No matter how experienced a football player is, there will come a time when seeing a 100 kilogram man running at full speed with no intentions of coming to a halt can be an intimidating prospect.

Although they may not be the playmakers, the big men that make up the forward pack in Rugby League play an integral part of the game. Being part of the forward pack always means countless meters would be run with each game. And with each time that ball hit their chest, there was no turning back. The team relies on those men to help march them up the field.

Not a weekend used to go by without Alex Volkanovski lacing up his football boots. That’s something that he always recalls about growing up. After so much training and dedicating himself to being the best footballer that he could be, a realization emerged and a new passion was unearthed.

Volkanovski attempts a rear-naked choke (Joshua Stebbings)

Volkanovski attempts a rear-naked choke (Joshua Stebbings)

“I used to be a front rower, and when I was playing I was running around at 97 kilos [213 pounds],” Volkanovski explained in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I was playing first grade, and I’d played in rep sides and also got a ‘Player of the Year’ award. I’d always loved MMA and used to wrestle when I was younger, too. During an off-season, I decided to do a bit of [MMA] training to see what I thought, and I decided to take a fight and give it a go.

“In the year we won the grand final, I got ‘Man of the Match’ in the grand final game, so I kinda wanted to end everything on a high. I knew that I wasn’t really gonna make it heaps far in football, so I decided that I’d get more serious about fighting. I think that I have what it takes to make it in MMA. I have only been doing it for three years and so far I’ve been pretty successful. I’m grateful to be able to get paid to travel and fight and do something that I really enjoy. ”

In his short career, Volkanovski has notched up professional wins across three different weight classes and has competed from a range of middleweight down to lightweight. In his Feb. 22 bout at Australian Fighting Championship 8, Volkanovski plans to try out yet another weight class as he meets Rodolfo Marques Diniz in a featherweight bout.

“It was really the fight against Corey [Nelson] that made me realize that I need to stop trying to go in there and compete with the big boys at the top level. I decided that I’d drop down to 70 [kilos] and I won that one. This is my first fight at 66 [kilos],” he explained. “I guess we will see how this cut goes and see whether it’s the right weight class for me. When I was fighting at 70, I would weigh in at 69 [kilos] anyway, so I thought I’d give it a shot. If this cut feels right and I do well, I think I’ll look at more options at featherweight.”

At AFC 8, Volkanovski must once again enter a ring for his bout, instead of a cage. With the Victorian state government refusing to listen to any stance that relates to the safety of mixed martial arts competitors, it’s something that fighters have to be open to when competing in the state.

Volkanovski (Joshua Stebbings)

Volkanovski (Joshua Stebbings)

“I’m not really a fan of the ring,” Volkanovski admitted. “Using the cage is a big part of my game with my wrestling experience and especially with the skills I like to use from when I was playing footy. It was a bit hard in my first fight, and I found that I kept getting taken down by Corey, because I usually have some pretty good defense against the cage. It’s all good, though, and it’s something I’ve had to adapt to. Hopefully we see the cage allowed in Victoria soon, because I think that they are missing out big time down there.”

There will come a time for some fighters when they string together a few wins and stars start to fill their eyes. Whilst Volkanovski has had a good start to his very young career, boasting two title fight victories and currently riding a two-fight winning streak, he isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“It’s pretty early in my career,” Volkanovski admitted. “I’d like to see where I can take this. A lot of people take easy fights so that they can get their record up. I’m not about that. I just want to fight the best guys I can, and I think that with the amount of professional fights I have had, I’ve certainly fought some of the better guys in the country.

“It’s great to be fighting for one of the best promotions in the country and fighting one of the best fighters in Australia. I know he’s a black belt, but I am going in there looking to be stronger than him and make him react to me. I don’t think he will have the chance to show his skills on the ground.”

With a football career in his past, Volkanovski now gears up to build his success in a new sporting venture. Like any sport, success in mixed martial arts doesn’t come overnight. However, if Volkanovski continues to seek out the highest-caliber opponents and continues to beat them, it will only be a matter of time until he finds himself remembered for his prowess in combat sports, with football becoming a mere distant memory.

Alex would like to thank Aussie Supps Shellharbour, Morgan Boxing & Fitness Equipment and Club 02 Health and Fitness. He would also like to thank his gym, Freestyle Fighting Gym Windang, and the entire team there. He would also like to thank his coach and mentor Joe Lopez, his manager Luke Vella and, most importantly, his wife Emma Volkanovski, who puts up with him throughout his weight-cutting week. Follow Volkanovski on Twitter: @alexvolkanovski