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Alexander Volkanovski responds to ‘diva’ Yair Rodriguez: ‘Two years, you were pretty much running from Zabit’

Alexander Volkanovski doesn’t mind being called out. It comes with the territory when you’re a reigning UFC champion. He just wants the callouts to make sense.

That’s why Volkanovski didn’t mind when featherweight contenders like Chan Sung Jung and Josh Emmett respectfully raised their hands to fight him after Max Holloway withdrew from UFC 272. They were just playing the game, and both were worthy names coming off recent wins. It’s also why the approaches taken by two men, in particular — Giga Chikadze and Yair Rodriguez — stuck out to Volkanovski for all the wrong reasons.

Chikadze was eventually forced to eat his words after losing to Calvin Kattar at UFC Vegas 46. But Rodriguez’s attempt to sucker Volkanovski into a fight didn’t land any better.

“One thing that surprises me and what annoys me is the way he acted about it, as if it was a no brainer that he should be the next in line, and then starts carrying on and swearing and saying, ‘Respectfully, f*ck you,’ and all this type of stuff,” Volkanovski said of Rodriguez on The MMA Hour. “I’m like, are you serious? OK, let’s remember. Look, let me bring you back. Let’s be real for a second. What? Over two years, you were pretty much running from Zabit [Magomedsharipov]?

“I didn’t want to bring that up, but man, you put me here. So you’re running from Zabit, pulling out, you’re getting suspended by USADA. You’ve been a diva, and then the UFC had so much hassle to get [you booked into a fight]. Like, you could imagine? It was a bunch of chaos, so the UFC aren’t going to take that serious. And then let’s remember, he just lost. I don’t get it. Like, I just really, really don’t get it. You haven’t fought for how long? Then you’re coming off a loss, and then you get angry at me because I don’t sit there and call you out? Man, it just blows me away.”

Volkanovski was ultimately slotted into an impromptu title defense against Jung for April 9 at UFC 273, but not before Rodriguez escalated their one-sided war of words. The 29-year-old accused Volkanovski of picking and choosing his opponents, and told the champion that he had “shown more heart in a single fight” than Volkanovski had in all of his own.

Rodriguez was likely referring to his November 2021 war against Holloway, which he lost via unanimous decision. The fight ended a more than two-year layoff for Rodriguez, which included a six-month suspension for USADA whereabouts failures. And it didn’t sit right with a champion who has willingly taken on all comers since his UFC debut in 2016.

“Mate, if you’re going carry on all that, say it to my face,” Volkanovski said. “If you really want to carry on like that. Or was it just trying to get the shot? You know, build a bit of hype? I don’t know. But if that’s really what you feel about it, then bring that same energy in person as well, because I didn’t do nothing wrong. You’re the one who didn’t fight for over two years, and you’re the one who’s coming off a loss. You want to get angry and then carry on, whatever. But look, again, I guess when you’re at the top, this happens.”

Volkanovski had similarly harsh venom for Chikadze. Yet if nothing else, the entire saga of the past few weeks only reaffirmed Volkanovski’s belief that he’s going to be the UFC featherweight champion for years to come, because when he gets a peek into the mindsets shared by many of his fellow 145-pounders, he simply can’t relate.

“I’ll be honest: At the time, I just can’t believe it [when other fighters say these things],” Volkanovski said. “I don’t know if I’m bred different, or it’s just my mentality. We’ve had plenty of conversations and you know what I’m like. I’m always talking about earning it. Go and earn that No. 1 [spot]. Let nothing be given to you. That’s my mentality. I’m the type of guy that, rather than crying like a little girl and things like that, I’m going to go on and earn that No. 1 spot by taking out the No. 1 contenders. Take out whoever I have to until they put me there, so there’s no one else in front of me. That’s what I’m like.

“Then I start hearing all these guys carry on like that, and let me tell you this — I’m going to be champion for a long time. The mentality that I have compared to some of these guys, the way they go about things and the way they just want things given to them — Yair’s a good example for that. Dodging fights, just trying to find an easier way to the title shot, and carrying on like he did now. You think you’re going to beat me with that mentality? Psshh, that’s why I’m the champion for a long time. Because the mentality I have and the guy I am, and the guy that’s going to be turning up in the gym, doing what he has to do.

“Even as a champ, I’m going to be doing what I need to do to make sure I stay on top. I’m still more eager than these guys chasing the [title], because that’s just me, that’s just who I am. That’s what I’m all about. These guys want to be carrying on like little princesses and just expect things given to them. But when you have that attitude, you ain’t never going to get nowhere in life. So whatever.”