After stepping aside for a week, and letting men’s college basketball take center stage, the UFC returns with one of the biggest events of the year in UFC 273. On Saturday, Apr. 9, two titles will be on the line, and a seemingly unbeatable contender faces his toughest test to date, all on the main card.
The main event features a featherweight title fight between reigning champion Alexander Volkanovski and
“The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. Originally slated to face off against Max Holloway for a third time, Volkanovski instead takes on Jung after an injury forced the Hawaiian former champion out of action. Volkanovski is searching for his third consecutive title defense, having previously defeated the aforementioned Holloway twice and, most recently, Brian Ortega. The Korean Zombie enters this fight after a unanimous-decision victory over Dan Ige in his last outing. Injuries and military service have largely been at fault for keeping Jung from achieving a tremendous amount of momentum, something that will change dramatically should he get a win this weekend.
In the co-main event, the bantamweight title is on the line after a bizarre sequence of events led to the title changing hands the first time Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan fought. Yan was firmly in control of the fight when he landed a heavy knee to a downed Sterling that caused a halt to the contest. Sterling was unable to continue, leading to whispers among the few people in attendance and widespread grumbling from fans on social media who were watching the event. Many thought Sterling was overemphasizing the damage done by the intentionally illegal knee in order to get his hand raised in a fight where he looked to be coming out on the losing end. The score will be settled this weekend, barring any wild and unseen circumstances.
Perhaps the most anticipated bout of the evening is the main-card showdown between former welterweight title challenger Gilbert “Durinho” Burns and surging powerhouse Khamzat Chimaev. Burns bounced back after coming up short in his title bid by defeating perennial contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson his last time out. Chimaev stands with an unblemished 10-0 record and has seen a second round only once since joining the UFC. His other three victories all came within the first five minutes, and he most recently defeated Li Jingliang via submission just 3:16 seconds into their Oct. 2021 meeting.
UFC 273 takes place in front of a sold-out audience inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL. The early prelims air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ at 6:00 p.m. ET, followed by the televised prelims on UFC Fight Pass,ESPN+ and ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. From there, the action shifts to ESPN+ pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Alexander Volkanovski is quickly climbing the ranks of all-time great featherweights; does he continue his ascent and defend his belt successfully against The Korean Zombie?
Sumian: It is a shame that this epic card is not going to be headlined by the highly anticipated trilogy between Volkanovski and Holloway. Nevertheless, The Korean Zombie will do his best to fill the role of worthy challenger and attempt to pull off a significant upset.
Zombie is one of the most entertaining featherweights in MMA history. He has compiled a 3-1 record since 2019 and defeated above-average featherweights such as Renato Moicano, Frankie Edgar and Dan Ige. However, he was absolutely obliterated by Brian Ortega when the pair met in Oct. 2020. Although Zombie is a well-rounded fighter capable of finishing many of the top-ranked featherweights, the one sided beatdown he suffered at the hands of Ortega proved he is no longer a legitimate threat to the top three of the division. The Korean native certainly carries thunder in his hands and has proven the legitimacy of his submission skills on several occasions. He faces his toughest test since Jose Aldo on Saturday night.
Just as his nickname states, Alexander Volkanovski is great. By the time he retires, the champion might have done more than enough to be in the conversation of greatest featherweights of all-time. Unbeaten since May 2013, the Australian native has effectively cleaned out the featherweight division since joining the UFC in 2016. What separates Volkanovski from the rest of the pack is his never-ending pace. He simply does not slow down and is conditioned to fight at an extremely high pace for all five rounds. This makes him a nightmare matchup for all the top-ranked featherweights who will struggle to match his output. In addition to his stellar cardio, he is capable of knocking out his opponents with both hands and is an extremely effective leg kicker. As long as the champion enters the Octagon focused and conditioned, it is hard to imagine the title changing hands anytime soon.
Unfortunately for Zombie, this fight will be a one-sided beatdown. The champion will continuously pepper the challenger with kicks and quick combinations. By the time Zombie fires off any of his own offense, the champion will be well out of harm’s way and ready to attack again. The easy answer here is a five-round dominant decision for the champion. However, Volkanovski is going to finish Zombie early and show the world that he does not belong in the same ring with the champion. A rematch with Holloway at some point in 2022 will be a highly anticipated affair.
Petela: I see this fight being very one-sided as well but not in Volkanovski’s favor. The Korean Zombie will thrive in the role as spoiler this weekend and become the new featherweight champion. I would be lying if I said I saw an obvious flaw in Volkanovski’s game and how he’s executed it in each of his title fights. However, one thing Volkanovski discussed at length during an interview with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell of Morning Kombat is how he thrives by scrambling his opponents’ brains en route to victory. That will prove to be impossible this weekend against the unflappable Korean Zombie.
Instead, expect The Korean Zombie to fight at a methodical, refined pace throughout the early portion of the fight and get settled into a rhythm much more easily than Volkanovski. By the second round, it will be Volkanovski who grows frustrated by his opponent, and he will veer off course looking to capitalize on a mistake that The Korean Zombie hasn’t made. A well-placed counter hook from The Korean Zombie will sting Volkanovski and force the champion to be tentative for the remainder of the bout, fearing a fight-ending punch coming out of the blue corner. This will allow the challenger to dictate the latter portions of the fight and cruise to a unanimous decision in a fight without controversy.
The co-main event is a rematch over a year in the making; how does this grudge match play out the second time around?
Petela: Aljamain Sterling has faced a ton of ridicule since the pair’s first meeting, mostly unwarranted. He initially made a stand that he did not want to win the title the way he did, but was seen later that night partying with the belt in apparent jubilation. This rubbed people the wrong way and led to countless fans and fighters alike questioning whether or not Sterling was milking the damage that was done by the illegal knee landed by Petr Yan. Add to that the subsequent delay of this rematch due to Sterling’s neck surgery and his popularity waned mightily.
This rematch will silence the doubters, at least somewhat. From an X’s and O’s perspective, Sterling can take a great deal away from the first encounter. Chief among these is his gas tank. He pushed too great a pace the first time around, and, as soon as he started feeling the fatigue, Yan took over. With a modified game plan that better regulates the amount of energy he uses early, “Funk Master” will be able to out wrestle Yan for the first few rounds, and, when the fight drags into the championship rounds, it will be Yan who is more exhausted. This time around Sterling will get his hand raised before the final bell by entirely legitimate means.
Sumian: I have utmost respect for my esteemed colleague, despite his inaccurate claims for the co-main event. Simply put, Petr Yan is the best bantamweight on Planet Earth, and there is no one close to his tier just yet. The only way Sterling wins this fight is getting to the ground where he can sink in a calculated choke that forces Yan to tap or go to sleep. The chances of that happening truly seem slim given how good Yan’s wrestling is in regards to MMA competition.
Sterling will win a round or so, especially, early on. However, much like he did to Jose Aldo in round five, Yan will start to punish the body of Sterling and severely hinder his opponents ability to defend himself properly. Yan will land a powerful flurry that puts Sterling against the cage and continue to swarm on the champion before the referee steps in. The bantamweight division is stacked with contenders, but Yan has simply refused to show any apparent weaknesses as a competitor thus far. He is methodical, cold-blooded and inarguably the top talent in the division in 2022. Until we see otherwise, expect the new undisputed champion to continue his reign as top dog.
Josh Fremd, Mike Malott, Daniel Santos, and Piera Rodriguez — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Josh Fremd, Mike Malott, and Daniel Santos all have intriguing, yet difficult tests for their first UFC appearances. Fremd is facing off against Anthony Hernandez, who is coming off an impressive upset win over Rodolfo Vieira. Experience-wise, the two are fairly similar, but Hernandez has undoubtedly fought better competition including Kevin Holland and Brendan Allen.
Malott and Santos face off against Mickey Gall and Julio Arce, respectively. The Malott and Gall match should prove entertaining as both are similarly experienced, and Gall is still undoubtedly green in his MMA career. Santos likely has the stiffest test in regards to competition between the three. Arce is vastly more experienced than him, and it is hard to imagine Santos pulling off any type of unexpected debut victory.
The most interesting debut in my book comes in the form of strawweight Piera Rodriguez. She has compiled a 7-0 record and should be a well received addition to the division. Her opponent, Kay Hansen, is 1-2 in her UFC campaign and desperately needs a win to stick around. Unfortunately, Rodriguez will dominate from start to finish and officially announce her arrival to the UFC.
Petela: This incoming class of fighters is unique in that they all should have some success on the biggest stage but none of them will likely ever find their way among the most elite. In other words, there won’t be any stars, but there also won’t be any busts. The most interesting fights are Mike Malott’s clash with Mickey Gall and Piera Rodriguez vs. Kay Hansen. Those two scraps will be a lot of fun, especially for grappling fans, and, despite coming up short, both newcomers will gain a lot of respect for their grit and toughness.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 273?
Petela: Khamzat Chimaev. He has looked unstoppable thus far in his UFC run, and his name has been inserted in title conversations for both the welterweight and middleweight divisions. He gets, by far, the toughest test of his career this weekend against Gilbert Burns. Not only is Burns a former title challenger, but he is a multi-time world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Chimaev will pass this test with flying colors and dispose of Burns inside the first round. That will all but guarantee him the next crack at Kamaru Usman’s belt and create incredible buzz around the Allstar Training Center standout’s showdown with the long-reigning champion.
Sumian: Whether or not he wins, Khamzat Chimaev is the easy answer. I am less bullish on his ability to undoubtedly obliterate Gilbert Burns than the rest of the MMA community, but it is a very real possibility. Instead, let’s go with Mackenzie Dern. There was a time when Dern was the UFC’s latest hot commodity, but weight issues and key losses throughout her run derailed the train that was well on its way. Come Saturday, she will defeat Tecia Torres who is on a three-fight winning streak. This will allow her to get back on track and earn a huge fight in the back of 2022. Opponents that come to mind include Yan Xioanan or the loser of Namajunas/Esparza 2.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 273?
Sumian: Aljamain Sterling. Petr Yan will finish the so-called champ within four rounds. The belt will return to its proper owner, and fans should be thankful that they do not have to see or hear about Funk Master for quite some time. Sterling is not even the second- or third-best bantamweight in the world and will find himself on a long list of contenders at 135 pounds that are more popular and well-received by the MMA community.
Petela: Jairzinho Rozenstruik. “Bigi Boy” stormed into the UFC with four straight knockout victories and gained a ton of notoriety with his nearly last-second stoppage win over Alistair Overeem back in 2019. Since then he has gone just 2-3 and has had his lack of ground game exposed. A loss this weekend to Marcin Tybura, a black belt in jiu-jitsu, will further expose the Surinamese kickboxer and will likely end any hopes he still has about climbing the ranks and becoming a world champion.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Jared Vanderaa. The Dan Henderson pupil has lost three of his last four fights, including two consecutively. We are in the midst of major turnover in the heavyweight division, with young fighters like Tom Aspinall and Tai Tuivasa emerging as the next generation of title contenders. Vanderaa certainly fits the demographic at 29 years old, but, with a loss this weekend to longtime veteran Aleksei Oleinik, he will find himself on the outside looking in as his peers climb the ladder in the UFC heavyweight division.
Sumian: Aleksei Oleinik needs to call it quits. The Russian native is a legendary heavyweight competitor with over 70 professional fights throughout his illustrious career. He is on a three-fight losing streak and has consistently looked less and less able to compete at the highest level. If he suffers a fourth consecutive loss to fellow struggling heavyweight Jared Vanderaa, retiring is the only logical choice at 44 years old.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: The recently assigned match-up between Kelvin Gastelum and Dricus du Plessis was the pick to make, but, unfortunately, the fight was scrapped completely. Instead, the matchup between Aspen Ladd and Raquel Pennington is my choice. If both come to fight day in shape and healthy, this should be a back-and-forth brawl between two talented fighters. Ladd is an aggressive knockout artist when entering the Octagon healthy, and Pennington is a tough grinder. This should be one of the better fights on the preliminary card.
Petela: Vinc Pichel vs. Mark Madsen. Pichel is riding a three-fight winning streak and hasn’t lost since 2018. Madsen enters the fight with an undefeated record, but he showed some flaws in his last outing against Clay Guida. While he did pick up a split-decision win, it was evident that Madsen didn’t properly manage his energy and faded late in the fight. He will correct that error this time around. Pichel and Madsen is the perfect fight for the early prelim card, fans will come to the event early to watch this fight, and it will set the stage for the fans at home on what they can expect for the remainder of the fight card.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Mickey Gall. The Greenbrook, N.J. product started his UFC tenure with two straight wins, but has alternated wins and losses since then. Based on that trend, he is due for a win, and he will get one this weekend against newcomer Mike Malott. Gall has certainly dedicated a lot of time to rounding out his mixed martial arts game, but at his core is his background in jiu-jitsu. Malott won’t be hesitant to engage with Gall in the grappling realm, especially given his training at Team Alpha Male. This will be a fun fight early in the night, and Gall will snatch a snazzy late submission that earns him an extra $50k.
Sumian: Jairzinho Rozenstruik with a second-round knockout Marcin Tybura. Tybura has been susceptible to knockout losses throughout his career, and nothing will be different when he faces the extremely dangerous Suriname native. Rozenstruik is 6-3 in his UFC heavyweight campaign and has only suffered losses to top-five heavyweights. He will likely never become a viable heavyweight title challenger, but Saturday will remind the world that his knockout power is more than enough to defeat the majority of the top-15 heavyweights.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: The movie American Werewolf in London. Khamzat Chimaev (a.k.a. “Borz”, which translates to Wolf Chechen), is a wolf in a new territory. In the movie, an American tourist becomes a werewolf after traveling to the English countryside and begins terrorizing the city with his newfound powers. Similar to that plot, Chimaev is the wolf of the UFC who is on a ferocious hunt to satisfy his appetite. Although UFC 273 is headlined by two title fights, the entire evening will be centered around Chimaev tackling his biggest challenge and looking impressive upon doing so. A quality win over Burns will send the up-and-coming superstar onto a newfound hunt for Kamaru Usman’s throne. If Chimaev is successful, expect Usman and him to headline perhaps the most successful UFC pay-per-view of 2022.
Petela: This one’s easy, Korean BBQ. The Korean Zombie will complete his rather unconventional run to a title with a wide margin unanimous decision win over Alexander Volkanovski, and, in doing so, will become the first Korean UFC champion in the promotion’s history. Celebrate in style with your favorite Korean BBQ dish in appreciation of The Korean Zombie’s historic victory.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
FW Championship: Alexander Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie
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