From Rugby Roots to Octagon: Alexander Volkanovski’s Journey


Reigning UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski is a name synonymous with striking precision and strategic brilliance in the octagon. However, his path to MMA glory began on a very different field – the rugby pitch. 

This article delves into the often-untold story of Volkanovski’s rugby background, exploring its influence on his fighting style and mental fortitude that have made him a dominant force in MMA.

Early Life and Rugby Beginnings:

Born and raised in Wollongong, Australia, young Alexander Volkanovski gravitated towards the physicality and camaraderie of rugby league.  

Unlike the structured, controlled nature of many martial arts, rugby is a fast-paced, dynamic sport demanding quick decision-making, adaptability, and a relentless work ethic. These core principles would become foundational elements in Volkanovski’s future MMA career.

Honing His Skills on the Rugby Field:

Volkanovski’s dedication to rugby was evident. He played for the Illawarra Steelers’ under-20 team, a prestigious development program for aspiring professional rugby league players. Here, he honed his skills in tackling, footwork, and reading the movements of his opponents – all transferable attributes to the world of MMA.  

The physical demands of rugby – the intense cardio needed for long matches, the ability to absorb punishment in tackles, and the mental toughness required to perform under pressure – laid the groundwork for Volkanovski’s future success.

The Transition to MMA: A New Challenge Awaits

While rugby offered a fulfilling outlet, Volkanovski yearned for a more individual challenge.  In 2006, at the age of 23, he discovered mixed martial arts. The diverse skillset required in MMA – striking, grappling, wrestling – appealed to his competitive spirit.  

Volkanovski’s rugby background proved to be a valuable asset. His experience in tackling translated well to takedown defense, his footwork from rugby provided a strong base for movement in the octagon, and his cardio allowed him to maintain a high pace throughout fights.

From Rugby Winger to Striking Specialist:

While his rugby background provided a strong foundation, Volkanovski didn’t simply rely on his past athleticism. He meticulously trained in striking disciplines like Muay Thai and Boxing, transforming himself into a technical powerhouse.  

However, glimpses of his rugby influence can still be seen in his fighting style.  His in-and-out movement, sharp footwork, and ability to change stances effectively all echo the footwork drills and agility exercises from his rugby days.

The Fighting Spirit: Lessons Learned on the Rugby Pitch

Perhaps the most significant influence of Volkanovski’s rugby background lies not in physical skills, but in his mental approach. Rugby is a sport that demands resilience.  Players must be able to bounce back from tackles, overcome setbacks, and push through fatigue.  

This mental toughness seamlessly translated into Volkanovski’s MMA career.  He is known for his unwavering composure in the octagon, his ability to adapt strategies mid-fight, and his relentless pursuit of victory – all qualities honed on the rugby field.

Beyond the Octagon: The Legacy of Rugby

Volkanovski’s story is an inspiration to athletes from all backgrounds. It highlights the value of transferable skills and the importance of a strong work ethic.  

His success reminds us that dedication, regardless of the chosen athletic pursuit, can pave the way for greatness in other areas.

The Future of “The Great”:

Alexander Volkanovski’s reign as UFC Featherweight Champion continues.  His well-rounded skillset, honed through years of rugby and meticulous MMA training, makes him a formidable force in the octagon.  

As he defends his title and potentially ventures into new weight classes, the influence of his rugby roots will undoubtedly continue to shape his fighting style and fuel his relentless pursuit of dominance.

Looking Ahead: Could Rugby Influence MMA’s Future?

Volkanovski’s story might not be unique. Rugby’s emphasis on athleticism, physical conditioning, and mental toughness could hold promise for future MMA fighters.  

As the sport continues to evolve, we might see more athletes with diverse athletic backgrounds, like rugby, adding new dimensions to the ever-changing world of mixed martial arts.


How Did Rugby Help Shape Volkanovski’s Fighting Style?

Rugby’s influence goes beyond physical attributes. It instilled valuable skills like:

Footwork and Movement: Rugby drills honed his footwork, crucial for movement and striking in MMA.

Tackle Defense: His experience tackling translates well to takedown defense in the octagon.

Cardio Endurance: The intense cardio demands of rugby prepared him for the high pace of MMA fights.

Did Volkanovski Primarily Rely on His Rugby Skills in MMA?

Absolutely not.  He meticulously trained in Muay Thai and Boxing, transforming himself into a technical striker.  However, glimpses of his rugby background subtly influence his fighting style.

What Aspects of Rugby Mentality Helped Volkanovski in MMA?

The mental toughness ingrained in rugby is a significant factor.  Rugby players need to:

Bounce Back from Setbacks: This translates to Volkanovski’s composure and ability to adapt mid-fight.

Push Through Fatigue: His relentless pursuit of victory echoes the endurance demanded in rugby.

Maintain Composure Under Pressure: Volkanovski’s unwavering focus in the octagon mirrors the mental fortitude needed in rugby.

Is Volkanovski the Only MMA Fighter with a Rugby Background?

No.  While less common, other fighters like Israel Adesanya (New Zealand) and Conor McGregor (Ireland) also have rugby backgrounds, suggesting the sport might hold promise for developing well-rounded MMA athletes.

Will We See More Rugby Players Transitioning to MMA?

The potential is there.  Rugby’s emphasis on athleticism, physical conditioning, and mental toughness could be valuable assets for aspiring MMA fighters.  As the sport evolves, we might see more athletes with diverse athletic backgrounds entering the octagon.

Is Volkanovski’s Success Solely Due to His Rugby Background?

Absolutely not.  His dedication to MMA training and exceptional talent are the primary reasons for his success.  The influence of rugby should be seen as an interesting contributing factor.

What’s Next for “The Great” Alexander Volkanovski?

Volkanovski’s reign as champion continues.  His well-rounded skillset, honed through rugby and MMA training, makes him a dominant force.  Fans eagerly await his future title defenses and potential ventures into new weight classes.

Where Can I Learn More About Alexander Volkanovski?

Numerous resources exist online, including interviews, documentaries, and fight footage.  The UFC website and social media channels are also excellent sources of information about Volkanovski’s career and upcoming fights.

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