Alexander Volkanovski has held the UFC featherweight belt since December 2019 after having defeated then-champion Max Holloway at UFC 245. But before rising to the top of his mixed martial arts career, 'The Great' used to be a semi-professional rugby player in his hometown of New South Wales in Australia.
Alexander Volkanovski played rugby for the Warilla Gorillas in the South Coast Rugby League.
In 2010, he received the Mick Cronin Medal as the best player in the league. The following year, he played a crucial role in Warilla Gorilla's victory over Gerringong in the Grand Finale and took home the 'Man of the Match' award.
Born on September 29, 1988, in Shellharbour, New South Wales, to a Slavic father and Greek mother, Alexander Volkanovski trained in Greco-Roman wrestling as a kid. He won a national title in the sport at the age of 12, but soon decided to give it up to pursue rugby. Clearly, he did not stick with that either.
Alexander Volkanovski left rugby to try out a career in mixed martial arts in 2011. That turned out to be the best decision he could have made for his professional career, as he went on to become the UFC featherweight champion in less than eight years.
Alexander Volkanovski: "Rugby made me who I am today"
Even though it has been years since Alexander Volkanovski played rugby professionally, he has given the sport its due credit in helping shape his career. In a 2019 interview with NZ Herald ahead of his epic fight with Jose Aldo, he said:
"It's made me a strong type of guy. I'm used to them big boys there, and even now when I fight these featherweights... I've always been used to wrestling and going against the bigger boys, so it's made me tough and even maybe confidence-wise it helps... It's a tough sport, it's not easy so it's rolled into MMA pretty well and made me who I am today. I'm glad I was a part of rugby league, but I'm glad I made the change because look at me now. It's been a pretty crazy journey."
Alexander Volkanovski discussed his decision to make the transition to MMA on Joe Rogan's podcast last year. He revealed that he had a few fights lined up when he decided to quit rugby and had been training for the said fights while participating in the rugby league. He worked as a concrete finisher on the side as well.
Watch the full interview below: