Rise and shine, as the UFC heads to Southeast Asia for an early morning fight card with a high-profile showdown in the featherweight division capping off the event, live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. In the main event, former champion Max Holloway takes on fan-favorite “The Korean Zombie” Chan-Sung Jung in a five-round main event. Holloway showed that he is still very much in his prime the last time that we saw him in action, as he snapped the 12-fight winning streak of Arnold Allen. The Korean Zombie didn’t fare as well the last time he fought, as he came up short in a title bid against current champion Alexander Volkanovski. TKZ was battered throughout that contest until the referee mercifully stopped the action in the fourth round.
The co-main event showcases the light heavyweight division as former title challenger Anthony Smith will rematch Ryan Spann. Smith has struggled recently, losing his last two bouts and four of his last seven. He will try and right the ship against Spann, one of the fighters he defeated in those three wins in his last seven bouts. Spann has gone 2-1 since the pair’s first meeting, scoring a submission win over Ion Cutelaba and a knockout win over Dominick Reyes before being submitted by Nikita Krylov. Both men are in major need of a victory to retain their position as a contender at 205 pounds.
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. The Korean Zombie airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 5 a.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Max Holloway has been unbeatable at featherweight to everyone except Alexander Volkanovski; does that remain true as he takes on The Korean Zombie this weekend?
Kuhl: I mean, what do you say about former featherweight champion Max Holloway that every fan doesn’t already know? He was 4-0 as a pro when he made his UFC debut against Dustin Poirier in Feb. 2012, and, 11 years later, he has gone 20-7 in the UFC with 10 knockout wins, two submission victories, five title-fight wins and 10 performance bonuses. He holds more records than most people could even fathom existed. And, he has only lost to four men ever – Poirier, current featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski, former champ Conor McGregor and Dennis Bermudez – and four of those seven total losses were in title fights. The crazy thing is that he is still only 31 years old, and, timeline-wise, he could easily make another title run or two. Holloway is one of the best boxers in UFC history, lands a high volume of strikes, has amazing takedown defense, and has only been stopped once in 31 fights, which was a submission to Poirier way back in his UFC debut.
As for “The Korean Zombie,” Chan-Sung Jung, he has also had an impressive career. He came over with the WEC merger in early 2011 with a 10-3 record. In his first eight UFC fights, he earned eight post-fight bonuses, and fought Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. He has only been to a decision six times in 24 fights, and has never been submitted, but was stopped by knockout four times. Two of those decision were in his last three fights – one loss to Brian Ortega in Oct. 2020 and one win over Dan Ige in Jun. 2021. His last fight was in Apr. 2022, which was an unsuccessful attempt at capturing Volkanovski’s title.
The stylistic match-up between Holloway and The Korean Zombie weighs heavily in Holloway’s favor. Three of the Korean’s last four losses were knockouts by Aldo, Volkanovski, and Yair Rodriguez, and all of those guys are dynamic strikers with great takedown defense. That plays right into the Hawaiian’s wheelhouse. Holloway will pick apart Jung, keeping him frustrated for five rounds, before cruising to a decision victory.
Petela: I can understand putting The Korean Zombie in a main event slot of a fight card taking place in Asia, but I don’t know why they would put him in an almost unwinnable fight against Max Holloway. Holloway is very difficult to look good against, and, stylistically, this is going to be a nightmare for TKZ.
I agree with Dan that this one will go the distance, and it will be a lopsided win for Holloway. Frankly, the more intriguing question is where does each fighter go from here? Holloway isn’t getting a fourth crack at Alexander Volkanovski any time soon, and, unless the champion moves back up to lightweight to take on Islam Makhachev again, there’s no way Holloway has a road back to the title. For The Korean Zombie, it might be time to officially turn the corner from contender to gatekeeper. He will have lost to practically every other elite featherweight in the promotion, so he will find himself in a position to try and halt the momentum of young up-and-coming fighters who look to break through into status as a contender.
Anthony Smith has dropped two straight fights and looked flat in his last outing; how does “Lionheart” fare against the hard-hitting Ryan Spann?
Petela: Not well. Look, Anthony Smith has had a tremendous career, and once fought for the light heavyweight title, but those days are over for him. Whether it is his analyst work or other things going on in his life, he just doesn’t look like the same elite fighter he was a few years ago. The man is making the walk to the cage for his 55th professional fight this weekend, and he’s only 35 years old. That is a lot of miles to put on one’s body in a grueling sport, not to mention all the training camps in preparation of all those fights.
Ryan Spann is going to have his way with Smith and beat him from pillar to post for as long as this fight lasts. This one won’t be particularly fun to watch for Smith fans, but it will be a major statement for Spann. Not only will he get revenge on a man who submitted him just under two years ago, but a dominant win over a perennial contender like Smith will buoy his confidence. He will use it as a stepping stone to make a run for the title in the ever tumultuous light heavyweight division. Spann by second-round knockout.
Kuhl: I don’t think that the current direction of Anthony “Lionheart” Smith’s career is any secret. He recently had his fourth daughter, he’s been spending a lot of time behind the commentator’s desk, and his camp has been a bit discombobulated over the last few years. But, since his last fight, he seems to have righted the ship with his training, as he has been back at Factory X in Denver on a more regular basis.
The one variable that will not go away for Smith, though, is that, as Matt mentioned, he is going into his 55th pro fight this weekend. There are indeed levels to this sport, but how often have we seen someone at even the highest level, eventually succumb to excessive miles on the chassis? It wasn’t until his 31st pro fight that he went the distance for the first time in his career against Brian Green at Bellator 129 in Oct. 2014.
Since joining the UFC for a second time, he has earned seven post-fight bonuses, and he also challenged Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title. However, after he took a serious beating in a TKO loss to Glover Teixeira in May 2020, things haven’t quite been the same. He did go on a three-fight winning streak recently, where he looked to be back to form, and that included a first-round submission of Ryan Spann in Sep. 2021. But that streak ended when he broke his leg against Magomed Ankalaev in Jul. 2022. In his return three months ago, Smith was dominated by Johnny Walker en route to a decision loss, and Lionheart just did not look like his old self.
So, what Smith will we get this weekend in the rematch against Ryan Spann? The first time he fought Spann, there was a lot of bad blood driving Smith, because Spann had made some comments about his family. However, they fought it out, dumped the adrenaline and bad blood, and Spann has kept the lead-up to this one closer to the vest. Smith, on the other hand, appears to be a lot more serious in his training than in recent history, but there are some additional important variables in terms of Spann.
Spann is only 31 years old, he only has half as many total pro fights as Smith, and, since his loss to Smith, he has scored two first-round stoppage victories versus one first-round submission loss. The X-factor against Spann is that first loss. Regardless of skill level, age, etc., any fighter worth his salt will tell you that previously losses almost always act as a mental issue for the loser going into the second fight.
I really don’t know what to expect out of this one. Smith has a great life, a solid support system of family and friends, and a nice job as a commentator. He is a smart dude that can see his timeline in the sport, and 55 fights is a huge milestone, while making it to 60 might not makes sense from a health perspective. Spann, on the other hand, has the time and opportunity to put on a great showing, crack that top 10, and get on course for a potential title run.
I’m going to take Spann in this one by unanimous decision, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith pulls out a stoppage victory in this one.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Due to my background interviewing and following him for well over a decade, it pains me to say Anthony “Lionheart” Smith’s career is on the ropes this weekend. Ryan Spann has all of the upside in this one, and Smith has none.. Smith already won their first battle, so nothing left to prove there. Spann, on the other hand, gets a chance to avenge his loss. A loss to the tenth-ranked Spann will most certainly put the 35-year-old Smith, who is currently No. 8, outside of the top 10, and that much closer to a potential retirement after his 55th pro fight. It probably was not a great idea for Smith to take this fight, but after the back-to-back losses, there aren’t many options in the top 10. Hopefully, for Smith, he can pull off another win against Spann. If not, he will be nothing more than a gatekeeper until he retires.
Petela: Smith is the clear choice for this question, but Junior Tafa also badly needs a win. He lost his UFC debut to Mohammed Usman, and, while it normally takes three straight losses for a fighter to find himself on the chopping block, newcomers often have a shorter leash. If Tafa doesn’t pull out a win, or at least put on an entertaining slugfest with Parker Porter, he could likely find himself with a pink slip in his locker when the fight is over.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Have you looked at the start time for this event? For most rational people the entire fight card is one long sleeper event. However, an under-the-radar fight is the middleweight clash between Chidi Njokuani and Michal Oleksiejczuk. Njokuani is never in a boring fight, and he will force Oleksiejczuk into a brawl early. With heavy leather flying early, someone is getting put to sleep in this one. Don’t rest your eyes during this one, or you might miss an emphatic finish.
Kuhl: Erin Blanchfield vs. Taila Santos. This fight could be the “Fight of the Night.” Blachfield is only 24 years old, is 11-1 as a pro, has not lost since Feb. 2019, and submitted her last three opponents, including former champion Jessica Andrade. The 30-year-old Santos only has two losses in 21 fights and both of those were split decisions in the UFC. Her last fight was a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko over a year ago. Santos will be looking to get back in the title hunt and Blanchfield is looking to stay undefeated in the Octagon to make a run of her own. This should be a great fight.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: Rinya Nakamura. The 28-year-old Japanese U23 freestyle wrestling world champion is going to be a big problem for the bantamweight division. He is 7-0 as a pro with five knockouts and one submission. In his UFC debut, he knocked out Toshiomi Kazama in just 33 seconds, and he will finish Fernie Garcia on Saturday, en route to a performance bonus. This is a big name to keep an eye on, as Nakamura could end up in the top 10 of the ultra-stacked 135-pound division in under a year.
Petela: Giga Chikadze. This fight between him and Alex Cacares is going to be fun. Both men are elite strikers, though with very different styles. Chikadze has a more conventional kickboxing style whereas Caceres fights more in a Tae Kwon Do style so the distances from which they throw kicks are a bit different. Chikadze will be able to keep the fight at his distance and he will successfully land the patented “Giga kick” to the body of Caceres who won’t have his hands in a good position to block the kick. The body kick TKO will be good enough to score Chikadze a $50K bonus.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Mountain Dew and Slim Jim’s. The Mountain Dew to keep you awake and the Slim Jim’s for an easy protein source that require no labor to prepare. If you’re planning on waking up early for this one, you’re not going to want to get off the couch much so keep a cooler full of Dew and a healthy supply of the meat sticks close by.
Kuhl: In honor of Max Holloway and his native Hawaii, which just suffered a massive disaster with the Maui wildfires, I’m going with a Hawaiian breakfast. While brewing a nice, strong pot of Kona coffee, cook up some loco moco, which is a bed of white rice, topped with a hamburger, a couple over-easy eggs, and some brown gravy. It will be a nice hearty meal that will get you through the morning and all the way to dinner.
Main Card (ESPN+, 8 a.m. ET)
FW: Max Holloway vs. The Korean Zombie
LHW: Anthony Smith vs. Ryan Spann
FW: Giga Chikadze vs. Alex Caceres
BW: Rinya Nakamura vs. Fernie Garcia
Women’s FlyW: Erin Blanchfield vs. Taila Santos
HW: Junior Tafa vs. Parker Porter
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5 a.m. ET)
HW: Waldo Cortes-Acosta vs. Lukasz Brzeski
BW: Toshiomi Kazama vs. Garrett Armfield
MW: Chidi Njokuani vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk
WW: Kenan Song vs. Rolando Bedoya
WW: Yusaku Kinoshita vs. Billy Goff
Women’s FlyW: Na Liang vs. JJ Aldrich
FW: Seung Woo Choi vs. Jarno Errens
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