The Illawarra Mercury reporting team is bringing you a weekly series of behind-the-scenes stories, exclusive to our subscribers. Today, Mitchell Jennings shares some insight into Alex Volkanovski's popularity.
When I first encountered Alex Volkanovski, he was a former footballer having a crack at fighting - boy if I had a dollar for every one of those I've seen. Still, you could tell Volkanovski was a different type of character.
He had a discipline footballers aren't known for, but fighters swear by. There was also an unwavering belief, even when he was headlining the Wollongong Wars at Anita's Theatre in Thirroul, that he would be a world champion.
Several years on, he's the best featherweight in MMA and the UFC champion having knocked off the very best of the best on the way to the top. It's a remarkable story, but even more remarkable is the fact he remains that same guy.
'Volko' still trains out of Freestyle MMA's modest digs on Windang Road, still trains under coach Joe Lopez despite persistent suggestions over several years he leave both behind. He insists he never will, telling The Mercury earlier this month: "A lot of people used to tell me 'you need to go here, you need to go there' but no we don't. We did it here, we did it together and it's something that we're proud of. I'll be here til the the day I finish fighting."
Loyal to his coach, loyal to his gym and loyal to his city; little wonder punters will flood the Gong's pubs on Sunday when he takes on Max Holloway - the man he dethroned - in the first defence of his UFC title on Sunday. He's promised a stoppage win and, if history is any judge, it would take a brave man to bet against him.
You can read Mitchell's preview story on Sunday's fight here. Thank you for your support. If you enjoyed this, feel free to forward it to a friend.