The UFC is back in action this Saturday after a week off, and this weekend the Octagon will travel to Jacksonville, Florida for a stacked Pay-Per-View card.
The card is headlined by a Featherweight title fight between Alexander Volkanovski and replacement Chan Sung Jung, AKA the Korean Zombie. The Bantamweight belt is on the line in the co-main as Aljamain Sterling looks to verify his title reign in a rematch with Petr Yan, while Khamzat Chimaev looks to continue his rise against #2 contender Gilbert Burns.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Chan Sung Jung (FTW)
Alexander Volkanovski (23-1, 10-0 UFC) surged to the top of the Featherweight division with a vicious knockout of Chad Mendes followed by a clinic over Jose Aldo in which “The Great” more than tripled up on his strike differential. After claiming the title in a decision against Max Holloway, Volk defended his belt once more against the Hawaiian, winning a controversial split decision. He cemented his title reign in his last outing, with a five round war opposite Brian Ortega. Volkanovski has a fantastic freestyle wrestling base, with damaging ground and pound and a fantastic ability to control where the fight takes place, whether that’s controlling his opponent from top position or scrambling back to his feet in an instant. He has become less reliant on his wrestling over his most recent fights, and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from going apart against great defensive grapplers, Volkanovski’s striking and work with the rising City Kickboxing team of Hooker and Adesanya has become the highlight of his game. He attacks with a furious pace, averaging more than six significant strikes a minute, while attacking both the legs and body, not only the head. It was the former of those that Volk utilized to secure the title in his last bout against Holloway, showing he has damaging ability in all elements of his striking game.
When you’re on a card with The Korean Zombie (17-6, 7-3 UFC) your chances of a FOTN bonus go wayyyy down. From his highlight reel finishes to brutal back and forth wars, TKZ is always game. After a decision loss to the aforementioned Ortega, he returned last summer for a decision win over Dan Ige. In his namesake zombie fashion, Jung marches forward with the ability to eat any shot and keep on swinging. If you watch his fight at first, it may seem he might just be mindlessly plodding forward without any game plan. In fact, Zombie has good fight IQ and knows which shots are the best for him. He has powerful hands with drastically improved boxing from the early days of his career, with his last three victories all coming by first round (T)KO. Of course, don’t forget about his impressive jiu-jitsu, as he has secured 8 of his pro wins by submission.
Volkanovski is the largest betting favorite on the card tonight, and with his clinical recent performances, it is not hard to see why. His high level striking and defensive awareness have been on full display, and he has shown he has the heart and fight IQ to stay at the top of the division. Zombie is still a dangerous opponent, and he presents a variety of dangerous skills on both the feet and the mat. However, I see Volk working with his jab and kicks at range, occasionally mixing in a takedown for a late finish or dominant decision win.
My Pick: Alexander Volkanovski via Decision
Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan (BW)
One of the hottest talents currently at Bantamweight is Aljamain Sterling (20-3, 12-3 UFC), submitting Cory Sandhagen in just over a minute in his last outing to secure the title shot and extend his win streak to five. “Funkmaster” is an exceptionally well-rounded fighter with technical striking and a constant wrestling threat. His striking defense is well put together, highlighted by his movement around the outside and utilization of his range, as well as a dangerous kicking game. Sterling’s greatest area of strength comes from his ground game. He has expert scrambling and wrestling, and holds a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under Serra BJJ. Aljo has scored ten finishes with eight coming by submission, keeping a well-versed submission threat.
Petr Yan (16-2, 8-1 UFC) has been on fire since his UFC debut about three years ago, scoring three knockouts over six victories en route to the title. From there, he finished Jose Aldo in the fifth round to capture the belt, though his first title defense against Aljamain Sterling went awry when Yan struck him with an illegal knee in the fourth round, losing via disqualification. He claimed interim gold with a unanimous decision over Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267. Yan is a Russian master of sport in boxing and does it better than nearly anyone in the UFC right now. He keeps a constant high guard, as well as forward aggression and an adept control of the center. Yan has serious power when he plants his feet, but often takes time to make his reads and is patient when he has his opponent hurt. Luckily because of his aggression, he rarely finds himself on the wrong side of volume. He has demonstrate stellar wrestling skills however, both offensively and defensively, holding an impressive takedown defense rate of 88%.
The rematch is finally here. Over a year ago, we saw one of the most controversial endings to a fight ever in the UFC. Sterling has taken time to get surgery and a clean bill of health, while Yan stayed busy, taking interim gold home with a Fight of the Year candidate. I am excited to see the adjustments Sterling has made since the first meeting, as he will need to have a more measured approach than in the first matchup. Yan proved in the first meeting that his Sambo skills and slick defense are enough to keep the fight in his wheelhouse, so I expect a striking affair throughout most of this contest. Expect Sterling to come out strong with a variety of looks, before Yan’s pacing and fight IQ take over for a late knockout.
My Pick: Petr Yan via Knockout
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gilbert Burns (WW)
Khamzat Chimaev (10-0, 4-0 UFC) made himself one to watch over the summer by securing the record for quickest UFC turnaround with just ten days between his stoppage victories over John Phillips and Rhys McKee. He capitalized on that hype against Gerald Meerschaert, knocking the grappling expert out in just seventeen seconds. After a rumored retirement, he returned to capture a first round submission over Li Jingliang. Chimaev shifts between Welterweight and Middleweight, somehow able to make the cut down to 170. “Borz” stands at 6’2″ and looked like a behemoth in both weight classes, tossing around his opponents at will. Comparing Chimaev to Khabib wouldn’t be incorrect, as Chimaev has relentless takedowns and furious ground and pound from top control, as well finishing all of his fights, split evenly between knockouts and submissions. Borz displays dominant control and positioning, as well as the acumen to find the choke when it presents itself. If you were concerned about his striking, have no fear, as he trains with Alexander Gustafsson and Ilir Latifi at Allstars Training Center and has displayed great kicks and boxing fundamentals on the regional scene.
The move to Welterweight produced immediate dividends for Gilbert Burns (20-4, 13-4 UFC), who amassed four straight wins in the weight class before losing to divisional kingpin Kamaru Usman. He got back on track in his last outing, defeating Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson on the judges’ scorecards. Putting submission deity Demian Maia to sleep only solidified his danger and skill present in the Welterweight division. Burns has incredible power in his striking, as well as a notorious and dangerous ground game that he has used to dominate strikers and grapplers alike. “Durinho” is a ruthless finisher and remains a threat in all avenues of the fight.
Khamzat has been a freight train of hype since arriving in the UFC, and he is getting a massive step up in competition for this one. He has looked near undefeatable in his time in the Octagon, absorbing only a single significant strike and showing his dominance on the mat as well as the power in his hands. Burns is a veteran of the fight game and a wizard on the ground, and he is sure to test the skills of Khamzat. Chimaev has seen basically no adversity so far in the UFC, and seeing how he responds if the fight extends itself will be telling of his skillset. While he is an offensive wrestling powerhouse, he will need to be wary of the dangerous ground game of Burns, who even Usman would not indulge on the floor. I see the power and size of Chimaev holding an advantage on the feet and capturing another early finish, though I expect Burns will take over if the fight extends itself.
My Pick: Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gilbert Burns
Mackenzie Dern vs. Tecia Torres (SW)
My Pick: Tecia Torres via Decision
Vinc Pichel vs. Mark O. Madsen (LW)
My Pick: Mark O. Madsen via Decision
The main card kicks off at 10 PM EST, with the prelims starting the action at a scheduled 5 PM EST.
Categories: UFC Predictions