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Sport 'Very crazy' moment as Aussie refused to black out

06:40  28 september  2021
06:40  28 september  2021 Source:   wwos.nine.com.au

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It had been two and a half rounds of perfection.

UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski had predicted that he would dominate challenger Brian Ortega, and after opening up a huge lead on the judges' scorecards, all that was left was a knockout blow. Or so we thought.

Like a coiled cobra, Ortega burst forward with two minutes left in the third round, knocking the Australian to the ground and applying a guillotine choke. While the world held its breath, the champ wondered where his next would come from.

"It doesn't get any deeper than that," he told Wide World of Sports of the pressure his rival was putting on his windpipe.

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"I was never going to tap, it's not an option for me. But I mean, it was close [to forcing him to pass out]. I was thinking 'am I gonna go out here?'"

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It's moments like these that define champions. It's finding a way to succeed when the door to failure is kicked wide open. In seconds that would have felt like hours, Volkanovski summoned images of his family back home, and repeated the same mantra.

"This can't be it," he said to himself.

"I thought of my family, and not bringing the belt back to them. And I just thought 'this can't be it, you can't let this happen' and a couple of little movements and the littlest bit of space, and that was it. I came back.

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"I definitely had a moment there - it was a very crazy, a very weird feeling that I'll always remember. It was the type of thing you see in the movies, you know?"

Within a few seconds, Volkanovski had flipped the script, and in his own words, was "punching his head through the canvas."

But in an equally heroic moment, Ortega held firm, steadied, and caught Volkanovski for a second time - this time in a triangle choke.

"He got me in the deepest guillotine you'll probably ever see on anyone," Volkanovski said.

"Then the triangle, but after having that guillotine and not being able to breathe, the triangle was nothing - that was way worse, I thought 'I'm all good here'."

Again, he dug deep. Again, he fought out. Again, he flipped the script and rained blows down upon his opponent with the force and scorn of a man possessed by a desire to win.

By the time the buzzer sounded for the end of the round, Ortega was almost gone. His team had to pick him up off the canvas - which should have ended matters. The fight continued, but the result was now a formality.

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Broken and beaten, any chance of taking the title was gone. For Ortega, a win now meant surviving for another ten minutes.

"I did say third round finish - and that fight should have been stopped. His cornermen picked him up, you're not allowed to do that, that's an automatic TKO," Volkanovski said.

"I'm surprised they got away with that, but all good, we got to put on a couple of extra rounds for everyone."

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The champ admitted that even he wasn't sure if the fight was continuing.

"The crowd was loud, they were f--king loud. So I wasn't sure. I had a couple of friends ringside going nuts so I thought 'maybe it's over' but then I was guided back to my chair so we kept going. Once I saw him answering the questions wrong, I thought it was done. He's either that hurt that he's answering wrong, or he's looking for a way out," he said.

"They gave him the time, but you've got to give him credit. I thought he was broken, both mentally and physically but he came back in the fourth.

Alexander Volkanovski with members of his team and Kiwi UFC star Dan Hooker. © Getty Alexander Volkanovski with members of his team and Kiwi UFC star Dan Hooker.

"He earned my respect. I brought up some things beforehand, but mate, he went in there and did that. What we shared in that octagon was pretty special and people will be talking about it for a long time."

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There are few rounds ever in the UFC that will be talked about like this one - how often do you see both fighters have two separate chances each to claim victory?

"Nah, nothing as crazy as that," he said when asked if he'd ever experienced anything like this before.

"You look at not only those submissions but who was applying them. They talk about him as one of the greatest jiu jitsu guys in MMA, especially with his killer instinct. There's nobody that really finishes guillotines and triangles like he does."

Undefeated in the UFC, yet often written off against the likes of Jose Aldo, Max Holloway and now Ortega, the south coast native says nobody can doubt anymore - because with that performance, and especially the third round, he finally has a signature moment that nobody can take from him.

"Winning's just not enough. That's something that this sport has proven, you need to have your moments. Dana [UFC boss Dana White] said he was waiting for me to have mine, and I think I definitely have it now."

Perception has already changed. A man who was booed by a parochial American crowd in the leadup to the fight was met with raucous cheers when he appeared the next day, on the big screen at the Las Vegas Raiders game, belt over his shoulder.

"It's already different, especially when you talk about being in the American market. There's an appreciation that wasn't there before," he said.

There's already been talks of a move up to lightweight and a dream bout with Conor McGregor, or a trilogy completing fight with Max Holloway, should the former champ get past Yair Rodriguez in November.

But for now, it's a well-deserved rest for Volkanovski, a champion who has finally, belatedly, been given the respect he earned several years ago.

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