The past 36 hours haven’t been the easiest for Alexander Volkanovski.
Over the weekend, Australia’s UFC featherweight champion and former pound-for-pound king fell short in his second attempt to capture the lightweight title from the ever-dominant Islam Makhachev at UFC 294.
This challenge of a lifetime was accepted on 11 days’ notice after the withdrawal of initial challenger, Charles Oliveira, due to a split eyebrow that required stitches.
So how was “The Great” rewarded for saving the Abu Dhabi card?
Aside from a tidy seven-figure fight purse, our homegrown hero earned himself a masterfully-placed head kick within the opening two minutes of Round 1 — a manoeuvre ripe for exploitation, as pointed out by fellow MMA icon Demetrious Johnson — followed by some nasty ground ‘n’ pound for good measure before the eventual doctor intervention.
It’s uncertain whether blame can be fully assigned to a truncated training camp and an aggressive weight cut; or whether Islam Makhachev should truly be recognised amongst history’s greatest mixed martial artists; or whether it’s a combination of both column A and column B.
No doubt, the debate will rage on for years to come.
But one thing is for certain: there is no finer example of Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” — described in the 26th US president’s legendary Citizenship in a Republic speech — than Alexander Volkanovski.
To accept a bout against a champion in a heavier weight class, touted as the division’s boogeyman, with equal preparation time is one thing. To do so in less than two weeks without a moment’s hesitation is borderline insanity.
And where some would chalk their failure up to unfavourable conditions, Volk graciously accepted his fate, gave his opponents full props, wiped the blood off his face, marched onwards, and even allowed himself to be vulnerable enough for a moment of emotional honesty.
In a teary post-fight press conference, the Aussie pugilist who once seemed invincible on all fronts admitted his decision to enter the Octagon in Abu Dhabi was motivated by his own struggles with mental health.
“I don’t want to sit there and obviously make excuses,” Alexander Volkanovski said post-UFC 294.
“Obviously, I’m a big believer in preparation and stuff like that. But I back myself… I could’ve made better decisions, [Islam Makhachev] is not somebody you should be taking a short notice with. But I needed it.”
“A lot of people will say it’s for the money and all that, but it was much more than that. It was hard. It really is hard for athletes… I never thought I’d struggle with it, but for some reason when I wasn’t fighting or in camp — f**k, sorry — I was just doing my head in. I needed a fight.”
Volkanovski added: “I thought I had to do it. I had to take it. I’m telling myself it’s meant to be. I was struggling a bit not fighting, doing my head in. I don’t know how.”
“Everything’s fine. I have a beautiful family, but I don’t know. You just need to keep busy. That’s why I just asked the UFC to keep me busy. I just need to be keeping busy. I need to be in camp, otherwise I’m going to do my head in.”
The world is a better place with someone like Alexander Volkanovski leading by example, and dare I say it, he’s only become an even greater champion after his UFC 294 loss.
Side note: the UFC cover curse remains undefeated.
The Man In The Arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.
Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
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