UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski has always felt counted out by fans and pundits. But one measure of his growing popularity is the number of UFC stars tweeting at him after a fight.
Following a career-highlight performance at UFC 266, Volkanovski’s list of clout-chasers included former two-division champs Conor McGregor and Henry Cejudo, who both took their shots after his win over Brian Ortega in this past Saturday’s pay-per-view headliner.
That the recovering UFC superstar and retired talker of trash would take aim at a champ shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who follows the sport. McGregor and Cejudo rarely miss an opportunity to keep their names in headlines by taking shots at whomever is in the spotlight. For Volkanovski, it’s flattering, but not that big of a deal.
“Everyone was watching, so everyone enjoyed that fight,” he said Monday on The MMA Hour.
McGregor and Cejudo were quick to call out Volkanovski after UFC 266. The Irish star used a scatalogical term for the champ, while Cejudo mocked him as “Fun Sized Matt Serra.”
Not a bad fight. Congrats shartsy— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) September 26, 2021
The real Alexander the Great took over the World at 20…you almost got choked out by a Modelo model. I’m coming for you Fun Sized Matt Serra! + https://t.co/UKdKeuLrTP— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) September 26, 2021
Of the former attack, Volkanovski took it as a positive thing that the sport’s biggest star would mention his name, but he didn’t read much more into it.
“He’s just going to say whatever he wants,” he said. “Once someone has a bit of shine, he usually tries to steal it by saying something, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
As for Cejudo, a potentially more logical opponent because of his ability to move up to 145 pounds rather than back down a la McGregor, there wasn’t much incentive for Volkanovski to take the attention seriously.
“He’s always chirping,” Volkanovski said. “He’s chirping about everyone. Obviously we’ll see what they do, but my bet on it’s not going to happen. I don’t even think Dana White answers his calls. That’s why he’s going to go and just keep calling people out, but nothing’s ever on paper, because I don’t think they take him serious.
“Of course he doesn’t deserve it,” Volkanovski said later. “I respect him, and he’s done great things in his divisions, but this is featherweight, a whole different killer fish, especially with him being a flyweight. We’ve got a bunch of killers, and why should he just step in front of them? That wouldn’t be fair.”
If somehow the fight became a serious possibility, Volkanovski said he would entertain it for one reason only.
“Purely because I want to fight regularly, and I don’t want to wait so long,” he said. “If there was ever a chance, it would probably be soon.”
As Volkanovski said at the press conference, he’s looking to stay as busy as possible. After a 14-month layoff due to the pandemic, inactivity is the last thing he wants as he continues to sharpen his skills. His team, City Kickboxing, is gearing up for a move to the U.S. to be able to train without the restrictions of the gym’s home country in New Zealand.
Although less desirable for his schedule, Volkanovski can more easily see a meeting with the winner of a November meeting between ex-champ Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez. For a time, it seemed as though the promotion would book a third fight with Hollaway right away, after he wowed fans with a dominant win over Calvin Kattar following back-to-back losses against Volkanovski.
But the way the featherweight champ sees it, Holloway wanted to earn his opportunity the right way – not talk his way into things.
“You’ve got to earn your way to the top,” Volkanovski said. “And that’s why I’ve got to give credit to Max. ... I reckon he could have gotten that [third] fight, but he was just like, ‘Nah, I want to fight Yair,’ and definitely earn that No. 1 contender spot. You get my respect for doing things like that, because that’s what I’m all about.”