Alexander Volkanovski has taken some heavy blows during his stellar UFC career. But going toe-to-toe with COVID-19 was a bout that he never saw coming.
The Wollongong native contracted the virus ahead of last month's featherweight fight with Brian Ortega, despite following all Covid protocols and remaining inside the UFC bubble. Volkanovski had tested negative before departing Australia on March 14 and heading to the US, but a second test days later returned positive.
While it was a difficult period for the 32-year-old, Volkanovski has now recovered and feels hungrier than ever to return to the octagon. However, the world champion understands that he needs to remain patient.
"It caught me off guard. I got the negative test, and I did a good job to keep myself safe. So I never thought it was going to be an issue at all. And to hear that (result), I was like 'what's going on?' It was unfortunate. Again, no matter what it is, this sport is a roller-coaster, mentally and physically. And you've to stay positive. You have to look forward and accept what happens," Volkanovski told the Mercury.
"I'm sweet now, I'm feeling really good. I went to training today with a few of the guys. All of my coaching staff is here now and I was able to get some good rounds in. My lungs are feeling good, I'm not 100 per cent yet, but I'm slowly getting there. The doctors have obviously told me to ease into training."
Volkanovski was hoping the Ortega fight would be rescheduled to May. However, he now understands that he will have to wait a bit longer.
"We were going to try get in as quickly as we could, but obviously the infection got into the lungs and did a little bit more damage than we expected. And that's when the UFC doctors were saying we can't let you get back in there any time soon," he said.
"I've got no (return) date yet, but I'm going to keep fit and stay keen. I still have that mentality that even though I'm the UFC champ and I'm at the top, I've always got that drive and motivation."
Volkanovski will now focus on a different project. On Monday (AEDT), he was announced as a coach on the next season of the TV show, The Ultimate Fighter.
'Volko' was ready to the Illawarra before the opportunity popped up, with the show set to premiere in June. He will be up against his nemesis Ortega, albeit this time outside of the octagon.
"It's good that something has worked out from my unfortunate situation with they fight," Volkanovski said.
"I think it's good in many ways. Obviously I can share some of my knowledge and help out the boys that are going to be on the show, which is cool. Not only that, you get to be on a show, and people can get to know me. I can benefit from this, my team can benefit from this, so it's a good opportunity. But at the same time, we'll be doing the best for the guys on our team to give them something to take away from this.
"Brian and I haven't had to really be competitive. At the end of the day, we're fighters but there's no bad blood. But now we're going to be in a house. It's his team versus my team, and I'm competitive. I don't like losing, I'm going to do what I can to win. And obviously he's the same. We had an interview yesterday and you could see the vibe, he thinks he's a better teacher and that type of stuff, and I want to prove him wrong. I can't promise that in a few weeks, things definitely might not be as friendly."