LAS VEGAS – Alexander Volkanovski won’t deny that Brian Ortega brings legitimate fighting skills to the octagon, but the UFC featherweight champion believes “T-City” lacks some of the other requirements necessary to be a titleholder.
“I ain’t no athletically gifted human being, you know what I mean?” Volkanovski asked media, including MMA Junkie, at Wednesday’s UFC 266 media day at the UFC Apex. “I’m challenged in height, you know what I mean? Like, you name it. I was obviously heavy set, you name it. But, you know, it was just through hard work and busting my ass I got to where I am, and I’m living proof that anyone can do it or do whatever they want.
“Hard work, gets you to where I am. Talent only gets you so far, and he’s unprofessional. He ain’t doing what I’m doing. I guarantee you he doesn’t deserve that belt. He ain’t taking it from me.”
Volkanovski (22-1 MMA, 9-0 UFC) and Ortega (15-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC) meet in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 266 event, which airs on pay-per-view from T-Mobile Arena. It’s a contest that was supposed to take place in March, before Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to delay the pairing.
In the interim, the two served as coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter 29,” and the added face time, not to mention the competitive nature of the series, allowed a rivalry to build.
Volkanovski said Ortega’s constant tardiness on the show revealed his true character and commitment to the sport. Now he looks forward to making Ortega pay for the infractions.
“I can’t wait to punch him, put some hands on him,” Volkanovski said and just. “I’ve never been in this position, right? I’ve never spent so much time with an opponent. It’s never happened before, so this is different – and then a long, long time off, so I’m just eager to get back in there, just, have some fun in it, enjoy it – enjoy everything about it, you know? I mean, and on top of that, I’m going to punch him in the face.”
Emotions aside, the fight still must be contested on Saturday night, and Volkanovski knows Ortega isn’t going to be an easy out. A lifelong grappling practitioner, Ortega presents a real submission threat, and his striking appears to be steadily improving, as well, if his 2020 win over Chan Sung Jung is any indication.
While he might not be Ortega’s biggest fan, Volkanovski said he’s also not going to walk into the matchup undervaluing his opponent’s skills.
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“I mean, look, everyone has a puncher’s chance, right?” Volkanovski asked. “And this is MMA, so even the submissions – so he’s obviously got new challenges for me. There are still big threats, but anyone that knows me knows that I’m always prepared. They know I’m doing what I need to do to nullify everything that he can throw at me.
“He did look good in his last performance, and I’m going to give him credit for it. He definitely evolved. But, you know, he had, as I say, he had a ‘Zombie’ in front of him, just letting him do his thing, you know what I mean? And as I say, you’re fighting my fight. I’m going to lead the dance. You’re going to follow my footwork. You know, ‘What’s going on? What what am I throwing at him?’ I’m constantly changing it up. He’s got to try and keep up with that.”
A victory would be Volkanovski’s second defense of the UFC title, though even with an incredible 19-fight winning streak to his name, including a perfect 9-0 mark in the UFC, he still seems to have doubters as to his legitimacy as a titleholder. Perhaps UFC 266 will present him an opportunity to win over a few of those still holding out, but the 32-year-old Australian insists that’s not his concern.
Volkanovski plans on sticking with the hard-working approach that brought him to his current position, and the rest will sort itself out.
“Yeah, definitely I deserve that respect, but I mean, at the same time, I don’t mind I don’t mind the doubters,” Volkanovski said. “I’ve been underdog my whole life. No one expected me from where I live, you know, to be doing what I do – a world champ from Windang, Wollongong, you know what I mean? A little town in Australia, still there today. So, you know, I love it. I use it as fuel.
“But do I deserve more respect? Yeah, 100 percent, and I’m going to get it this weekend.”
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