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UFC 221: Volkanovski v Kennedy Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 266’s Alexander Volkanovski

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strap-hanger, Alexander Volkanovski, will go to war opposite opportunistic finisher, Brian Ortega, this Saturday (Sept. 25, 2021) at UFC 266 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Volkanovski has not lost since 2013, and that bout took place at Welterweight. The Australian champion has since won 19 straight bouts, about half of which were inside the Octagon. As a Featherweight, he’s beaten several of his division’s greatest fighters of all-time, clearly placing himself among those ranks.

Why doesn’t anyone care? Sure, his rematch with Max Holloway was incredibly close but ... it happens. Holloway’s incredible, too, and people really care about him. Volkanovski might be the most under-appreciated man on the roster, but that disrespect has nothing to do with his actual skills.

Let’s take a closer look:

LIVE! Stream UFC 266 Here

CHAMPIONSHIP DOUBLEHEADER! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to T-Mobile Arena with a pair of thrilling world championship bouts. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 29 coaches collide when Featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, defends his title against No. 2-ranked contender, Brian Ortega. UFC 266’s co-main event will see women’s Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko go for her sixth consecutive title defense when she meets No. 3-seeded contender, Lauren Murphy. Last, and certainly not least, Nick Diaz returns against former Welterweight roost ruler, Robbie Lawler, in a five-round banger.

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

Striking

Before talking about any of the individual aspects of Volkanovski’s skill set, it’s really recognize that his overall game is incredibly well put together. His kickboxing, clinch work and wrestling flow to an extreme degree, and it makes each part far more effective.

For all his physical ability, “The Great” is very clearly a smart, well-schooled athlete.

For the majority of his career, Volkanovski has operated as a pressure fighter. The notable exceptions are his last three bouts vs. Holloway and Jose Aldo, but let’s first break down his default approach when not fighting absolutely elite kickboxers who are nearly impossible to take down.

Unlike many pressure fighters, there is a great deal of craft in how Volkanovski closes the distance. He’s a far better ring cutter than most, inching forward behind active feints and head movement. While forcing the action, Volkanovski keeps his feet beneath him, and he does not present his opponents an easy target.

UFC 251: Volkanovski v Holloway Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Volkanovski’s success often begins with his educated lead hand. Early on, Volkanovski will be sticking stiff jabs to the chest and nose of his opponent. Feints are key here, as is the fact that the threat of Volkanovski’s right hand following the jab is very real. Standing one’s ground and trying to counter that jab is a risky proposition at best.

There are several tricks to how Volkanovski sets up the lead hand aside from merely feinting actively. For one, Volkanovski often likes to bring his right shoulder forward, squaring up his chest a bit. Squaring up is often considered a general no-no, but from this position, Volkanovski is presenting his foe the threat of the right hand/hook. Instead, Volkanovski will quickly pull his right shoulder back, allowing him to spear a powerful jab (GIF) or step up into a left kick (more on that later).

He can also throw the left hook from this position, and Volkanovski will occasionally hook off the jab in general.

The right hand is certainly Volkanovski’s money punch, and again, there’s a lot that goes into creating those big connections. Of course, sometimes it’s as simple as following that jab with a cracking overhand and putting his foe on the canvas.

Often, Volkanovski likes to step through on his right, shifting into Southpaw. This movement has numerous purposes. Most often, Volkanovski likes to step deep into the right — which ensures a majorly powerful punch — with the pursuit of the clinch/shot entry in mind. As his opponent pulls away/blocks the right, Volkanovski secures entry to his takedown opportunities. Against Darren Elkins (GIF), Volkanovski landed so hard with this setup several times that Elkins was too busy falling to the mat for his takedown to land!

UFC Fight Night: Elkins v Volkanovski Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Alternatively, Volkanovski will step through on the right hand to fire another right hook, this time from Southpaw. This closes a lot of distance, meaning Volkanovski has a good shot at catching his foe circling into the punch.

Volkanovski’s crash into the clinch operates as both defense and offense. Firstly, Volkanovski’s opponents are unlikely to catch him clean on the counter if there’s no space to work. Then, Volkanovski just so happens to be excellent at muscling opponents around with the collar-tie, which really helps him land heavy knees and elbows.

Against Holloway and Aldo, Volkanovski did a tremendous job of diffusing the kickboxers with kicks, jabs, and counter punches.

Let’s first focus on Volkanovski’s kicks. At 5’6”, Volkanovski is one of the shorter man at 145 lbs., yet his distance kickboxing is winning huge fights! In part, this is because Volkanovski understands that as the shorter man, it’s imperative that he makes full use of his distance weapons.

Too many shorter fighters do not jab or kick because of the range disadvantage, which only serves to widen that gap. Volkanovski, on the other hand, maximizes his range, often with the lead leg round kick. While feinting and showing his back shoulder, Volkanovski is able to quickly lift his lead shin to its target, usually either the liver or inside thigh. It’s a relatively safe strike, one that can pin his opponent in place for a moment and allow Volkanovski to follow up with punches.

The first Max Holloway fight is really Volkanovski’s distance fighting masterpiece. Opposite the Hawaiian, Volkanovski did not try to pressure much at all. Instead, he attacked Holloway’s stance, picking apart his base and then building from there with layers of offense.

Every stance has pros and cons, and one of the negatives about Holloway’s boxing-orientated, volume-heavy style is that he exposes his lead leg. Holloway has to step forward in order to fire the jab and begin his legendary combinations, and Volkanovski repeatedly attacked that trait.

Sometimes, it was as simple as timing the outside calf kick as Holloway stepped forward. This would off-balance Holloway, allowing Volkanovski to circle off and avoid a prolonged exchange. Other times, Volkanovski would go to the inner leg, offsetting Holloway enough that Volkanovski could effectively punch and clinch (GIF).

As Holloway grew more aggressive in response to the low kicks, Volkanovski started setting traps. Often, that trap was an overhand counter lying in wait, but the Aussie also landed his left hook as his right leg returned to stance. In general, Volkanovski does a tremendous job of slipping his head off the center line and letting an overhand fly, but it worked especially well when he knew Holloway was trying to answer the kicks.

Wrestling

Volkanovski began his martial arts training as a child, learning Greco-Roman wrestling before transitioning to Rugby a couple years later. Two decades or so later, Volkanovski’s Greco-Roman roots remain strong.

“The Great” does his best wrestling along the fence. As mentioned, he’s something of a woodchipper with his dirty boxing and clinch strikes already, which definitely makes it easier to hide a takedown attempt. Often, Volkanovski has been able to overwhelm opponents with the classic double-leg along the cage, provided they’re feeling the punishment from his close range offense.

UFC 237: Aldo v Volkanovski Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Really, Volkanovski’s first four UFC bouts followed this similar pattern once the Aussie was able to trap his foes in his cycle of violence. After bully his foes to the cage, Volkanovski would drop a hard knee or elbow, landed a double, then immediately beat the crap out of his opponent with ground strikes. If they worked back to their feet, the cycle immediately repeated, offering no room for rest.

That grind breaks opponents.

While attacking the clinch, Volkanovski is quite active with the outside trip. He does a really nice job of tangling up the leg and forcing his foe to the mat, but if the trip fails, Volkanovski will just fire off an elbow and shoot again. It’s low-risk for the champion, but the outcome of a single takedown can prove fight-changing.

Against Holloway, Volkanovski’s outside trip failed him. However, when able to secure the body lock, he was twice able to yank Holloway forward then time the inside trip as the Hawaiian tried to pull away. Dropping his head and weight to the side of the trapped leg, the champion managed to gain top control in the extremely competitive fight.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Volkanovski has a trio of choke wins on his record, but the most recent came in 2016. Inside the Octagon, the jiu-jitsu brown belt has attempted the guillotine on several occasions versus Elkins.

UFC Fight Night: Elkins v Volkanovski Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

To his credit, Volkanovski did a great job attacking the neck. He sunk the high-elbow choke deep and secured a good angle on the squeeze. Not to mention, Elkins was barely conscious when the chokes began. Against almost any other human being, Volkanovski would’ve secured his first UFC tapout, but “The Damage” is insanely tough and especially impossible to guillotine (believe me on this one).

As it stands, submissions are not a primary part of Volkanovski’s attack, nor has he really been threatened on the mat.

Conclusion

Volkanovski is a violent finisher who hasn’t lost in the better part of a decade. He’s an excellent champion, and hopefully, a strong performance against someone not named Holloway will help score Volkanovski the attention he deserves.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 266 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 266: “Volkanovski vs. Ortega” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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