Alexander Volkanovski Interview

In this podcast episode, I feature an Alexander Volkanovski Interview! Alex is currently the UFC Featherweight champion and one of the first UFC Champions to originate from Australia. Alexander came from humble beginnings on the local scene, where he captured many regional titles and has now established himself as being ranked in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings. Alexander Volkanovski trains at the Freestyle Fighting Gym under coach Joe Lopez, located in Windang, Wollongong, south of Sydney.

Join us as we discuss what it was like as an amateur athlete rising through the ranks of Australia to become the UFC champion and how he was able to get valuable training with partners of different abilities. Alexander also shares the mentality he adopted to help drive and motivate him to the top by building resilience and staying adaptable. Tune in to listen to these, a few fight stories, and many exciting topics, including advice for the younger fighters.

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Timestamps

[03:22] Setting a good wrestling base through rugby

[05:40] The “all chaos” SPYDA workout

[08:49] King of the wall drill

[12:42] Wrestling in Illawarra

[16:59] Why Alexander opted for home training to overseas

[21:50] Joe Lopez’s contribution

[25:52] Wallwork sessions

[28:25] Sparring day at the Freestyle Fighting Gym

[30:51] Alexander’s fight against Jamie Mullarkey

[32:00] Alexander’s source of motivation and belief

[35:07] Going for more than just getting there

[36:36] Advice to young fighters

[39:20] Transition to City Kickboxing in New Zealand

[43:17] Head clash with Brad

[46:32] Being adaptable in the game

[49:35] Fighting in the PXC

[54:07] Alexander’s advice to his younger self

Interview Transcript

Sonny Brown: Alex Volkanovski the champ’s here, how is it going, mate?

Alexander Volkanovski: I’m good, I’m good my man. How are you, how have you been?

Sonny: Not too bad mate, not too bad. Just getting through everything and just charging ahead my tenacity, that’s how we do it.

Alexander: Good stuff. That’s it, the way it’s going to be

Sonny: Thanks for joining me for a chat mate. It’s been a long time that you’ve been on the scene in Australia. I was thinking back to the first time that I actually saw you and it was second fight back in 2013 against Reagan Wilson. I was in Reagan’s corner. I’ve got a confession to make, mate, I’ve got a confession to you, to Joe Lopez, to the people of Wollongong, and I was the only one who thought this so blame’s all on me, but when I saw the name Windang I legitimately thought traditional martial arts school. I was thinking Windang these guys must be doing Wing Chun.

Alexander: All right, yes?

Sonny: That’s what I thought.

[laughter]

Alexander: There you go.

Sonny: Little did I know. I didn’t know Windang was a suburb, I didn’t– [laughs]

Alexander: Also, I get you now, oh really.

Sonny: You know what I mean?

Man: He actually thought that was a gym school.

Sonny: I thought that was the gym. I’m not from Wollongong.

Man: Sorry, the gym name.

Sonny: I thought that sounds a bit like Windang, Wing Chun, okay? These guys must be doing traditional martial arts. I was luckily, Mike, the coaches of Reagan, and Reagan himself didn’t think that, that was me on my own.

[laughter]

Sonny: Obviously, that wasn’t the case mate, because you came out there and you did some– Reagan was a decent bloke we were thinking pretty highly of him and you came out there and did some excellent wrestling, and then look you’re straight just continued all the way so wondering–

Alexander: Yes, mate.

A Wrestling Base From Rugby

Sonny: I know you have your rugby league background and you went into wrestling. I was wondering would you consider that rugby league background like a traditional Australian martial art, would that have given you a bit of that base?

Alexander: Oh, yes man. Bases it as a Florida but being a Florida I’ve been martial art anything. A lot of the time especially in contact sports, you need to be sometimes a little bit different. Again I was a little short, 4’6 and I was playing prop and I had to run at these big men, if that doesn’t make it tough, I don’t know what does so you’re still building– Again, martial arts is so much more skill involved and all that, but at the end of the day, hard work, being strong and having that grit that goes a long way. The fact that I’ve always had that grit and been used to the big boys, been used to the hard work, getting into training, and obviously, I guess you could say I always knew how to fight, but then I was a quick learner.

Being able to know hard work and know hard training and just being a gamer, you set yourself as a good base like you said, you’re going to have a good base going into training. Then if you just make that who you are then when I do camp I can’t not be fit, it would be impossible for me to go in underprepared. It’s just who I am, that’s who I am now. Because of them early days of just– That’s all I know. That’s all I know even when I’m told by my coaches to pull it up a bit, it’s just hard for me. I know it’s very important sometimes you need, “Oh, just chill.” As in when I talk about some days you just need to turn it down because say you got a spider workout crazy the next day. Let’s just do this as a low-intensity, just drilling, I want to get more of a sweat out and I just want to work, but it doesn’t mean I’m trying to knock your head off I just mean, I want to get a higher pace and I want to keep doing more and more and they’re like, “Hey relax,” or they even told me, “Oh, that’s enough, you can go home.”

I said, “No, I’ll do a couple more.” Even fight week, I’ve just got Joe Lopez, the coach is telling me to, “Ease up you’ve done enough for today.” It’s just who I am.

The Chaos of a “Spyda” Workout

Sonny: Oh, definitely and we’ve seen that as you’ve come up through the ranks over here, I don’t think anyone would doubt your hard work or not. I just heard you mentioned this spider drill because it’s something I’ve heard that you see kickboxing boys do. Maybe you can start off just explaining what that drill is, but I heard a story that apparently there was one time where they said stop the spider drill, and you just kept spear tackling everyone and wouldn’t stop. What’s the go with that?

Alexander: Because it’s, man, it’s chaos. Honestly, that workout is chaos and is meant to be chaos. It’s a flight simulator, so however long the fight goes for, right? If you’re doing three, five-minute rounds, it’s three, five-minute rounds of absolute chaos. When I say chaos, I mean, you are going to go to breaking point 100%. You can’t smash this session, you can’t make this easy, it’s not how it works. You are going to start buckling, you are going to struggle to get back to your feet in between the reps that you need to do, you are going to lose in lots of sweats, you against five people and they’re not trying to smash you, but it’s just very, very, very high intensity, is lactic, is bodyweight flowing and you’ve got to use strength, it’s techniques still, you’ve got to go do more work.

Is so much involved and whilst everyone is just going nuts, especially when you’re getting close to a fight, the atmosphere is incredible, that’s a big part. We want to get that adrenaline kicking as well. Yes, that’s the whole point, like in a flight simulator. We’re trying to hit all angles. It really does hit in and I couldn’t even hear the timer, so I’m going and then Joe is like, “10 seconds,” and I’m tackling and people are walking. Then, “Five seconds,” and then I can’t hear, you can see the video and that’s happening.

Then he calls time but like I said everyone’s going nuts [cheering]. Because I’m picking up, because I knew I was getting close so I just started picking the boys up because it’s my last fight before I fought. I’m picking the boys up and dumping them like if that was the last one. They would just walk in and you just need to speed tackle them, and they just keep going, it’s just that.

I’m lifting him, the boys are just– The teammates and they run in and they’re just going absolutely literally nuts, so you can’t hear nothing. Then everyone’s coming to celebrate [cheering] I took one down, everyone’s laughing “Aw he took them down”. Then more people come to celebrate. I’m taking more people– I literally took down two people after the time was done just because I couldn’t hear nothing. They were just coming in like, “Yeah, we’ve done it. Game’s over.” Once you’ve done your last spider, back and the rest is easy mate. That’s what it’s like, everyone like, “Yes, you did it.” I’ll just spearing them. It was good, it was good fun. Not fun, I wouldn’t say fun. It’s good fun to look at now.

Sonny: It’s good moment to reflect back on.

Alexander: Good moment. Yes, that’s the word.

The King Of The Wall Drill

Sonny: That’s nice. One of the other drills I see you guys doing and over in City Kickboxing, and maybe it started at Wollongong as well is the king of the wall drill. You got a little trophy that you guys are winning. It’s a perpetual trophy, I think. Can you explain to me what that drill involves and how you guys have come up?

Alexander: Yes. Well, they bring that they had a belt like City Kickboxing, we’ve always done king of the wall, king of the mat like wrestling. I guess there are a lot of gyms will do King of the– They just demand that whoever’s winner stays in top thing. We usually do it with wrestling and war work we’ve done that for a while. City Kickboxing do it and they do with a heap of them. They get a few people on the wall. They’ll get around five, six people on the wall where however many there is that people just go in and then the people with the most rounds or they went through the most amount of people get the trophy.

It’s hard work mate, like I said, especially when you’re competing, not just competitive, when you’re reasonably good as well, you’re winning. Everything’s a battle, even if you’re not winning it’s a grind. Sometimes there’s guys that they go for about 25, 30 minutes, some people because it’s competitive in there, they’re evenly matched they went the whole 25 minutes. We got other guys that you might get an easy runner, just get guys that are smaller than you or whatever it is and then someone gets this two base that just go at it the whole session. Literally, they were there for 25 minutes just trying to get each other down so they’ll never get to win the belt. Sometimes, it’s a bit of luck as well, bit of luck. You got to get a good run. Sometimes, you’re going, you’ll get a couple of good runs and then you’ll get someone hard. Sometimes, you look, you’re like, “Oh look at this guy.”

I don’t want to sound like an easy run and say people are easy but at the end of the day, you’ve got high level professionals that are three times the weight of this person. Okay it’s going to be a bit easier for me. I’m not knocking this guy but he’s half my fucking size. You get what I’m saying but it’s good. It’s real competitive. We usually do that towards the end of the week. It’s hard. Again, even though I’m small, I verse people, wall work’s my thing. I’m really strong there. I’ve got to verse guys twice the size as me and now I’m still very very competitive there and that’s how it works.

The schedule we got already, it’s a nightmare man, it’s hard work. I have nightmares about the fight camps and stuff like that. No, not really but it’s hard work and then you got that session where some people can be like, “Oh it’s not that hard,” and then for some, it’s killer unless you just let people in but it’s not in me. Like I said, I ain’t going to let that happen.

Sonny: Fair enough. With that competitiveness going on then with the wall work and so many people if it’s just everyone in there together, how you guys keep in track of who’s taking down who? Do you ever think someone may be just like–

Alexander: I reckon some people might sneak in a couple extra. They might say. It’s usually up to the person but while you’re going, obviously you’ve got people watching so there’s a lot of people that know anyway and then you got the coaches watching and then they’re asking every few minutes, “What are we on?” Then they’re like, “Oh yeah I’m on two,” whatever. It’s pretty easy for people to keep track but in saying that, there’s been some arguments where people didn’t agree with certain things. People are like, “Oh this is bullshit. You said that, blah blah blah.” Sometimes, you get a draw and then you got to do the 1v1 with the two guys that done a draw.

Sonny: The thunder dome just took it over the middle.

Alexander: Everyone goes nuts. Pressure’s on.

Wrestling In Illawarra

Sonny: That’s gold. A big thing, I guess, as an Aussie coming up fighting on the local scene, there’s a big idea that you would have had to have gone overseas to get your proper training. You’ve got to go to America, that’s it, that was all it. Especially for wrestling, you were lucky enough to wrestle in Australia. You wrestled in Illawarra. Where exactly were you doing that? Was that Illawarra PCYC because there’s not that many places around to do it.

Alexander: No, not many at all so Lake Illawarra PCYC, that’s where I did it. I started doing that. It was ahead of games night so they did that for– It was just a youth club so they done a games night, anyone could go but then because they have a wrestling clinic there, that was a part of activities that you got to do. You wrestled towards the end of the night. I went there and done all right and Don Brown, his name, he’s a wrestling coach, he comes, he’s going, “Oh you should give it a crack. You’re pretty good.”

I’ve always been strong and I’ve always been a goer, you could say, like I said. I did that and then I was actually pretty good at it. I wanted to play football with my mates. How many I done? I can’t remember honestly. I don’t know if it was one or two years and then a couple years. I know I’d won a couple of national titles so I’m guessing it was around two years. I’ll train and then I was competing and I was doing really well but just starting out. I wanted to hang out with mates, play football with the mates and got over wearing tights, as I always say, got over wearing the tights and then I’ll wear tights anyway so it doesn’t matter.

Sonny: Yes, I hear you. I do say that tights are a sport killer in Australia. Wrestling’s never going to take off here with the tights.

Alexander: [laughs] Well, that’s here. Australia, it’s not big here, you’re right, it’s not big. I understand what you said with that question where there was a lot of people. When I first started training and I started getting pretty good, a lot of people are like, “Oh man you need to go to America. It’s the only way.” They’re not tired of you. You want to sit there and be like, “No, fuck you,” but it ain’t like that.

It ain’t like that, it’s just they think– They don’t know any better. Everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side and they can be wrong. It was very big over there and earlier on– It’s a lot more than just having crazy– You need training partners, obviously, you need competitive training partners and obviously good coaching and that so you want all that but there’s still a lot more as well. You can go to gyms like that and it can not work at all for you. If anything, it can go worse.

You go, you train with a bunch of killers and you’re trying to get better, say you’re getting better. You’re sparring with a bunch of killers and then you wonder why people get hesitant. How do you get better when you’re sparring against some– Everytime I try something, I get my head fucking knocked off. Every time I want to shoot, they just throw these hips and I never get them because they’re fucking better than me. I’m just a beginner, these guys are better. How do you get better?

Sometimes, it is very important to train with all levels even at the highest level, even there at my level, I want to train with all levels. Obviously, you need that competitive training, don’t get me wrong. If you got to work game plans and things like that and you’re constantly versing guys that know your game, all that are really really good and know your game anyway, then how do you start incorporating that in your sparring and things like that?

The full process is going to be a little bit difficult because every time he shuts me down because he knows exactly what I’m doing. It goes a lot deeper than that and I can see why people say it but again, now, we got so many good gyms over here. It’s strangers so now we got some of the best fighters in the world over here. Now people understand we don’t need to. There was a time where maybe you could say we were a little bit more behind, but I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that now at all.

Choosing Local Training over International

Sonny: No, definitely not. Just to focus in on that one thing where you’re saying that people just keep shutting your game down, or they could or whatever, do you think that’s because if you were to go overseas and something like that, they’re going to see you as the outsider and try and– They’re in competition with you. Whereas if you’re in your home gym, so to speak, where people have your back, they’re going to help you work and help you grow and develop. Is that part of it?

Alexander: Yes. You are going to get good training partners but a lot of people– That’s what I meant. I’m just trying to show you the headspace people are in or how they think like, “Oh yeah. Iron sharpens iron,” so you’re saying. I get it, it’s true, but you’ve got to have balance. That’s mainly what I’m trying to say. Obviously, you can go to these gyms, they’re going to still obviously pull back for you but again, a lot of these things, they’re not going to–

Some people can be competitive. They’re probably not going to give you a takedown or they’re probably not going to let you land a punch. They’ll take it easy, they won’t bash you, but it’s going to be hard for you to work things. Again, that’s why I like training with guys at a lower level than me as well. When I say lower level, I might be better than somebody, but I don’t mind training with them because I can work things.

Today, I want to work that distance. These guys, I want to make them miss and touch them, I’m not going to hit them hard. I can really work, I can really play the inches game with them or this millimeters game and really– Just fine little details that you can work on training with all different levels no matter what it is. Then, you’re going to get some killer where you’re like, “All right I need to use everything and I need to be careful with what I do and I need to really set this up. I need to constantly keep him worrying about what I’m doing.” Little things like that. When you’re training with other guys, it’s like, “All right,” there’s so many more things you can work on to develop your game.

Sonny: Yes, okay.

Alexander: That makes sense. You get what I’m saying with that?

Sonny: I hear what you’re saying. It’s like you need people that will give you a range of different looks so you can develop different areas and be willing to work in cooperating with you so you can both grow and develop and it’s not just where survival of the fittest every night and you’ve only going to have to use your A game, you can’t grow and try something new because they’re just going to shut it down and not let you grow. Is that what you mean?

Alexander: Yes, you’re exactly right. If this is constantly happening, if you are constantly– You’re training with guys that– It’s hard to really explain. There’s certain combos that I’m working on. Say I’m drilling combos. I want to work on that in sparring but again, I’m trying this on guys. I can’t get in near him, they just smash my leg every time or whatever it is. I’ll get taken down every time I do it because they’re obviously a lot better than the person. This is constantly happening. You probably don’t notice but it’s constantly happening and then you start, “Oh, no. I don’t want to throw that combo,” or, “I won’t do this, I won’t do that.” You’re not thinking, “Oh, if I throw this I’m going to get punched ahead.” It’s just getting built into you. Every time I throw this, I get hit. I don’t want to throw that no more. You fight someone in your own level, you’re probably landing that. It’s probably working. Not only that, these guys know your game. They know what you’re trying to do.

That’s why and like you said, training with as many different shapes, and sizes, styles is key. I’ve always been a big believer of that, me and Joe. Joe has always been happy for me to train with other guys. That’s what I mean. You need to adapt to what’s in front of you. To do so, you need a– That’s why in the gym, mate, I am adapting every day in the gym too. I’ve done it from my early days in my career where I’m training with different guys and I don’t know their game. I don’t know these guys. I go in there and I need to adapt. I need to find out what’s going to work. I’m so used to doing that that there’s no surprises come fight time.

I honestly believe that because I do adapt very well in the cage. There’s times where I go in a fight and I’m thinking it’s going to go be one way. It turns out going the complete opposite way. Just purely feeling it out, touching. I had obviously work game plans but there’s a lot that I thought was going this direction with this game plan, not it ended up staying here or went this way. Again, I’m always preparing for whatever, anyway. Especially earlier days, there as times where I thought, “All right. However it’s going to be, I’m going to be standing up. I’m going to finish on my feet,” and next minute it just went to the ground.

Sonny: Yes.

Alexander: I just beat him up to the ground or complete opposite. That’s talking about it on a smaller scale. I’m not going into too much detail.

The Coaching of Joe Lopez

Sonny: Yes. Just being able to be adaptable and change to the chaos of a fight let’s say. That makes sense. You bring up Joe. We got to talk about Joe. You guys have a good relationship it seems. I remember when you guys were training together down in Melbourne. You guys were bunking up having to share the room at Absolute for IFC. [laughs]

Alexander: Oh, yes there. I thought you were talking about another story. I had to share a room with him while I was fighting in the UFC too.

[laughter]

Alexander: You’re right, man. I remember.

Sonny: What was your impressions when you first started training there with him? What has he done different to build that culture that you’re talking about of having people who are adaptable, allowing people to work like that? What’s he done different than other places that you would go?

Alexander: Look, again I couldn’t tell you what’s different. With Joe, again he’s always been– It’s not like it’s hard. You know yourself, there’s a lot of gyms. I don’t know if it’s getting any better but I don’t think it ever was easy for gyms to go and train at other gyms. There’s not many people who are going to do that. Just to be able to do that. Even a coach that understands that, “Oh, I’m not doing this to be selfish,” know you can’t go there.

Having trust in yourself and knowing like, “Oh, that’s all right. This is to evolve us.” We go there and again we can go there and– He’s happy to adapt as well. We’d go and he watches me spar. He’s there. We’re learning while we’re doing this too. Don’t get me wrong. We know a fair bit. We’re always learning. You got to be able to adapt to whatever is happening.

One thing that Joe’s always had is hard work as well. Again, that was my style anyway. He’s always a situational type of a trainer as well which I love. You can show someone– Technique is obviously telling you you need to know a lot of techniques and drills. Being in positions and working things out yourself as well is another thing as well. There’s so much in between if you get what I’m saying. There’s movements and there’s skills and techniques. There’s so much more.

Getting to a position to do that technique, a lot of times it’s very hard to just teach that. We’ve always done the live rounds. We’ve always, whether it’s alright, start in this position and go live from there. We’ve done that from wrestling and clinch whatever it is. That’s something that I believe really, really helped me especially the wall work. We were always big on wall work. Joe was from day one.

I don’t think it was real big like in Australia people would do it but we’ve done a lot. We did a lot of it. It was always situational. Even though we knew skills, we’d just put ourselves in them positions and just work from there. The amount that we learned just from putting ourselves in that position so many times, you just start building techniques. You just know what works and what doesn’t. You know what’s a good position, what’s a strong base. You know when you’re in this position this works, you know when you’re in that position that works. You know this don’t work here.

It’s hard to know that unless you put yourself in that position and we always put ourselves in that position. I think that it’s something that I remember really working. Even now, when I try and show techniques, there are so many things that’s just built-in. I’ve never taught it but it’s just my body knows. Why? Because we’ve been in that position a billion times.

Sonny: I know exactly what you mean. That’s actually something I’ve been talking about a lot with other people just how it’s really not about the technique, it’s about building that intuition and just those natural reactions out of your body that comes through practice and repetition.

Alexander: A hundred percent.

Wallwork Practice Sessions

Sonny: You mentioned the wall work. I remember looking at your timetable once. You guys have at least one dedicated class a week just on wall work, is that right?

Alexander: Yes, we got two.

Sonny: Two a day?

Alexander: Two sessions, yes. We got two sessions. We’d go live and we’d do technique. We’re doing a lot there. All of our guys, they’re always very, very, very competitive on the wall. Especially when the guys fight, they’re always strong. Again, they always got the grit. They always got the heart. That’s something that– Again, you don’t want to go and kill yourself. You want to be calculated in how you do all that. You just want to have a good balance but the hard work still will always later be done. We definitely do that.

Sonny: Yes. That’s definitely not something that a lot of other gyms do even to have one dedicated wall work class a week. To have two and then to have the UFC champion who’s pretty damn good at wall work. There might be something to it, I don’t know.

Alexander: Again, on the same topic, I think a lot has changed and now you’re getting so many MMA gyms. Especially in Australia, one thing that Joe’s always had more of an MMA gym from the day 1. Again, there was a lot of gyms that still did that. You still see today where even UFC fighters if they’re doing kickboxing, they go to a kickboxing class and do a kickboxing class. If they do wrestling, they go to wrestling school. There are still guys that would go through separate aspects of the sport and train. I get that but at the same time, you need to do MMA sessions. You need to be able to blend it all together.

We dedicate a lot of sessions to MMA specific stuff. We’re an MMA gym. Obviously, we do jujitsu. There’s going to be jujitsu but then we’re going to incorporate MMA jujitsu-type stuff. We’re MMA-specific. Little things like this, little details that works perfect for this and it might be have to be changed a little for this. We change it as they did up like that as well. We dedicate a lot of sessions to mixing it all up.

Sparring Day at Freestyle Fighting Gym

Sonny: The other thing I know you guys do in terms of mixing it up and bringing those different looks, you guys are always saying any open sparring or whatever on a Saturday, everyone welcome, other gyms welcome. You put the word out that if other gyms want to come spar that’s fine, which is again not many other places do that.

Alexander: Again, we’re not trying to take these people out. We want them to come with their coaches. We’re not trying to take people’s clients. It’s nothing like that. It’s just purely letting everyone know that you can come train here with us, get your rounds in. Again, look at the bigger picture. Yes, okay, you might have to fight someone you train with maybe but what do you know. Again, I didn’t care. Again, I told you that I always trained with as many people as I can. I’ve trained with guys that I’ve fought. Jamie Mullarky I’ve trained with him before I fought him. Things like that.

That’s going to happen but again also it’s looking at the big picture. I’m not looking at, “Oh, what if I fight this guy? I don’t want to train with him.” Look mate, do you want to get better or not? Don’t worry about that. It’s sparring. It’s never going to be the same as a fight anyway. Obviously, you can get a lot from sparring but it’s always going to be that little bit different once you get to the fight time anyway.

Again, I’m not concerned to knock people’s head off as well. I think it might have been a false– Again, I’ve sparred with some guys and then they wanted to– They might want to fight, there’s some that will be happy to accept the fight after that. I’m like, “Are you sure?” Then obviously the fight didn’t go the way I planned, or it’s been the other way where someone’s called me out and then I’ve trained with them and they didn’t want that fight anymore. It’s going to happen but again probably because I knew they called me out so I had a little bit more to prove so I’d end up just letting them know like, “Hey, you don’t want this.” We challenged and we trained and he ended up accepting the fight and then thought he could beat me and I was thinking, “Could it be because of that session?” I don’t know because again, you want to be competitive but I’m not going to try to kill my training partner. It’s just not about that. I don’t get paid in the gym.

Alexander’s fight against Jamie Mullarkey

Sonny: Yes, fair play. I mean there’s probably is a testament to that mentality though that Jamie did end up making it to the UFC even after that fight was a pretty brutal knockout that you got on him but he obviously persevered probably because he had that mentality, same as you, to go train with everyone.

Alexander: Yes. I didn’t mean that in a bad way when I said that but again obviously you got to have that belief in you. There’s times where you might not go good in a round but you still know you can beat these people so you got to have that belief. At the time I credit him really because at the end of the day we were both, especially in Australia at the time in Featherweight Division, we were both fighting. A lot of people were like, “Well, these guys got to fight.” That doesn’t usually happen. I was the type of guy I would fight anyone anyway and for him to have taken on, good on him. It just shows you his belief. He knows he’s really good but obviously that was my night and he’s in the UFC now. He’s a good fighter. He showed me mate. That was a crack of a fight too, man. It was a huge fight.

Alexander’s source of motivation and belief

Sonny: It was. It was wild. For you, where does that motivation then and belief come from especially to take on everyone because we do see people take easy fights just to try and pad their record to get to the UFC and that’s one way of doing it I guess but I always look to you now as the example of, “Well, look at how he did it and what he’s achieved. That’s probably the better way to go about things.” What gave you that mentality to just accept all the tough challenges on the Australian scene?

Alexander: I don’t know. For me, maybe it probably just worked out for me. Luckily my abilities and it’s MMA as well. You can be a lot better than guys, you can still lose. You could still say things went your way so I was lucky to keep getting them wins up even though I was taking on killers that people thought I wouldn’t be able to beat especially in heavier divisions. Obviously, there was that one loss so that’s what got me the loss, purely fighting someone I probably shouldn’t have. It was very early in my career fighting the pound-for-pound number one in Australia in a division I should have never been in. That shows you that–

Sonny: Corey Nelson is a beast.

Alexander: Yes. It just shows you that you shouldn’t be– I can see why people want it like that but at the same time a lot of people get padding records and doing things like that. You still need a good competitor, you still want to test yourself but I’ve always been the type of person that even while I was in the UFC. Before UFC I was, “If I beat this guy–” I wanted the fastest way to the top and to do so, you’ve got to beat the best. That’s how I looked at it. Look, if I fight these guys, I could have moved Corey Nelson. He’s number one pound-for-pound in Australia. If I beat him, I’m the man. That’s how I looked at it and that’s the same as when I was in the UFC.

All right, Chad Mendez. I was outside the rankings. Chad Mendez is going to win. I’m like, “Man, he’s going to be ranked number five after this. That’s going to shoot me straight through the ranks. No one calls out Chad Mendez but I know that’s going to push me forward. I want that fight.” The same as Aldo. Aldo is ranked number one. I’m going to have to fight him in Brazil on his home soil. He’s absolutely killing people in these three-round fights but that’s going to put me at number one so give me that fight. I know I can do it. I’m not going to find an easy way. Like I said, it was really not given. I chose to earn my way to that belt and I went and done it. There’s a lot of people that might get lucky, things will work out for them, and they might get a bit of help along the way but I was just, “Whoever get’s me there quicker, let’s do it. Whoever I need to beat to get there, I’ll do it.” That’s just how I was.

Going for more than just getting to the UFC

Sonny: Yes, definitely. I remember once after training up at Chatswood at BT1 that day, we went and got lunch and you were talking about the UFC and were bringing up something about just the payscale or something like that and I can’t remember exactly what it was but you were pretty much like, “No, that’s not going to cut it. That’s what I need more. I’m going to get there and I’m going to get more. I’m going to do it.” I was like, “Okay. This guy is committed. This guy, he’s after it.”

Alexander: Well, as in do you mean as I’m trying to get that?

Sonny: As in you weren’t going to be content with just getting there.

Alexander: Okay, yes. Sorry. That’s what I thought that’s where you’re going.

Sonny: You weren’t going to be satisfied. We weren’t just talking about, “I want to have a fight and then just be a UFC veteran.” You were talking about, “No, no, no.”

Alexander: Yes. Exactly right. Before I went off in the ring I wanted to make sure that’s what you were talking about because I knew it was.

Sonny: Rant away, sir. Rant away. [laughs]

Alexander: Yes. That’s true, man. I’ve said it time and time again. Before I got that belt I was like, “I ain’t just happy to be in the UFC. I’m going to be at the top.” I was telling people that I ain’t happy with just being a number in the UFC. I’m going to get to the top. I ain’t just looking to get that contract and be like, “Yes, I made UFC.” That ain’t good enough for me. I’m going to the top. I was saying that and I was pretty vocal about that. Again, it’s not cockiness. It was just I knew I could do it and I wasn’t lying. We’re here now. [laughs]

Advice To Younger Fighters

Sonny: Ain’t that not the truth, mate? Ain’t that not the truth? It’s a good point maybe to ask what advice you would give any young fighters. I know you got Colby. Colby Thickness coming out of your gym and he’s one to keep an eye on but any advice you would give young fighters on how to go about things?

Alexander: Man. One thing that I love and again I was telling you it helps because I explained this earlier on when I was talking about hard work and being put in positions and just always making it who you are. To do so from the first days in the gym, you shy away from certain exercises, you shy away from hard work, you want to take the easiest training partner, that could be who you become. You will maybe look for the easy road. I don’t mean that in a bad way but if you’re the type of person that, “Oh, yes. Tomorrow’s this crazy session. I’m going to go do it. We’re meant to do it, I’m going to go do it. I ain’t going to make an excuse and not turn up. All right. There’s this guy who’s an absolute killer. Obviously, he’s someone that’s going to break your arm. All right, don’t go with him but it’s this guy you know is a hard round, I want him. I’m going to go there. I am not going to shy away.” You do things like that. Put yourself in. When you want to work out and the coach isn’t looking, “Oh, I could slow down.” These little things, man. Just be comfortable at being uncomfortable. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions so you can adapt to being able to– Let’s make it who we are. That’s what I could say. Be comfortable in uncomfortable positions. That’s my saying.

Sonny: Yes, makes sense especially in MMA. There’s no way around it. Whether you like it or not, come fight night, you’re going to be put in some uncomfortable positions.

Alexander: 100%. Even for your career, you’re going to end up being there but if you can suck it up for that first bit of your career or when you get in there and you just make it, again it’s just all you know. When you are on that assault bike, you don’t have to have someone watching you. I look at these fucking numbers and I’m like, “I need to hit these numbers because I know,” it’s who I am. Again, I make it who I am. I’m not trying to impress these people, it’s just I know if I’m giving 50% I know that and that’s going to fucking tear me apart so I won’t let it happen because again, it’s who I am. Let it be who you are. Get used to it nice and early and you won’t know any different. Someone tells you to do something, you’re going to do your best you can and you won’t shy away.

Transition to City Kickboxing in New Zealand

Sonny: That’s beautiful. Good advice for the young tackers out there looking to get into things. I’m wondering from that belief that you would do it, how did you then transition into maybe going across into New Zealand and hooking up with City Kickboxing. How should I say? Now it’s a common misconception that maybe you’re a New Zealander and that you’re here from City Kickboxing. Does that ever get on Joe’s nerves at all or is there any been– How did it come to go to City Kickboxing to the stage where now people think that that’s where you’re from?

Alexander: Man. You got to remember obviously everyone out here knows that even in Australia, well, most of the people in Australia that are in the sport know that I trained there. You’re going to get the mainstream media or whoever, they’re going to say “City Kickboxing got two champions,” and then a lot of people, that’s what they’re going to see and that’s what they know. They don’t look any deeper.

People that know the game, probably know. Obviously, a lot of people, they think I’m in New Zealand and literally think I’m a kiwi. It’s funny, but obviously again, I’m biased out of a freestyle fighter gym. A lot of people know that. I would say it gets on– Look, I’m sure a lot of people come up to Joe, and be like, “Oh, where are they keeping you now?” That probably annoys him because people are coming up to him and going, “Oh, why are they giving him?”

He’s okay. Well, obviously he’s all for it. He knows that we’re part of it. We’re all one team we go over there, it’s just we’re a part of the team. We just look at it. You can’t pay attention to things or judge them as well. Fine, pay attention to little details like that or then same as they say, with haters and people that are going to say negative things. They’re always going to be there, you cant pay attention to them.

I’m sure he’s fine with it, but I’m sure it’s probably got to his nerves. Got on these nerves here and there though as well.

Sonny: I can only imagine. I’ll have to state it to Joe Lopez

Alexander: I wouldn’t blame him really.

Sonny: Now, I have heard a story that apparently, speaking of getting on Joe’s nerves, Joe and Brad Riddell have a bit of back and forth or something. Can you shed any light on that?

Alexander: Like banter?

Sonny: Yes.

Alexander: You mean the past banter?

Sonny: Yes. Is that what it is. I don’t know.

Alexander: To be honest, that’s everyone over there. Everyone over there, we bring Frank Hickman it’s just constant banter. I love the banter. Sometimes I’ll be fighting, fight week, and I can’t even have a normal conversation with these guys because they’re just constantly– I’m like, “Guys, what do you want to get to eat?” “Bla, bla, bla,” and they just carry on. I’m like, “Fuck, I want to eat. Shut up for a second.”

I love it, but at the same time, that’s just who they are. They’re just, the boys will be boys and they’re just constantly giving each other shit.

Sonny: Having a laugh.

Alexander: Obviously, when we’re in New Zealand, a lot of times we’re staying at Brad’s. So we live with Brad. Obviously, it’s like a love-hate relationship where you get two mates that just constantly give each other shit and it never ends, like that. It seems to be Joe and everyone else. He’s like that. Like I said, you get two people that just always go at it. It’s always Joe and someone else.

Sonny: [chuckles] That’s classic. Just a bit of lads having a laugh.

Alexander: Brad and Joe just bantering and carrying on with angry Brad we call it.

Head Clash with Brad Riddell

Sonny: Angry Brad. Well, speaking of that, the other story I heard about was something about one time you broke Brad’s headgear or something at Tiger Muay Thai.

Alexander: No, no, no, no, head clash.

Sonny: What was it? A head clash. Oh, what happened then?

Alexander: [crosstalk] That was just because we usually wear headgear. That’s probably where you got that from. Wear the fucking headgear. Eugene and Joe would have been up there saying, “Where the fuck is the headgear?” I think what I’d try to do. A lot of times a level change.

I think I went for a level change and went to go like a double leg. Or I can’t remember what it was or something like that. I went level changed and he sort of went for the sprawl but then I bailed out on it and then we head clashed. Just saying, he was giving me shit. Blaming me for it and I was blaming him for it. It was one of them things he blamed me but I blame him.

Sonny: Classic.

Alexander: Oh, no, no, no. Actually, I remember it was. I went for a high kick single leg, you get the head on the chest-high on the single leg, step that right leg over, so I throw a punch and then step over the right leg, I went to the single, so your leg will change a little bit like that. He went down to spar and just head-butted. Who do you blame for that? I just went for a single leg.

Sonny: Part of the game. What are you going to do?

Alexander: Part of the game. That’s what I told him then.

Sonny: Wear your headgear I guess.

Alexander: That’s what you do.

Sonny: That’s the moral of the story.

Alexander: Mate trust me. Fuck it. He deserves it from the shit that he’s fucking done to me. He split me with a spinning back elbow while we were fucking wrestling.

Sonny: How did that happen?

Alexander: We were wrestling. Okay. It wasn’t legit spinning back elbow. That’s harder to explain. I went for a single leg and accidentally head-butted him. He somehow fucking spin and back elbowed me in the head. You can see why I blame him all the time. Well, I think I had a sore shoulder. I ended up like we were just playing around.

I had his hip and he went to turn and because I couldn’t hold him with my other arm, h e turned quicker than he expected. As he’s turned, he just lifts his elbow up a little bit, he’s trying to keep his elbow nice and tight so I wouldn’t get bound to him and then bang. Mate, you know about the broken rib too?

Sonny: No, what happened there?

Alexander: No, not a broken rib. I tore my intercostal muscles.

Sonny: Is that the rib cartilage where the ribs [crosstalk]?

Alexander: Yes, rib. Yes.

Sonny: Yes, I’ve done that. It’s not much fun. What happened then?

Alexander: Oh, that was two days before my fight. Two days before my Darren Elkins fight.

Sonny: Oh, yes, yes. That’s right.

Alexander: That was Brad Riddell.

Sonny: Oh, really. Okay. Now that you mentioned that, yes, I do.

Alexander: Two days before my Darren Elkins fight. You can see what position I’ve been in from injuries. Again, obviously, we’re both brutes so we tend to injure each other all the time.

Sonny: That’s going to happen in this sport. It’s a rough sport, right?

Alexander: Yes.

Being adaptable in the game

Sonny: I think I’d actually, linking it back into what you’re talking about with being adaptable and having that adaptability, no matter what. Being able to be adaptable to a rib injury two days before a fight, adapting to head clashes, adapting to those things in sparring. That’s all part of that adaptability, right?

Alexander: Exactly right. 100%. Exactly, right. I can dwell on things going wrong and obviously, there’s going to be some pretty negative things happening in camps. If you constantly just focus on them and let them get to you, man, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be real tough. If you constantly find ways around it, I don’t want to be cliche, stay positive and you know.

Sometimes you just really need to– Whatever it is, that was pretty hard to stay positive. I had tore an intercostal muscle. I couldn’t even lay in bed. I lay in bed, I couldn’t move. Because I was still water loading, because I still had to fucking make weight, I couldn’t even get up. It could take me five minutes just to get up and I’m in pain and then I’m trying to cry because I thought, I don’t know if I could fight. Then I can’t cry because it’s hurting me too much. So I’m just like, “What do I do?”

It’s just absolute chaos. Man, it was nuts, but we still got it done. Again, we adapted, even just training. I couldn’t even train. I couldn’t even fold the right hand. I put hit pads in front of my right hand. I feel my right-hand, it took the ind right out of me, I couldn’t feel my right hand. It was just, once the adrenaline rush comes, hopefully, you won’t be in as much pain and see how you go.

Those times it was adapt that I made in there. I think I adapted probably too much. Because I reckon the adrenaline rush worked a charm. I still had the rib injury on my mind a lot. There was times where I dropped him and I was worried about. I love my ground and pound. I’ll just fucking jam on him and just cave in, that’s my thing, especially back then. I was so worried about jamming his legs or his knees into my rib. I curled up and went to go in there and he was getting up. Then I just went for guillotine. It’s hard to explain. I wouldn’t usually go for guillotine when I’ve just dropped someone and landed on their back. I slowly went in because I was worried about jamming into the hips.

Then because he got up, he was there and again, I didn’t want to flatten him back out because I was worried about my ribs. I just tried to go for a guillotine. I don’t think I would have had to. I think if I just threw bombs and do what I normally do, I would’ve finished the fight and I don’t think it would have felt it. Because again, the adrenaline rush, fucking worked the charm, I’ll tell you that.

Sonny: Yes. Could certainly change things quickly. You adapted you overcame and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Alexander: I was in pain and conquered.

A Greased Fight Story from PXC

Sonny: That’s it mate. It certainly did. Maybe you could tell this story. I think I heard it, Joe mentioned. Actually, I think it’s great example of adapting is when you were fighting in PXE, and I think one of the fighters there maybe had a bit of lotion on, was a bit greased up.

Alexander: Oiled himself up.

Sonny: Can you take us through that story that fight? What happened?

Alexander: Joe, he was in my only corner so he’d come with me, just me and him. So we’d done the whole process together, more over there. Again, we’re in a different country. First time fighting in Guam, PXC, and we go there and again, this guy was a Guam boy, Carl Reyes, he’s actually a good fighter but I think back then– I actually talked to him not long ago. He’s a lot different now. You can see that he grew up a little bit. He was a bit young and wanted to be gangster type when I fought him, if you get what I’m trying to say. I believe that he’s changed a fair bit but that’s– I went and I fought him and while we were fighting I grabbed him and he was oiled up. I could tell he was oiled up. I was fighting him. I remember having his back, having him in the rear, naked, he was swiveling.

He was literally sliding down like– He would swivel, I’d get back on top and he would swivel again. While I had my legs around him locked in he was just able to still swivel in me like that. I’m like “What the hell?” I’m grabbing him, just sliding everywhere. I mean proper oil. It was oil. I’m wedging and he’s all oiled up. I’m trying to wedge him, going back to the corner, I’m fuming. You could imagine how angry I am. Joe’s trying to calm me down and at the same time thinking, “Man these guys, we’re in a different country, they’re going to rob us. They’re doing this on purpose, but Alex is going nuts, I need to control him. I’ve got to calm him down.” Because I’m going, “What the fuck?” I’m flipping out and the ref at this time was just like, “Oh no, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Then the second round, same thing happens, and then he’s starting to guess. I end up still, again, adapting and just doing what I had to do and I was beating him up anyway and I guessed. The ref grabs him and goes, “Oh, I can feel oil. I’m going to go get him checked.” I’m like, “Now that he’s tired.” I thought it was part of their plan. “Oh, now he’s tired you want to check him, give him time to relax and get his breath back.” I’m going, “This is all–” I’m fuming again. Joe’s trying to calm me down.

Sonny: The game is rigged.

Alexander: At the same time I’m thinking– Yes, and then we end up fighting. He wiped him down a bit. After the fight he held him and actually “Okay, I’ve got the permission to come in. I want you to check in.” He knew something was up, he ended up feeling it eventually. They end up finding it in his drink bottle. I got told that the ref ended up telling us, he goes, “You were right. We found it in his drink bottle.” They went in, they do the check up. Do the check up, then walks in and they spray through the cage sometimes. Just went [noise] and then he’s just got it in hand and acting like they’re patting themselves up, and just oiled his whole body up.

Joe even remembers him doing that but didn’t realize, because some fighters do that. That’s how he spread it all over himself and man, I’m telling you it sticked. I remember my shorts. I remember wearing my shorts and they were just full of oil. I’m like, “Joe, look at this.” I put water on it, squeezed it out and you just see oil and water all through the ground. It was nuts. Joe had to calm me down a fair bit then. We adapted and got the in right.

Sonny: Adapted. Got it done. Survive and thrive. I love the idea of Joe having to calm you down in the middle of a cage fight. So you can–

Alexander: It’s usually me trying to calm him down all the time, but he had to calm me down this time.

Sonny: Don’t get too angry mate, we got a cage fight to worry about here.

Alexander: He’s like, “You’ve got to fight, just don’t worry about it. Relax. We’ll worry about it later.” Oh mate, it was crazy. He was just slipping out of weird positions and– But actually, I got put in a pretty bad– Well, I would say a bad position. He had me in– I don’t think it was a triangle but he almost had a triangle maybe and then I end up slipping out. That could’ve worked against him maybe.

Alexander’s advice to his younger self

Sonny: That’s classic. Mate, it’s been a great chat. I’ll finish off with one last question just to wrap it up. Basically, is there anything that you could think of, advice you would give your younger self when you were just starting out training? You can look back and say– Is there anything that you can think of that you’d tell yourself?

Alexander: Oh man, I’m all about how people say you learn so much from your experience and all that. The way we’ve done things, I’m happy with how I did them. I’d like to say I wouldn’t change anything or there is things that I believe in that I truly believe helped me through my career. Maybe just, like I said, even though I always was a hard worker, let him really know that. Let him understand these things that I know now. Luckily enough I went through that process but I didn’t know it. I just went through that process and become who I am and I just look back at it and realize that that’s why I am who I am.

Maybe just let myself know. Let him know these things. Just so you understand it so you can use it the best way you can. Maybe I could’ve used it a little better and maybe I could be even more fitter and stronger right now. You never know. Maybe I could’ve worked even harder. Just things like that. I’m proud of who I am and I wanted to become the champion. I wanted to be me through the whole process so that’s something. If I could tell my young self– You know what I would say?

Sonny: What’s that?

Alexander: Don’t commit to Game of Thrones because you’re going to get let down in the last season.

Sonny: Season seven mate, season seven. I didn’t keep watching it after the end of season six, just when the wall came down in 10 minutes. I’d been building that wall up for years. That was going to be the big battle and then the dragon, just it’s done in a minute. It killed it.

Alexander: Oh mate, yes they did that exactly. I could do a whole podcast on just that fucking– Anyway.

Sonny: Happy days. But I do like it, that’s the adaptation, that champ mentality of what could you do different. Maybe work a bit harder. It’s beautiful. Alex, thanks so much for your time. If people want to get in touch it’s Instagram, Facebook, you’ve got a new program coming out. I’ve seen you advertise. What’s going on with that?

Alexander: Yes, it’s a 10 week strengthen ignition program. My specific strengthen ignition program that I do with my trainer, people can actually do that with me. We’ve got the footage of me training so pretty much, people can be my training partner for 10 weeks. They’re going to do my exact workout. It’s not just a program we’re pretending we’re doing, you actually see me do it and you do it with me. It’s cool. It’s my specific strength program that everyone has access to. There’s obviously a lot more details but you can go to that trainwithvolko.com, it’s cool. It’s pretty good. We’ve had a lot of interest so we’re very very happy about how things are going.

Sonny: Beautiful. So trainwithvolko.com. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, survive, adapt, and overcome.

Alexander: Adapt. Be comfortable in uncomfortable positions baby. That’s what you need to know through life.

Sonny: That’s it. I love it. Alex, thanks so much for your time mate. I’d love to do it again sometime in the future but I know it’s busy being a champ mate. It’s hard work so I appreciate you taking time out of your day very much.

Alexander: No worries man. Next time we’ll get more into more of the stories. Maybe some McDonald’s stories and cheeseburgers.

Sonny: Cheeseburgers, aye? Forgot about that one. Next time mate. You have a good night mate. Take care.

Alexander: You too champ. See you later.

Show Notes

Quotes

  • You know, martial arts, there’s so much skill involved, but at the end of the day, hard work, being strong, and just having that grit goes a long way.
  • Everything is a battle. Even if you’re not winning, it’s a grind.
  • Sometimes it’s very important to train with all levels. Even at the highest level, even at my level, I want to train at all levels. 
  • You need to adapt to what’s in front of you, and to do that; you need a gym mate.
  • You can be a lot better, but you could still lose. It probably just worked out for me. So I was lucky to keep getting the wins up.
  • I wanted the fastest route to the top. And to do so, you’re going to beat the best.
  • Be comfortable at being uncomfortable. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions so you can adapt. 

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Alexander Volkanovski Interview Podcast

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