UFC 273: Preview & Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski v ‘The Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung
Alexander Volkanovski will look to extend his undefeated streak in the UFC and defend his UFC featherweight title for the third time against Chan Sung Jung.
Volkanovski will enter the octagon as one of the biggest favourites on the card. The Australian has very much earned this tag with victories over Brian Ortega, Max Holloway (twice), José Aldo and Chan Mendes in his last five outings, one of the most impressive winning streaks in UFC history.
The City Kickboxing fighter is a versatile striker. He can feint his way in and look to his deceptively long jab or simply walk his opponent down while constantly targeting the legs of his opponent with kicks. The former rugby league player is constantly moving, feinting, or striking. He is a master of managing distance, rarely caught flat footed and relies on constant pressure, as well as a huge gas tank, to find a way of getting his hand raised.
In addition to his striking, Volkanovski commenced wrestling well before his MMA career, having taken a national medal at age 12 in Greco-Roman style wrestling. He also showed in his last fight that he possesses incredible submission defence, somehow escaping numerous submission attempts from Ortega which looked to be fully locked in.
For the Korean Zombie, this will be his second shot at UFC gold, having challenged Jose Aldo for the 145-pound title back in August of 2013, just prior to his three-and-a-half-year hiatus from the support for military service. And while Chan Sung Jung is a legend of the fight game and a huge fan favourite for his fighting style, it is difficult to see where he will be able to challenge the current champion.
The Korean Zombie will most likely look to his boxing. He possesses great power in his fists and has some impressive knockouts on his resume (his performance of the night TKO over Frankie Edgar comes to mind), but he will struggle to keep up with the pace of his opposite number. One only needs to look at their last common opponent, Brian Ortega. The Korean Zombie was out struck by Ortega 127 significant strikes to 62, while Volkanovski in turn out struck Ortega 214 to 88.
Chan Sung Jung’s most recent victory was a decision win over Dan Ige where he demonstrated some nice grappling, managing to secure three takedowns and amass over ten minutes of control time. The BJJ and Judo black belt is an accomplished submission artist with the majority of his career victories coming from submission (8 from 17 wins, including a D’arce choke over Dustin Poirier). But again, the wrestling and submission defence from Volkanovski will make finding another submission victory a major challenge for the South Korean contender.
I am taking Volkanovski to make it another successful title defence. The reigning champ has top class striking, wrestling, cardio, and perhaps most importantly of all, resilience. While the Korean Zombie is capable of landing a knockout or pulling out a surprise submission, I believe Volk will be able to ride out any adversity and can dominate with the volume and movement he brings in the striking stakes. I’m going Volkanovski by a late stoppage.
Aljamain ‘Funk Master’ Sterling v Petr ‘No Mercy’ Yan
Thirteen months since their last meeting ended in controversy, after Petr Yan was disqualified for landing an illegal knee, Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan will meet to unify the bantamweight division. While Sterling has been side-lined with injury, Yan has gone onto earn the interim title with an impressive decision victory over top contender, Cory Sandhagen.
It hasn’t been an easy road to this fight for Aljamain. After becoming the first UFC fighter to win a title by disqualification, he underwent neck surgery and was rescheduled to run it back with Yan last October, before he had to pull out to allow more time to recover. This may explain why Funkmaster was so emotional on the scales yesterday.
In their last bout, the momentum was swinging very much in favour of Yan before the disqualification. But Sterling has many positive aspects to his game which he can look to implement this time around. The thirty-two-year-old has exceptional wrestling as well as a slick Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game. The takedown threat is ever present and once given the opportunity, Aljo will lock up a submission. It is no shock that he has eight submission wins of his twenty career victories.
And this is why it was so surprising last time around when Sterling was outclassed in the wrestling stakes. Yan managed to land seven takedowns as opposed a single takedown from Aljo and looked much more dominant in the process. This must be a major concern for the corner of the defending champion, and he will need to make improvements this time out.
While in the stand-up department, Sterling has made huge improvements over the last number of years. The Serra-Longo fighter throws volume, constantly switching stances, whilst implementing the low kick very effectively. He did experience some success with his high output game in the first meeting, but he does not possess the same power of his Russian opponent.
Petr Yan has managed to land eight knockdowns in his last five contests and has seven knockout victories in his career. His knockout power is second to none in the division. Fighting out of an orthodox stance, occasionally switching, Yan holds a high, tight guard waiting patiently to find his shots.
The twenty-nine-year-old also answered any questions regarding his grappling. Yan fought off the majority of takedown attempts and landed some exquisite takedowns of his own. Sterling did manage to control the clinch against the cage however, so this is an area which Yan may need to be aware off. This could help Funkmaster slow down the fight and run down the clock tactically.
The one area where Yan might be vulnerable is on the scorecards. Yan seems to improve as the fight goes on. It’s not so much that he starts slow, but he doesn’t have a major sense of urgency and uses the early rounds to find out more about his opponent. He can afford to do this as he becomes so strong in the latter rounds. But he has given up at least one of the opening two rounds in four of his last fights according to the judges’ scorecards. This will be an area for Funkmaster to try and expose. If Sterling can take some of the early rounds and then manage to slow down the fight with his grappling as the fight progresses, then he could enjoy some success.
Aljo is an accomplished fighter, and I don’t think one can solely look to their last meeting as an indicator for Saturday night. But ultimately, I can’t look past Petr Yan to become the next undisputed bantamweight champion. For Aljo to win, he needs to improve his grappling vastly from their first meeting, while maintaining his high output and avoiding the punishing shots from Yan. While for Yan, he knows he possesses the power to hurt his opponent as well as being comfortable in any grappling exchanges. I am taking Yan to regain the bantamweight title.