Alexander Volkanovski’s bravest move yet? Talking about his mental health

“I was just doing my head in,” he continued, tears floating at the bottom of his eyes. “I needed a fight, and this opportunity came up. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t training as much as I should have, but I thought I had to do it. I had to take it. I’m telling myself, ‘It’s meant to be.’ I was struggling a little bit not fighting, doing my head in. I don’t know how; everything’s fine, I’ve got a beautiful family. But, I don’t know… I think you just need to keep busy. I need to be in camp, otherwise, I’m going to do my head in.

“It’s weird, [it’s not that I] never ‘believed in that stuff’, but I never got it. It was something that – I don’t know – maybe the more and more I learn about myself, the more I understand. I talked about us having a smile on my face, me and my wife. My wife could see it does get hard, I don’t know why.”

Makhachev consoles Volkanovski after their fight, the main event of UFC 294

Volkanovski pointed to the birth of his third child, in August, and surgery on an injury this summer as reasons why he had not been training. Clearly, the knock-on effect of those moments – as joyous as the former seemed to be – has led Volkanovski’s mental health to suffer. Last week, all the talk was of how brave the Australian was to face Makhachev on short notice; braver was this admission that he is struggling, which simultaneously offers a different lens through which to view his choice to fight. Keeping himself engaged and busy is healthy, but that is complicated by the inherent risk in his profession. “Maybe it was just a silly decision under the circumstances,” he admitted. Perhaps it was, though it was also understandable.

Volkanovski’s next challenge, however, will come outside of the ring. It must. He naturally sees the antidote to his current struggles as a quick turnaround to fight again, likely against the dangerous Ilia Topuria in January. Yet, that fight could go the same way as Saturday’s against Makhachev, if the Australian does not first tackle these thoughts and feelings, and find the right balance for him.

We knew Alexander Volkanovski was brave. That is even clearer now than it was last week. Now, however, he must be sensible, and get to work outside the ring before he can return to work in it.

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