz.
One of the most engaging athletes you’ll meet is the last thing Volkanovski could do. Rather than despise the media for promoting the fight, he loves it.
When asked what was the worst part of being a champion, he took a minute to think before answering.
“Man, really nothing; absolutely nothing,” he said. “I love this fucking shit.”
He enjoys promoting his fights, which helps lead to endorsement deals that increase his income. He doesn’t mind hooking up with his growing list of sponsors, a task that often becomes tedious for many. And he looks forward to fighting the best on a regular basis.
He’s coming off an awfully close loss in a lightweight title bid to Islam Makhachev in February and he’s already talking either about a rematch with Makhachev or another champion vs. champion fight with the heavyweight title holder. rooster Aljamain Sterling. Sterling is defending his belt against Sean O’Malley in Boston next month and has said he would like to move up to featherweight after that.
Volkanovski said he would be happy to take on the challenge.
“…Most of the time what guys tell you [in the media] is very different from what they tell us behind closed doors when we talk to them about certain fights,” UFC President Dana White told Yahoo Sports. “But [Volkanovski] is one of those guys who when he says anyone, anywhere, anytime, he means it. If you’re a champ, you’re going to have to fight these guys at some point. He likes that. He always wants to do great things; fight the best we can find.”
He’ll get an elite one Saturday when he faces Rodriguez, who topped Josh Emmett and submitted him in the fourth round on the same card in Perth, Australia, where Volkanovski lost to Makhachev.
Volkanovski is a -350 favorite at BetMGM, with Rodriguez at +265. Rodriguez vowed to upset and told Yahoo Sports he saw holes in Volkanovski’s game that he thought he could exploit.
Volkanovski was hardly disturbed. He loves a good promotion and a little chit-chat never hurts. Part of the reason he’s so free in his time is because he’s trying to become a pay-per-view star and knows that just doesn’t happen without a lot of effort out of the cage.
So when Rodriguez talks about the holes in his game, rather than getting upset, Volkanovski basically encourages him to keep going. But he said while he do having holes in your game, exploiting them is quite another matter.
“When I challenged Islam, I spoke the same way,” Volkanovski said. “When you take on a big challenge, that’s a good mindset to have. Look, let’s be honest, he probably sees holes in my game. I’m sure he watches my fights and sees things that he thinks he can capitalize That’s how he should think and talk But look trying to capitalize on them and take advantage of them while I’m in front of him doing my thing is another history.
“Look, I see a lot of holes. I did the same with him. You’re like, ‘Oh wow, Yair, he looked great in that fight with Emmett. Oh my God!’ And when I got to the gym, I thought to myself, this guy is the most dangerous guy in the UFC right now. But I’m also looking at the holes in his game and working on doing my thing there. That’s not isn’t just a one-way street.”
Volkanovski kept his belt against a who’s who of the UFC’s top 145-pounders for nearly four years because he’s so invested in his preparation that he leaves nothing to chance. And while he raves about Rodriguez’s talent, he believes no matter what the Mexican star tries, he’ll have an answer.
He left to sell the fight to others, having fun in a situation where very few are too thrilled to repeat.
“All the guys who get into this sport, when they do, want to be in this position,” Volkanovski said. “Headlining, talking to you guys, going up against the best fighters in the world. Maybe it’s not for some guys, but I really appreciate it. I take all my obligations and I like it And if I do it right, it’s only going to benefit me in the long run.”