It's five days before UFC 266 and featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is making the media rounds previewing his title defense against Brian Ortega from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Usually, fighters hate talking to the press during fight week. They are trying to cut weight, tired of hearing and answering the same questions, and would much rather be secluded from everyone except those close to them until it's go time. But don't count Volkanovski among the grumpy.
Volkanovski was in his hotel room, sitting in a chair with the 145-pound title sitting behind him in clear sight. He's talking about how excited he is to return to the Octagon following a 14-month layoff after contracting COVID-19 before he was originally set to face Ortega at UFC 260. The Australian is giddy as a kid with a new toy discussing his family, the process of cutting those last few pounds, and his love for the fight game. That is until Ortega's name comes up when it comes to missing the competition aspect of MMA.
"I'm gonna enjoy punching Ortega in the face," Volkanovski gleefully told DAZN News.
Volkanovski isn't known as someone who holds disdain for his opponents. However, after the fight got postponed, Volkanovski and Ortega were chosen to be the coaches for the return of The Ultimate Fighter that aired in the spring. Watching the season, you could at times feel the tension between champion and challenger. Ortega thought it was just how the cameras, the UFC, and the producers played it up. Volkanovski disagrees and feels that Ortega was putting on an act during the show and has been lying to everyone in the buildup to UFC 266.
"It started off pretty chill, have a laugh about, and we'll just kind of stir the pot and have a bit of fun with it," Volkanovski said. "But then certain things would happen. He pretty much would act like we were friends. I don't get it. He's a weird bloke. I don't get him. But you know, I don't know what he's trying to hide or anything like that? Don't get me wrong. I'm the type of guy that even with people I don't like, it doesn't mean I'm just going to constantly be a standoff type of guy.
"It's not who I am. If someone says a joke, I'm going to fucking laugh about it. Someone says something that annoys me, I'm going to tell him he's a piece of shit. That's just the type of guy I am. For him to act the same as it was for the first part. I know he doesn't think that. He's just putting on a front. I guarantee he don't like me. He wants to put his hands on me. But he ain't going to. I'm going to go out there and do my thing. He's a sensitive dude. He's boiling up. I guarantee you."
"I had little digs at him, which you can see was getting to him," Volkanovski continued. "He's like, ‘I know what he's trying to do. He's trying to make me out to be this bad guy.’ You could see he was getting pretty sensitive about it because he puts on this front, and he wants to look a certain way. He doesn't want to be portrayed any way different. I don't think how he plays himself like this really cool I don't care attitude. You could just say whatever you want to me. It doesn't affect me. He's crying to the producers one minute, but then in front of the camera, acting like, 'Oh, yeah, I'm a chill dude.' I'm all good, but he's full of s—."
When the show concluded and he went off to begin preparation for the fight, Volkanovski came to a realization he thought he'd never have about a foe.
"I always got respect for anyone that steps in the Octagon, but definitely the respect isn't the same [for Ortega]. As a human being, I lost a little bit of respect for him," Volkanovski admits.
Volkanovski returns to the same venue where he defeated Max Holloway at UFC 245 to win the featherweight championship. UFC 266 is sold out with the fighting pride of "The Land Down Under" at the top of the marquee. The 32-year-old is excited to get back in there and beat Ortega, and successfully defend his belt for the second time.
"It's a badge of honor to be in this situation I am in," Volkanovski said. "But at the same time, I don’t really care about all of that. I care about putting on a performance in front of that full stadium. I just want to get in there and punch holes in Ortega and put on a performance for these guys. Obviously hearing that the arena is sold out is good to hear. I’m just like, ‘Man, give me in there. I want to defend this belt. I want to punch holes in Ortega.’
"I'm 100 percent fully focused on beating Ortega. But having that little animosity is making me want that finish. I want to hurt him. I want him crumbling when I got him on the canvas looking for a way out. I'm going to be pouring it on. I guarantee it. It's going to be that much sweeter once I do that because of this. I don't usually come into a fight disliking a guy, but it's a pretty cool feeling."