Alexander Volkanovski may be one of the world’s best fighters, but prior to his octagon successes, Australia’s reigning UFC featherweight champion was chasing greatness in a completely different sporting realm.

Volkanovski previously played rugby league back home in Wollongong, Australia, where he played for Warilla Gorillas alongside his friends as a prop forward.

Despite his small stature, Volkanovski was a power-packed presence in his team, playing at a weight of around 200-210 pounds.

But, despite being undersized for the position, Volkanovski’s drive and unmatched cardio made him a real force on the rugby field.

But the lure of martial arts was always part of Volkanovski’s psyche, and he used his local gym, Freestyle Fighting Gym, to help him train during the off-season.

His natural talent for combat sports quickly became apparent as he showed his mettle in early sparring sessions. That led to him being offered the chance to fight.

By that stage, Volkanovski knew where his sporting future would lie, and he took the decision to leave rugby league behind and embark on a career in mixed martial arts.

His first amateur fight saw him cut weight to make middleweight, and he made his mark immediately as he scored the first of four first-round wins to get his career off to a flying start.

Eventually, he turned pro and started to move down the weight classes as he built an impressive 14-1 record that eventually saw him earn an opportunity in the UFC as a featherweight.

The amiable Aussie has gone unbeaten ever since. Wins over Mizuto Hirota, Shane Young, Jeremy Kennedy, and Darren Elkins put him in line to face top-class opposition.

But, rather than struggle, Volkanovski shone. The Aussie took his game to a new level in his second-round TKO finish of former title challenger Chad Mendes, then a unanimous decision win over legendary former featherweight champ Jose Aldo cemented his position as one of the best 145ers on the planet.

Then, despite being the betting underdog heading into the fight, Volkanovski outworked reigning champion Max Holloway to capture the title at UFC 245 in December 2019, and a razor-thin split-decision win in their immediate rematch the following summer cemented Volkanovski’s place at the featherweight summit.

Now with his rugby career a distant speck in his rear-view mirror, Volkanovski gets set to make the second defence of his title when he takes on Brian Ortega at UFC 266 on September 25 in Las Vegas.

And although he may not be a regular presence on the rugby fields of Wollongong, Australia, his teammates will be roaring him on from back home as he looks to continue his remarkable career.

UFC 266 takes place Saturday, September 25 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.