'An Aussie Knighthood': Alexander Volkanovski so good they've named a pub after him

Welcome to The Volkanovski Hotel (1:32)

Alexander Volkanovski takes you inside the hometown pub that renamed itself after Illawarra's very own UFC featherweight champion. (1:32)

There's a bit of an old cliché Down Under that the ultimate Australian dream is owning a pub.

From serving up icy-cold schooners and gigantic chicken schnitzels or juicy rump steaks, complete with chips and salad or mash and vegies, to welcoming punters into your TAB or pokies room or simply standing behind the bar helping to solve the world's problems: What could be better?

For most, it's a dream that is entirely out of reach, maybe even for UFC superstar Alexander Volkanovski.

But the featherweight champion of the world has seemingly one-upped the Australian dream by having a pub named after him -- or at least temporarily renamed in his honour -- for his third title defence against Chan Sung Jung, aka The Korean Zombie.

"We weren't happy enough with what the city of Wollongong was doing for such a heroic and an inspirational person, so what we thought we could do is the Australian version of a knighthood -- so we named the pub after the man," Ryan Aitchison, publican at The Volkanovski Hotel, formerly The Illawarra Hotel, told ESPN. "Is there any bigger privilege than getting the keys to the pub? Forget about the city, the pub's where it really lies. And we've just had the best response to it, right from the start; this town really loves its hometown hero and this is a great way of expressing it."

The temporary rebadging of Aitchison and wife Nikki's hotel is a symbol of the love the people of the Illawarra, the coastal region 90 minutes south of Sydney, have for their local sporting icon.

On fight days, residents clamour for the best vantage points at any number of the region's watering holes, desperate to watch him add another victim to a win streak that now sits at 10 in the UFC.

And Volkanovski, in turn, knows just how good he has it.

"The support in the Illawarra, around Wollongong and even Australia in general, has been incredible," Volkanovski told ESPN. "But even before I was in the UFC I've always had good backing from the people of the Illawarra, they've always supported me and this just shows it. It lets everyone know the support I have here. You hear talk of them having a statue of me up on Mount Ousley and what not, so the town always goes above and beyond for me and this is obviously incredible and I appreciate it a lot.

"This community means everything to me, I've been in the Illawarra my whole life. I grew up here, I've always been here and I've always tried to represent the Illawarra as much as I could because they've always supported me and I wanted to do my part however I can."

As well as the change of name, the Hotel has also organized the brewing of the Dusty AV Lager, which Aitchison quips you can "drink 50 of but not feel like you have to lie down after."

One dollar from every AV Lager sold will be donated to the charity KidsWish, which only further illustrates the value the region places on its sense of community.

And if Volkanovski's astounding climb to the top of the featherweight division, and top five ESPN pound-for-pound ranking, are any guide, then there will be a hefty charitable donation coming KidsWish's way all in the name of another victory celebration.

Volkanovski, too, couldn't be more confident. Sitting in the courtyard of the pub that now bears his name just under two weeks out from the fight, he looks like he is ready to fight tomorrow, and the self-belief he has built across his sensational run oozes out with every word that leaves his mouth.

"Where I'm at right now is a whole other level," Volkanovski says of his preparation. "It's something that everyone thinks you're going to say at every camp, 'This is the best I've ever been.' But it isn't just me saying it, my training partners, those watching me and feeling me right now, they know that this is a whole new me ... they're quite confident that things are clearly going to go my way.

"I've always been a competitor, and I have always loved doing the work," he said. "But right now, the knowledge I have, how comfortable I am with everything; when it comes to range, what I see and capitalizing on it, we're just on a whole other level right now. The beauty of that is that you're going to see me capitalize on every little opportunity that is open for me. This is the entertainment business, and while I never really used to care too much about that, now I do ... if he leaves an opening then I'm capitalizing on it and ending that fight, and I'm very, very confident that I will."

Volkanovski was last inside the Octagon in September 2021, defeating Brian Ortega in one of the fights of 2021. While the Australian eventually won by unanimous decision, he was on multiple occasions put into submission holds by Ortega, yet Volkanovski was somehow able to work his way free, much to the astonishment of those watching around the world.


Volkanovski: 'I'm going to steal the show again' vs. Zombie

Alexander Volkanovski says he'll capitalize on any opportunity to finish that Chan Sung Jung leaves open, and hints at a future title defence on home soil.

Volkanovski says the confidence gleaned from those moments of stress, when his title reign looked like it might end at only one solitary defence, have him feeling nigh on indestructible.

Not that he isn't wary of what Jung can bring to the Octagon.

"He's dangerous and he's a finisher, and he's going to be looking for those shots," Volkanovski said. "He's going to have a strategy coming in, he's been working on it with his team and saying 'We're going to do this, we're going to do that.' But if he comes out as the same Zombie that he has [in the past], it's going to be a long night for him.

"So I know he's going to be planning some strategy, but give him a minute or two and it's going to be the same old Zombie, and I'm going to have him fighting my fight and he's just going to be trying to look for the finish. That will be fun for the fans, they're going to love it, but it just means there is going to be a lot of openings and I'm going to be capitalizing on that and that's why I really do see a finish."

While Max Holloway was originally slated as Volkanovski's opponent, in a fight that would have completed the duo's trilogy, the Australian says the switch to Jung following the American's injury was no issue because it came before the start of his camp.

As for whether that trilogy happens in the future, Volkanovski says it will only happen if it is the "right fight to make for him".

After previously not giving it much thought on his ascent to the featherweight title, the "legacy" piece of his career is also now at the forefront of Volkanovski's conscience.

"It definitely has changed, I had never cared too much about it ... I was all about making money and bringing that money back to my family," Volkanovski replied when asked about the legacy he wants to leave. "And then you look into it, and you think, 'Yeah I do want my name in the history books.'

"I've got all these goals now and I want to tick all of these boxes; pound-for-pound No. 1, go through the division, go to the top of the UFC. I want to break records. I want to do all of that sort of stuff. Before I didn't really care, it was about winning and getting those paychecks and all that type of stuff -- just being a competitor.

"But now I want a legacy, not only so my name can live forever, but a legacy I can live off for the rest of my life, that my family can live off ... So I'm really now starting to get that and that's why the entertainment side of things, the showmanship, all that type of stuff ... all this plays a big factor in your legacy."

When Bruce Buffer drops his famous "It's time!" call to arms late Saturday night [Sunday afternoon AEST], in Jacksonville, Ryan Aitchison says the atmosphere at The Volkanovski Hotel, and many others through the Illawarra for that matter, thousands of kilometers away will be "electric."

Like the man himself, those watching the big screen in the hotel's courtyard will all be supremely confident of an 11th straight UFC victory. And while Volkanovski says there is still much to achieve before his own legacy is secure, those who call the Illawarra home have little doubt as to where he will eventually sit among the UFC's all-time greats.

"In a lot of our eyes, we think he's going to be the best UFC fighter of all time in the future," Aitchison said. "He's obviously on top of his division right now and ranking upwards in pound-for-pound, but we all know and believe in him that he's going to be the best of all time.

"He's putting us on the map now, but in the future it's going to be insane just what he is going to achieve and we want to celebrate it. We want kids to know that they can turn themselves from a normal footballer or labourer into a world sporting star just by working their asses off and applying themselves."