On the eve of UFC 273, we track down the only man to ever beat Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski.
So you want to find the only man to ever beat Alexander Volkanovski?
Specifically, when stood on Pitt Street in Sydney’s CBD.
A spot where up to 60 storeys above, in a small metal box containing only himself, lunch bag and an empty plastic bottle – “just in case I need to piss” – you’ll find the tattooed crane operator who once bested Australia’s UFC king.
Which, you should know, is some claim.
Especially given Volkanovski — that breakout Wollongong concreter now earning $2 million annually, driving a Jaguar, even boasting an Illawarra pub named in his honour — has never once lost to any other striker, wrestler, boxer, pro, amateur, streetfighter, even future Hall of Famer on the planet.
Sure, 29 have tried.
Among them, genuine Gods of War.
Think Jose Aldo, that Brazilian dubbed ‘King of the Favelas’.
Or Hawaiian thrasher Max Holloway.
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Together, two future Hall of Famers who have spent 10 years fighting over the tag of greatest UFC featherweight who ever lived.
A pair since beat by Volkanovski once, and twice respectively.
Which makes these living fight legends the most notable notches on what, in the UFC at least, is now a staggering undefeated Volkanovski run stretching not only seven years, 10 fights, and two title defences, but into that realm of greatest streaks ever.
Again next Sunday too, another challenger arrives in the form of Chan Sun Jung, aka The Korean Zombie.
A gutsy, unpredictable finisher whose black belts in taekwondo, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu come coupled, as his fight name suggests, with a willingness to walk headlong into gunfire for a win.
But as for Zombie ending the reign of a man who this past fortnight had The Illawarra Hotel rebranded The Volkanovski in his honour?
Certainly bookies think the challenger little hope at UFC 273, having already wound him out to $6.
With Volkanovski, meanwhile, not only paying the Winx-like odds of $1.13, but having almost every ESPN analyst, US journalist and fellow fighter tipping his record to go 29-1.
So as for that sole blip?
Again, look up.
For this is where you’ll find Corey Nelson.
A knockabout Liverpool tradie who, once Australia’s greatest welterweight, now trains aspiring youngsters out of his Liverpool double garage.
That and, each morning, makes his long ladder climb into the sky.
Officially, ascending to the top of these crane towers can take anywhere up to 15 minutes.
“I’ve done it four,” he grins.
Same as this now 34-year-old, a fella with all the fight that comes from being the smallest kid on the street, also owns nine Australian titles.
That, and the boast of once being among our highest paid local scrappers, too.
A fighter who nine years ago inside Melbourne Pavilion, for an event dubbed AFC 5, didn’t just give Volkanovski that sole blip of his career, but a brutal third round KO via three kicks that went body, head, head.
“Can still see it too,” Nelson said this week, chatting over his lunch break.
“After that third kick, yeah, Volk was gone.
“His eyes, they rolled into the back of his head.
“I remember as he hit the deck, he started to come too as I came in with the hammer fist … which is when the referee stopped it.
“He wasn’t coming back.”
Of course, we cannot retell this story without also noting how, this particular night, Volkanovski was fighting at welterweight – or two divisions higher than where he now reigns as UFC featherweight king.
“And sharing the cage with him, I saw what everyone else now sees,” Nelson continued. “His heart.
“What that guy has, you can’t teach it.
“Back then, Alex was on absolutely nobody’s radar.
“Yet now, mate, he’s in the GOAT conversation.
“And to be a little part of his journey, it’s a nice story to tell at the pub.”
Yet on that one night?
“Oh, for that period in my life,” Nelson says, “there was no one could f…ing stop me.”
Which is something he still thinks about during long days up in that crane.
Not just the fight, but what came soon after.
When walking home from the pub one evening, Nelson and a mate were attacked by three drunks who, within moments, quickly realised their mark was anything but.
“Tossed one guy over a fence,” Nelson recalls.
“And as I did, his wallet fell out. So my mate took it.”
None of which seemed a big deal.
“But then the police arrived,” he shrugs. “And charged me with robbery in company.
“I wound up doing two years community service.”
Worse, Nelson also endured a lengthy court case. Then afterwards, was banned from US travel.
All up, a run of events which saw Australia’s top welterweight miss not one, but two shots at The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series, plus an invitation from rival US fight company Bellator.
“The UFC even rang my parole officer, trying to get me into that TUF house,” Nelson recalls of the tournament eventually won by a CityRail electrician named Robert Whittaker, who from there would rise up to become Australia’s first UFC champ.
“Bellator had my airfares paid, too. Said ‘get over here’.
“But I couldn’t go.
“I also spoke with (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva, who gave me his personal number. But his lawyers said I couldn’t be touched because I’d been through the courts.”
Which again, comes back some days overhead.
“Just thinking how things might be different,” he says. “I honestly believe I could’ve gone top four in the UFC.”
Still, nobody can ever take what he did here.
With Nelson not only besting Volk, beating two men on one night at Townsville — “which earned me $15,000” — or boasting a KO rate of 75 per cent, but also holding his own in a Luna Park bout against Whittaker, before eventually losing by arm bar.
Which isn’t bad for a fella who never entered a fight gym until 21.
Who then quickly rose up, and broke out, under the fight name, Major Nelson.
Which is surely a nod to the I Dream Of Jeannie actor, right?
“Nah, a horse,” he grins.
“It was when I’d only just started fighting,” he continues.
“My mates and I were down at the club one night, having a few drinks, when this horse called Major Nelson pops up paying $28.
“So given my last name, I’ve raced into the TAB and put 10 bucks on.
“And, boom, the underdog got up.
“I loved that.
“So I was Major Nelson.”
For all intents and purposes, still is.
“I’m pretty much retired but, yeah, still got the hunger,” says the crane operator who now teaches young fighters out of his makeshift home dojo.
So what chance the Major might still make the UFC, but as a corner for one of those he coaches?
“Yeah,” he grins, “that would be pretty f…ing good”.
Importantly, Nelson also hopes Volkanovski stays undefeated, too.
“But not for me,” he says. “For him.
“When you share a cage with someone, there’s a bond.
“And that bloke, he’s an absolute gentleman.”
So you’ll be watching him fight Zombie next Sunday then?
“I’m headed for Wollongong,” Nelson grins. “And that pub they’ve named The Volkanovski.
“I’m gunna walk in and demand free schooners all afternoon.”
Originally published as UFC 273: Alexander Volkanovski has only ever lost one fight — to Sydney crane operator Corey Nelson