Alexander Volkanovski is the best active fighter. Every time the Australian Featherweight Champion steps into the octagon, he looks sharper and smarter with new wrinkles in his game. Now on a winning streak of 21 fights, matching Max Holloway with 3 title defenses and with a dominant TKO victory over The Korean Zombie, Volkanovski has cemented himself at the top of MMA excellence.
One way in which Volkanovski keeps himself a step above the competition is through his use of feints. By constantly threatening strikes, Volk manages to control the pace of his fights.
The lead leg kick that he has so perfected is feinted to back opponents off, allowing Volk to close the distance and back his opponents towards the fence where there is less resistance to his strikes and takedowns. He also feints heavily with his jab and head movement to keep a degree of pressure on at all times, as well as to make reads and lure his opponents into taking real strikes. Volkanovski's feints looked at their best against The Korean Zombie, whose counter striking became paralysed by Volk's feints, either swinging at air or not risking countering in fear of being countered himself.
Whilst initially touted as a wrestler, Volkanovski has shined in his striking performances as of lately. However, despite lacking a submission threat Volkanovksi has shown a dominance on the ground. Rather than holding top position and throwing opportune hammerfists and elbows as expected from more traditional top players in MMA, Volkanovski spends most of his time in a less stable yet more offense posture. Volk bases himself upon his feet and reigns down heavy blows from the top, paralysing his opponents under the barrage and forcing them to defend rather than find an exit. Whilst this is something that carried Volkanovski through his early UFC career, Volkanovski's GnP skills most clearly stick out to those that observed his performance against Brian Ortega, who was barely able to continue after the beatings he sustained in rounds 3 and 4.
Although 'Fight IQ' is a rather all encompassing term, it is one that fits the bill when talking about Volkanovski. For one, his collaboration with his corner is seamless and something I'd love to see more of from other fighters. Volkanovski has such a legitimate trust in his gameplan and clearly believes that if his corner is telling him to try something, that it is the best option.
Volkanovski's confidence doesn't simply extend to his corner. The ability to stay calm under pressure, to adjust in the heat of the moment allows him to consistently maneuver his way out of danger. When caught in the submissions of an incredibly game Brian Ortega, Volkanovski managed to calm himself, remain patient and break free of the trap. The Ortega fight also provides a clear insight into Volkanovski's adjustments. During Round 1 of the aforementioned bout, Volk would overcommit to his strikes and would find himself off balance at the end of them. During these small windows Ortega would find his clean counters and appeared to be hurting Volk with them. However, from Round 2 onwards Volkanovski had clearly recognised that Ortega was exploiting these windows. He tightened up his punches, eliminated the counter-window and went on to dominate the standup for the majority of the fight with minimal counter threat from Ortega.
These micro-adjustments are what make Volkanovski truly special. He is, of course, a great technician in his own right. He has all of the skills, all well rounded enough to make him a formidable combatant. But where Volkanovski truly ascends the rest of the UFC talent is his ability to face adversity and not just power through it but nullify it entirely.
I watched through all of Volkanovski's career in the buildup to UFC 273 and I found myself consistently more impressed by each performance. Each video showed new additions to his game or even the retirement of techniques that got him into trouble in a previous fight. I'm certain that the world will remember Volkanovski as one of the best to ever do it once the gloves are hung up for good. Whether he takes on fellow great Max Holloway for a trilogy bout, faces another Featherweight contender or tries his hand at Lightweight, I have no doubts that Volkanovski will continue to impress.
Header Image: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/mixed-martial-arts/61057214