Alex Volkanovski’s coach Joe Lopez is quietly confident the featherweight kingpin will etch his name into the history books at UFC 284 against Islam Makhachev – and insists his fighter will have no problem with octagon legends Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov , either.
Volkanovski, 34, will make his debut as a lightweight against the all-conquering Dagestani in an attempt to join an elite group of fighters to dominate 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 huge underdog against the Russian – but Lopez thinks you’ll be upset if you don’t 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 – believes the world’s No.1 pound-for-pound fighter is being underestimated.
He believes his charge can beat Makhachev, for the same reason he believes Volkanovsi can beat fellow Dagestani superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov.
‘A lot of people don’t understand how strong Alex is,’ Lopez said. ‘He was very hard to stop.
He believes his charge can beat Makhachev (pictured), for the same reason he believes Volkanovsi can beat fellow Dagestani superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov
Lopez believes the Aussie’s strength will be the key to beating Nurmagomedov (pictured)
‘Maybe Islam will bring Alex down, but will he be able to stop him? He was discouraged when Alex kept getting up. It will bear him in mind.
‘I think Alex is probably a better wrestler. If he is put down he will come back.’
Lopez says people overlook the featherweight champion’s wrestling skills, and UFC icon Conor McGregor should be careful if they cross paths as well.
‘Conor is a good striker and a good athlete, but he has been out of the game for a while and I think the hunger is not there as before.
‘He’s never done well against wrestler-grapplers – and people think Alex is a striker, but originally he’s a grappler.
Lopez says people overlook the featherweight champion’s wrestling skills, and UFC icon Conor McGregor (pictured) should beware if they cross paths too.
Volkanovski described playing rugby league for the Warilla Gorillas where he weighed as heavy as 97kgs
‘Alex always wants to improve and is always trying something new.’
Lopez, who has been training fighters for more than 20 years, fondly remembers the day Volkanovski walked into the Freestyle Fighting Gym in Windang on the NSW south coast.
He also vividly remembers the moment he realized the future champion was not built like the others.
‘It was his first spar,’ recalls Lopez. He’s sparring against a heavyweight who has had several fights. I didn’t want him to spar the guy right away – but the other guy’s coach threw them.
‘In the first round Alex submitted this heavyweight three times. When the sparring was over I asked him if he was interested in having an actual fight.’
Volkanovski’s experience training bigger opponents in the gym – and athletic background as a rugby league prop where he weighed up to 97kgs playing for the Warilla Gorillas – is another reason why Lopez thinks Alex can beat Makhachev.
‘Max [Holloway] is taller. Islam is probably heavier. We can get the weight of Islam, but we want to keep the mobility. The lighter you are, the faster you will be. We’ll gain a few more kilos.
Volkanovski has also brought in one of the world’s top grappling talents Craig Jones to help him prepare for UFC 284, and Lopez believes this will be a huge benefit to the Aussie.
‘Alex experimented and fought at a higher weight. I feel like he’s a little bit better off the way he is now.’
Volkanovski has also brought in one of the world’s top wrestling talents Craig Jones to help him prepare for UFC 284, and Lopez believes this will be a huge benefit to the Aussie.
He’s proven too tough to give up in the Octagon – with his most heartbreaking moment coming against Brian Ortega at UFC 266.
He’s proven to be very difficult to submit in the Octagon – with his most shocking moment coming against Brian Ortega at UFC 266 (pictured)
The champion survived a deep guillotine choke that Lopez admitted was the only time he was really worried about his fighter.
‘I don’t want to lose hope. I know Volk’s tenacity to overcome things. The only time I worried was when he stopped moving,’ Lopez recalled.
‘I thought he was out. He had been moving for a while and then he stopped. I thought he was already outside. That’s the only time I’ve ever felt that way.’
‘I don’t normally panic or stress. I can’t emotionally hurt the one in front of me.’
Lopez knows Volkanovski will have huge support this coming weekend, and says half of Wollongong have flown to Perth to support them
Lopez knows Volkanovski will have huge support this coming weekend, and said half of Wollongong flew to Perth to support them.
Even some tradesmen working in his house said they would not work that day because they would be traveling west.
‘Everyone I talk to is flying to Perth,’ laughs Lopez.
‘Wollongong – the whole Illawarra is leaving. The pubs will be packed. Every house will be crowded sitting around the TV. It will be wonderful. We love the support.’