He may be sporting a decent shiner under his eye and a suspected broken hand, but you can't knock the smile off Alex Volkanovski's face.
With the UFC featherweight belt hanging over his shoulder, Volkanovski returned to his Windang's Freestyle Fighting gym as a world champion on Wednesday.
It is the first time he's stepped into the gym, a place he describes as his "second home", since Sunday's (AEDT) victory over former champion Max Holloway in Las Vegas.
"My first day in an MMA gym was right here," Volkanovski told the Mercury.
"I've spent a lot of hours here, so you could definitely say it's a second home. I spend just as many hours here as home. Look over there, I've got a whole collection of belts and I've always said that there's one missing. And today I get to bring that belt back here. Obviously the support in the Illawarra has been unreal the whole time, and to bring the belt back to the gym where it all started, it means a lot.
"Not only did I tick off a goal of mine, my coach Joe [Lopez] ticked off one as well. He wanted to put someone in the UFC, coach someone in the UFC and coach a UFC champion. I'm glad I was able to play a part in that. It's an early Christmas present for the Illawarra and my family."
Volkanovski's win over Holloway was his 18th straight and came via a 50-45 verdict from the judges.
The Shellharbour product said he always felt confident he would claim victory, but the win came at a cost. The champion has a suspected broken right hand.
"I wish I could hold it [UFC belt] properly with a broken hand," Volkanovski said.
"We don't know the full result, but we looked at an x-ray and they could see something was there, like a fracture, on the base of my thumb. We'll get the results and see what's happening tomorrow.
"But it's unreal [to win], it feels great. But at the same time it hasn't properly sunk in yet. I am well aware of what I've achieved and I know it's incredible, but I haven't really felt it yet."
It's an early Christmas present for the Illawarra and my family.Alex Volkanovski
Holloway took to Instagram on Wednesday (AEDT) to offer his congratulations to Volkanovski.
"He was willing to fight for an interim belt. If he couldn't fight me, he was willing to fight anybody, even fighters ranked below him. When you're a champ, everybody is below you, so Alex was carrying the weight of that belt before Dana [White] wrapped it around his waist. Happy for Alex and Emma and their daughters, and Australia. Same ocean, different waves. See you in the lineup again," Holloway wrote.
Volkanovski, 31, said the post showed there was mutual respect between the current and former featherweight champion.
"He's a respectful champion and so am I... there was never going to be real bad blood," he said.
"Even though we were chatting in the cage, that was more of a mental thing to let him know that I'm still here, you ain't breaking me. There was nothing but respect to him. And same for him. Not many people would take a loss like that and say something like that. And it shows what a champion he is. Obviously, I plan on doing the same."
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