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While every professional athlete has to endure their share of bumps and bruises, certain sports require a bit more toughness than others. The physical demands of combat sports, like MMA, are obvious; rugby might not be the most mainstream sport in North America, but it’s pretty demanding, too. Alexander Volkanovski actually has experience in both arenas.

While the Australian now plies his trade in the UFC octagon, he started his career playing rugby. In fact, the featherweight believes his time on the pitch helped make him the fighter that he is today.

Alexander Volkanovski’s UFC career

You don’t become the UFC Featherweight champion without some serious toughness and talent. Alexander Volkanovski may have stepped into the octagon relatively recently, but he clearly has both in spades.

Growing up, Volkanovski practiced Greco-Roman wrestling; he eventually left the sport behind, however, hoping to find success on the rugby pitch. While he showed plenty of talent at the semi-pro level, Alexander couldn’t reach the big time. That all changed, however, in 2012.

In between his rugby commitments and his day job pouring concrete, Vokanovski started took up MMA. While fighting was just supposed to be a hobby to help keep him in shape, the Australian fell in love with the sport. Before long, he was taking part in amateur fights and building a new career.

Volkanovski turned pro in 2015 and joined the UFC a year later. He’s gone 8-0 since then, dished out countless calf kicks, and claimed the featherweight title at UFC 245.

How rugby set the stage for UFC success

Beyond their physicality, mixed martial arts and rugby don’t seem like the most similar sports. Alexander Volkanovski, however, believes his time on the pitch helped make him a better fighter.

“It’s made me a strong type of guy,” Volkanovski told the NZ Herald. “I’m used to them big boys there, and, even now when I fight these featherweights, I’ve always been used to wrestling and going against the bigger boys, so it’s made me tough and even maybe confidence-wise it helps.”

For the record, lists Volkanovski as standing 66 inches tall and weighing 145 pounds; while weight classes mitigate some size issues, he’s still far from the biggest man in the octagon. Beyond the confidence he gained on the rugby pitch, though, he believes his sporting past set the stage for his current success.

“It’s a tough sport, it’s not easy, so it’s rolled into MMA pretty well and made me who I am today,” he continued. “I’m glad I was a part of rugby league, but I’m glad I made the change because look at me now. It’s been a pretty crazy journey.”

Alexander Volkanovski actually prefers UFC to playing rugby

If you believe Alexander Volkanovski, his rugby career set the stage for his UFC success. The Australian, however, now prefers some aspects of his new career. First and foremost, he appreciates holding his fate in his own hands.

“There are no excuses in fighting,” Vokanovski explained to “You can be playing a team sport and have a good game, and you can lose. In fighting, it’s all on me. If I go out there and lose, then it’s my fault. I like that. So I know if I fight well, I’m going to win. I definitely love the fact that it’s all on you, and you do what you have to do to win.”

Beyond that, Alexander the Great doesn’t mind the spectacle and pageantry of professional fighting.

“And each fight is like a grand final in the rugby league,” he added.