The UFC returns from a short hiatus Saturday with a featherweight title fight, the unification of the bantamweight belt, and four top-15 contender fights under the bright lights of VyStars Veterans Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
At the top of the card is featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski’s (23-1) third title defense. Volkanovski welcomes No. 4 Chan Sung Jung (17-6), better known as “The Korean Zombie,” to the Octagon for the Zombie’s second attempt to realize UFC gold. Jung had a title shot against then-champ Jose Aldo (31-7) in 2013, where he lost via fourth-round TKO.
Jung is very fortunate for this shot. He has posted a 4-2 record since his title shot a near-decade ago. Jung was the victim of 2018’s Knockout of the Year at the hands, or rather elbow, of Yair Rodriguez (13-3), and later lost via unanimous decision to the last 145er to challenge Volkanovksi — Brian Ortega (15-2) — in 2020. He last beat No. 10 Dan Ige (15-5) via unanimous decision in June 2021.
The next matchup for the featherweight belt was not originally supposed to feature Jung, but former champion Max Holloway (23-6) in a trilogy fight. Holloway was the man Volkanovski took the belt from in 2019 and subsequently defended against in a rematch. Although Jung is a fill-in, he will be all the same sure to relish the 273 stage.
How Volkanovski can win
Volk has an exciting history of repelling featherweights on the division’s biggest stage. His latest fight with Holloway was a narrow decision win, and his last showing against Ortega was The Red Corner’s 2021 Fight of the Year. He is undefeated in the UFC, and only has one loss in his professional career. Volk can beat Zombie by testing his chin early. Zombie’s career is highlighted by the brawls he’s willing to engage in and was knocked down twice against Ortega. If Volk can’t realize an early finish, he can always rely on his cardio and barrage of leg kicks to slow down Jung en route to a decision victory.
How Zombie can win
Brawl. Take the fight to Volkanovski and make him empty his gas tank early. Volk debilitates fighters with leg kicks, and cruises to decision victories. Good thing Zombie is no slouch in championship rounds himself. Whatsmore, Ortega caught Volk in two different fight-ending-caliber submission holds. Zombie hasn’t won via submission since he d’arced Dustin Poirier (28-7) in 2012. However, Zombie will hold a ground advantage that he’s likely to try and exploit. This is likely the last time Jung will contend for the belt, he needs an emphatic victory via stoppage if he’s getting the belt.
Charlie’s prediction: And Still: Volkanovski via Decision
Peter’s prediction: And Still: Volkanovski via R4 KO/TKO
The co-main Saturday is a unification of the bantamweight belt. The champion, Aljamain Sterling (20-3), will face interim-champion Petr Yan (16-2) for the first time since Yan illegally kneed Sterling at UFC 259. The cause of much controversy in MMA circles, Sterling was crowned champion via disqualification. Many point to his theatrics after the knee strike as grounds to illegitimate his standing as the champion. The bottom line is Sterling holds a belt he didn’t earn, but was given.
Sterling took a long layoff after being crowned in March 2021. He opted for neck surgery and has been unavailable to rematch Yan up to this point. After Aljo backed out of their scheduled fight in October 2021, the UFC held an interim title fight between Yan and Cory Sandhagen (14-4). Yan won via unanimous decision. Sterling’s absence and the jeering of the two bantamweights via social media has built great anticipation for Saturday night’s bout.
How Sterling can win
Aljo is one of the best ground game specialists in the UFC. In their first bout, Aljo was practically begging Yan to meet him on the mat. That’s how the illegal knee came to be — Sterling on the ground, and Yan refusing to leave his feet. Sterling attempted 17 takedowns on Yan but only landed one. When the fight was standing, Sterling actually was leading in significant strikes before the DQ.
Sterling’s route to victory coincides with more efficient takedowns. Yan is a marauder on the feet, so Aljo should try his best to keep Yan at range, and mix in effective takedowns attempts. Although he was statistically leading in the stand up, Sterling was handily losing the last fight. He cannot rely on hail mary submissions again. Instead, he needs to create a better path to bringing the fight to the mat.
How Yan can win
Yan may be the best boxer in the UFC. I know I am throwing around “best in the UFC” statements, but for both of these men, it is true. Yan is malicious in whittling his opponents down on the feet in every single fight. Yan can win by avoiding the ground at all costs. As Sterling gets more desperate, he will be forced to close distance with Yan more and more, where Yan can land effective strikes. Yan has the ability to keep a torrid pace for five rounds or pick his shots en route to a knockout.
The odds for this fight aren’t close. Yan was clearly in line to win the first match, just beat a major contender in Sandhagen and Sterling is fresh off neck surgery. All this being said, Sterling does hold a huge advantage on the ground. I think Yan should win with all these intangibles, but Aljo has a way of throwing up crazy submissions.
Charlie’s prediction: And Still: Sterling via R3 submission
Peter’s prediction: And New: Yan via Decision
Perhaps the most anticipated fight on this card is No. 11 Khamzat Chimaev (10-0) vs. No. 2 Gilbert Burns (20-4). Chimaev has been pegged by many as the future of the UFC. Burns is the most legit challenge Khamzat has yet to face. Make sure you tune in for this scrap — the winner of this one likely challenges welterweight king Kamaru Usman (20-1) next.