Alex Volkanovski’s coach Joe Lopez is quietly confident that the featherweight kingpin will etch his name in the history book at UFC 284 against Islam Makhachev – and insists his fighter would have no problems with octagon legends Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, either.
Volkanovski, 34, will debut as a lightweight against the all-conquering Dagestani in an attempt to join a very select group of fighters to reign in two divisions.
Alex Volkanovski’s coach Joe Lopez is quietly confident that the featherweight kingpin (pictured together in 2020) will make history at UFC 284 against Islam Makhachev
Volkanovski, 34, is a big underdog against the Russian – but Lopez thinks you’d be mad not to put your money on the reigning featherweight champ
The Aussie is a clear underdog, but coach Joe Lopez – who has been with ‘The Great’ since day one and still makes him sweep the gym from time to time – believes the world’s No.1 pound-for-pound fighter is being underestimated.
He believes his charge will beat Makhachev, for the same reason he believes Volkanovsi would have beaten fellow Dagestani superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov.
‘A lot of people don’t understand how strong Alex actually is,’ says Lopez. ‘He’s very hard to hold down.
He believes his charge will beat Makhachev (pictured), for the same reason he believes Volkanovsi would have beaten fellow Dagestani superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov
Lopez believes the Aussie’s strength would be the key to beating Nurmagomedov (pictured)
‘Islam probably will take Alex down, but will he be able to hold him down? He will be discouraged when Alex keeps getting back up. It will weather on him mentally.
‘I think Alex is probably a better wrestler. If he gets taken down he will get back up.’
Lopez says people overlook the featherweight champion’s grappling skills, and that UFC icon Conor McGregor should watch out if they ever cross paths, too.
‘Conor’s a great striker and a great athlete, but he’s been out of the game for a while and I think the hunger isn’t there like it was.
‘He’s never done well against wrestler-grapplers – and people think Alex is just a striker, but originally he was a grappler.
Lopez says people overlook the featherweight champion’s grappling skills, and that UFC icon Conor McGregor (pictured) should watch out if they ever cross paths, too
Volkanovski pictured playing rugby league for the Warilla Gorillas where his weight got as heavy as 97kgs
‘Alex always wants to improve and he’s always trying something new.’
Lopez, who has been coaching fighters for more than 20 years, fondly remembers the day Volkanovski walked into Freestyle Fighting Gym in Windang on the NSW south coast.
He also remembers vividly the moment he realised the future champion wasn’t built like everyone else.
‘It was his first spar,’ recalls Lopez. ‘He sparred against a heavyweight who had had a few fights. I didn’t want him to spar the guy straight away – but the other guy’s coach threw them in together.
‘In the first round Alex submitted this heavyweight three times. After the sparring was over I asked him if he was interested in having an actual fight.’
Volkanovski’s experience training with bigger opponents in the gym – and athletic background as a rugby league prop where he weighed as much as 97kgs playing for the Warilla Gorillas – is another reason why Lopez thinks Alex will beat Makhachev.
‘Max [Holloway] was a lot taller. Islam will probably be a bit heavier. We could get to Islam’s weight, but we want to keep the mobility. The lighter you are, the faster you are going to be. We will go up a few more kilos.
Volkanovski has also enlisted one of the world’s top grappling talents Craig Jones to help him prepare for UFC 284, and Lopez believes it will be a huge benefit to the Aussie
‘Alex has experimented and fought at higher weights. I feel he performs better a little lighter how he is now.’
Volkanovski has also enlisted one of the world’s top grappling talents ini Craig Jones to help him prepare for UFC 284, and Lopez believes it will be a huge benefit to the Aussie.
He has proved very hard to submit in the Octagon – with his most worrying moment coming against Brian Ortega at UFC 266.
He has proved very hard to submit in the Octagon – with his most worrying moment coming against Brian Ortega at UFC 266 (pictured)
The champ survived a deep guillotine choke that Lopez admits was the only time he was ever really worried about his fighter.
‘I didn’t want to give up hope. I know Volk’s tenacity to get through things. The only time I got worried was when he stopped moving,’ recalled Lopez.
‘I thought he was out. He had been moving and then he stopped. I thought he’s out. That’s the only time I’ve felt like that.’
‘I don’t normally panic or stress. I can’t let emotion get in the way of what’s in front of me.’
Lopez knows Volkanovski will have huge support this coming weekend, and says half of Wollongong has flown over to Perth to support them
Lopez knows Volkanovski will have huge support this coming weekend, and says half of Wollongong has flown over to Perth to support them.
Even some tradesmen who are working on his house have said they won’t be working that day because they will be making the journey west.
‘Everyone I speak to is flying to Perth,’ Lopez laughed.
‘Wollongong – the whole Illawarra will be going off. Pubs will be full. Every house will be packed sitting around the TV. It will be amazing. We love the support.’