UFC 'roller coaster' brings Alexander Volkanovski to The Ultimate Fighter

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Volkanovski on how tough battle with COVID-19 was (2:41)

Alex Volkanovski explains just how tough his battle with COVID-19 was, including postponing his title clash with Brian Ortega. (2:41)

Alexander Volkanovski has endured the ups and downs of the UFC "roller coaster" in recent times, but he is pumped to trade positions and be one of the coaches for the upcoming series of The Return of The Ultimate Fighter.

The UFC's featherweight champion was just a week out from a second title defense, against No. 2 contender Brian Ortega, having flown into Las Vegas from Australia, when he was told he had contracted COVID-19.

Initially free of the most serious symptoms, things soon headed south for Volkanovski as his condition worsened and he eventually found himself in the hospital with pneumonia, the infection having spread to his lungs.

But in a sign he is well and truly on the mend, Volkanovski was out hiking near Hoover Dam as he spoke with ESPN about The Ultimate Fighter opportunity and how he will handle life on the other side of the Octagon fence.

"Yeah, I'm feeling pretty much 100 percent, I'm feeling good and in high spirits," Volkanovski said. "But obviously I need to look after the lungs, I've had orders from the doctors to not get into it [training] too quickly, just ease your way into it; obviously not the first week since being on the meds, start at 50 percent and then slowly bring it up each week.

"So I've got to look after the lungs, but I feel like I'm 100 percent; but I'll just listen to the doctors and do what they say."

In 'the best nick' of his career, Volkanovski was primed to defend his featherweight crown at UFC 260. He says he has dealt with the disappointment of having that fight cancelled -- and has no firm date as of yet of when it will be rescheduled -- and will now relish an opportunity he might not have otherwise had.

"It's a roller coaster, I've had interviews with you before I'm sure where I've said what a roller coaster this sport can be," Volkanovski told ESPN. "Even just in a week, I'm ready for a fight and then I hear that news, it was hard. Obviously quarantine first and then I had to end up going to hospital; I was in a hospital bed watching an event [UFC 260] that I was meant to be on.

"So it was difficult, there was times when I was thinking 'man, what's going on, how is this happening', but I just had to say 'hey, it's meant to be, keep looking forward and it will work out in the end'. So I had that sort of mentality, that's how I looked at it and it did end up going my way. There [were] some negatives, and a lot of them, but we eventually got something out of it.

"It's a great opportunity and, to be honest, the doctors were telling me that you're not going to be fighting anytime soon, because we were trying to reschedule for May or something; there was dates there but that was when I only had the normal symptoms. Obviously once the doctors and the UFC worked out that it was into the lungs and getting a bit nastier, we sort of realised that fighting anytime soon wasn't going to be the case.

"So that's why this opportunity was brought to us and I'm here, I'm keen, I'm ready, I've got a great team - it's going to be good. It's going to be a great show, I can't wait for everyone to tune in and get to meet my team and our fighters. I'm telling you my team is going to kick a--, we ain't losing, I'm not losing any challenges. I can't wait. There's been a lot of negatives but I'm feeling positive and I'm keen to go out there and do my best."

Volkanovski will get the opportunity to square off with Ortega in the coming weeks in some form at least, with the American named as the opposing Ultimate Fighter coach.

Not known for his fight-ending power or jaw-dropping knockouts, Volkanovski says it's his innate understanding of the sport that will make him a good coach for the eight bantamweight or middleweight athletes that will do battle with Ortega's team.

"Obviously I'm known for that fight IQ, and things like that," Volkanovski said. "Not only have I got the knowledge but I've also got a coaching staff that has a lot of good knowledge, I guess you could say we understand the game.

"But I just feel like as a fighter I love details; I like to really get in there. I ain't looking for this big showy move but I can go out there and really help with these little details that make these fighters better fighters and understand the game that little bit more. I can't teach them all the tricks, but I can teach them enough to get them a contract at the end of the series."

While there is no firm date for his rescheduled featherweight title defense, Volkanovski says it will be after The Return of The Ultimate Fighter series has aired, and that he will travel back to Australia to conduct a full camp once filming for the show has wrapped.

In another piece of good news, the opening up of the trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand will allow Volkanovski to complement his training at Freestyle Fighting Gym with his usual stint over at City Kickboxing in Auckland - something that wasn't possible in his previous camp.

"Obviously things are starting to open up everywhere, and back home we've got our bubble [with New Zealand] so I can do what we always do," he told ESPN.

"I'll be based out of Freestyle Fighting Gym like I always am but I'll also be able to go and do those things here and there, to work with the boys over there and some of the coaches. So I'm really looking forward to that and that will be different for the next camp.

"But again we did a great job getting ready [before flying to Vegas], I've never been so lean and so fit; that was no lie. I was really ready to go out there and put in a performance, but that performance will just have to wait a little bit longer."