The UFC’s Next Featherweight Champion?
By Ross Markey
The UFC’s featherweight championship hasn’t experienced as much of a hot potato scenario as it’s bantamweight and flyweight counterpart in recent times. Since it’s inception back at the turn of the decade, we’ve only had four champions. Brazilian icon, José Aldo – the first. Eventual two-weight champion, Conor McGregor – the second. Hawaii striker, Max Holloway – the third. Aussie powerhouse and tactician, Alexander Volkanovski – the current.
In December, Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski brought a concise end to the ‘Blessed Era’ in a co-main event tilt. The stacked undefeated challenger exacted a consistent gameplan for five rounds – mitigating the sharp movement and motion of Holloway with brutal calf kicks. It wasn’t as brutal as Aldo’s battering of Urijah Faber back at WEC 48, however, it helped Volkanovski on his way to a unanimous decision.
Holloway was a splendid champion – there’s no denying that. The Waianae native had taken the title from Aldo in Brazil – before stopping the Manaus favourite for the second time in a short-notice rematch. The 28-year-old completely demolished Brian Ortega at UFC 232 – on his way to a devastating fourth-round doctor stoppage. He finally met with former lightweight best, Frankie Edgar in July of last year, taking a decision triumph after a torrid time attempting to book the matchup.
Plans were in place for Volkanovski to make a homecoming at UFC 251 in Perth – rematching Holloway in a title headliner. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shelved those ideas for the immediate future. In my opinion, the promotion are likely to look to that re-run not far down the line, although Holloway needs a huge gameplan reshuffle if he’s to begin a second 145-pound title reign. Sure, Holloway rallied in the penultimate and final round, but I’m not convinced he can right the wrongs necessary to claim gold against Volkanovski.
Chan Sung Jung:
Thus, we look at former featherweight title challenger, Chan Sung Jung – better known as ‘The Korean Zombie’. Since his return from active service back in 2017, the 33-year-old has been almost flawless. He finished the tricky Dennis Bermudez upon return – before a chaotic back-and-forth with Yair Rodríguez left him unconscious, with a single second left in the bout. Pandemonium rose when it was revealed Jung was ahead on all three judge’s scorecards.
Jung would then finish then surging challenger, Renato Moicano in less than a minute with strikes. He was paired with fellow former gold tilter, Ortega – to headline UFC Fight Night Busan in December. Ortega was forced to withdraw from the contest due to a nagging knee injury – forcing an opponent replacement. Up steps the aforementioned, Edgar – who Jung finishes once again in the opening frame. In his fifteen-year career, ‘The Answer’ has only been stopped twice – both by Ortega and Jung.
I’m not saying Jung’s victory over Edgar was a backstep, however, a performance like that against initially scheduled opponent, Ortega – would’ve almost guaranteed him the next shot at featherweight gold. If the promotion elects to follow through with plans for Volkanovski vs. Holloway II – they should highly consider booking Jung in a definite title-eliminator next.
One thing is certain in the UFC career of Alexander Volkanovksi; he’s yet to be tasked with overcoming a talented grappler. Yes, Aldo is a phenomenal submission grappler, however, we’ve rarely seen him switch from his Muay Thai, and now, boxing heavy approaches in recent outings. Chad Mendes has a wicked guillotine but he’s only ever pulled off two submission wins in his professional career.
‘T-City’ on the other hand, represents one of the most deadly submission artists at featherweight today. It seems many have forgotten that fact, and who could blame them. The Californian has been out of action since his aforementioned loss to Holloway – all the way back in December of 2018. When on form and active, the 29-year-old has clearly demonstrated his finishing prowess.
On his rise to number-one contender status, Ortega finished the likes of Clay Guida, Diego Brandaõ, Thiago Tavares, the previously noted Moicano and Edgar, and slapped a flying-guillotine on Cub Swanson. Although he never really got out of the blocks against Holloway – I’d still be interested to see him eventually paired for a championship again within his next outing or two. A perfect scenario given the current climate – would be a rematch between Volkanovski and Holloway, and a rescheduling between Jung and Ortega to establish the next challenger to the throne.