web analytics

Guide to UFC 273: Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie

Getting prepared for UFC action this Saturday? Here’s everything you need to know in our Guide to UFC 273: Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie.

UFC 273
Date: April 9, 2022
Location: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida

Main Card
Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+ PPV

UFC Featherweight Championship: (C) Alexander Volkanovski vs. #4 Chan Sung Jung

Overall Records: Volkanovski 23-1, Jung 17-6
UFC Records: Volkanovski 10-0, Jung 7-3
Last Fight: Volkanovski def. Ortega (title fight)–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21), Jung def. Ige–UDec–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21)
Last Five Fights: Volkanovski 5-0, Jung 3-2
Betting Odds: Volkanovski -720, Jung +500
Background: The main event for the UFC Featherweight Championship sees the champion, Volkanovski, in the midst of a dominant run thru the division, going against a fan favorite in “The Korean Zombie”, who gets his second shot at winning UFC gold. Volkanovski is on a 20-fight win streak, which includes wins in all ten of his UFC bouts, including wins in three straight title fights. He’s making his third title defense after scoring a unanimous decision over Brian Ortega in one of the best UFC title fights of 2021, at UFC 266 in September. That followed wins in two title fights over Max Holloway, and those two were expected to finish their trilogy in March. However, a lingering injury to Holloway forced him out, and some card shuffling saw Jung step in to get a shot that fans of his have been hoping would happen for quite some time. Jung was on the cusp of a title shot, but he suffered a loss to Ortega in October 2020, which led to Ortega’s title shot. Jung rebounded with a great showing in scoring a decision win over Dan Ige in June. He had surgery after the fight and was still recovering when he got the call to be a replacement, and the March date was doable for him, but the move back to April not only gave him a little more time to recover, but more time for a proper training camp. Jung fought for the featherweight title at UFC 163 in August 2013 against Jose Aldo, but suffered a separated shoulder during the fight and it ended up being stopped due to the injury in the fourth round. He served his mandatory military time afterwards, and has gone 4-2 since he returned to the sport in 2017. Jung has long been one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and has scored finishes over the likes of Dustin Poirier, Frankie Edgar, Dennis Bermudez and Renato Moicano.

How they match up: This should be such a fun and exciting fight and is a real interesting match-up. Volkanovski is a high-volume striker who is very accurate and has knockout power in his hands. Jung isn’t as active when it comes to landing volume, but he’s just as powerful and lands good counter shots. Volkanovski does a great job at mixing in leg kicks with his fast combinations, and he’s going to be having to push the pace as Jung will want to fight at a methodical pace. Both are solid ground fighters should it go to the mat. Volkanovski is the better takedown artist of the two, but he’s only successful on 34% of his attempts. Jung has solid takedown defense, defending 77% of takedowns attempted on him. Jung is also the better submission artist, and has had some unique submission wins, including a twister against Leonard Garcia, and he did submit Dustin Poirier in the past. Because of that, I see Volkanovski wanting to keep this on the feet and keep it at a fast pace with lots of pressure. Both are capable of knocking the other out, but we’ve never really seen Volkanovski in any kind of trouble. Neither man is going to have trouble going 25 minutes, and I see this fight going the distance. In the end, it will be the volume and kicks and combinations that make the difference and Volkanovski ends the night still the champion.

What’s at stake: The UFC Featherweight Championship is the big prize at stake. Also at stake is Volkanovski’s spot as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He’s currently ranked third in the pound-for-pound rankings, but a loss likely sends him nearly off of the list. The winner likely heads to a showdown with Max Holloway, which, for Volkanovski, would be the third time they fought. However, if Jung were to win and fight Holloway, that would be a fresh match-up and is a dream fight for many fights. This main event is high stakes with so much on the line.

Pick: Volkanovski

UFC Bantamweight Championship- (C) Aljamain Sterling vs. (IC) Petr Yan

Overall Records: Sterling 20-3, Yan 16-2
UFC Records: Sterling 12-3, Yan 8-1
Last Fight: Sterling def. Yan (title fight)–R4 DQ–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Yan def. Sandhagen (interim title fight)–UDec–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Sterling 5-0, Yan 4-1
Betting Odds: Sterling +350, Yan -475
Background: The rematch that people have been waiting over a year for finally takes place as an Undisputed UFC Bantamweight Champion will be determined when champion Sterling battles interim champion Yan. The bad blood has been simmering for 13 months between the two after Sterling became the champion at UFC 259 in March 2021 when Yan was disqualified in the fourth round after landing an illegal knee to the head of a downed Sterling. They were expected to have an immediate rematch, but lingering neck issues got worse for Sterling after that fight and he had to have surgery that he had been putting off for a while. They were scheduled to rematch in October, but Sterling wasn’t cleared yet from the surgery, and Yan instead fought Cory Sandhagen for an interim title at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi. Yan won the title in a competitive fight that was one of the best fights of 2021 to become the interim champion, and setting back up the rematch. Sterling comes in as the winner of six straight fights, and while many question the way in which he won the title, he is a worthy champion. Yan has shown to be one of the best fighters in the sport, as if you exclude the Sterling loss due to it being a dumb mistake, he’s won all of his other appearances inside the Octagon, and the only blemish on his record is a split decision loss to Magomed Magomedov.

How they match up: When looking back at the first fight, especially the way it ended, there’s a lot Sterling could learn from it. He pushed a fast pace early on in that fight, which hurt him after a solid first round as he zapped his gas tank quickly, and Yan took over until the unfortunate end. Sterling is going to be the bigger man of the two and he does have a four-inch reach advantage. Yan is a tremendous kickboxer and one of the best boxers in the sport. He does land with high volume, but he also leaves himself open for getting hit often, even though he has good defense on the feet. Sterling’s defense in the feet might be a little bit better. The key difference in this fight will come to the takedown. Sterling is the best wrestler Yan has fought, but it was actually Yan who had far more takedowns in the first fight, as he was 7-for-7 while Sterling was 1-for-17 in the takedown department. Now, that had to do with Sterling’s pace and him getting tired quickly, and if he slows it down, this could go different. However, I don’t see him being able to get past Yan on the feet. I expect Yan to mix in his kicks as well as his crisp combinations to the body, wearing Sterling down en route to a late finish or a decision. Sterling’s best path is to blitz Yan early like he did against Cory Sandhagen, but I see that ultimately failing like it did in the first fight.

What’s at stake: Not only is the undisputed UFC Bantamweight Championship on the line, it’s a chance for both men to prove that they are truly better than the other. Yan was well on his way to defeating Sterling in the first fight before his lapse of judgment in landing the illegal knee, so this is his chance to right that wrong and show that he is truly the best bantamweight in the world. For Sterling, it’s a chance for redemption and a chance to silence his critics who have been attacking him for over a year for taking what they call a “cheap victory” and the title. It’s Sterling’s chance to prove that he is a legitimate champion and to prove that he is better than Yan. The stakes are high in this one, and I say they’re much higher for Sterling.

Pick: Yan

Welterweights: #2 Gilbert Burns vs. #11 Khamzat Chimaev

Overall Records: Burns 20-4, Chimaev 10-0
UFC Records: Burns 13-4, Chimaev 4-0
Last Fight: Burns def. Thompson–UDec–UFC 264 (7/10/21), Chimaev def. Jingliang–R1 SUB–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Burns 4-1, Chimaev 5-0
Betting Odds: Burns +350, Chimaev -475
Background: It’s arguably the most interesting fight on the card and the ultimate test to see if Chimaev is ready for the elite competition when he takes on his toughest test to date in Burns. Burns is a former title challenger, losing in a title fight to Kamaru Usman just a little over a year ago, but he’s been tearing through the welterweight division otherwise. He’s won his five other fights at 170 lbs., remains ranked second in the division, and has won eight of his last ten fights overall. He’s coming off a win over Stephen Thompson in July, and after being one of the more active welterweights, which helped him get a title shot, coming in on a nine-month layoff could play a difference for Burns. Burns has scored 14 of his 20 wins by finish. Chimaev comes into this fight with a perfect 10-0 record, including a 4-0 mark since his UFC signing. He took the promotion by storm with two wins over the course of ten days, and then following that with his third win less than two months later. He then dealt with some serious issues from COVID-19, and ended up out of action for over a year. That time off didn’t derail the hype train, as he returned in October with a dominant first-round submission win over Li Jingliang. This is a massive step up in competition for Chimaev, who has claimed he is going to “smash everyone”, but it could put him right into the title picture if he’s victorious. Chimaev has scored all ten of his wins by stoppage.

How they match up: This is going to be a huge test for both men, really. Burns has been impressive at welterweight, but he’s fought a lot of opponents in the twilight of their careers. Chimaev has demolished two opponents no longer with the promotion, though his last win was a high quality win. Both have knockout power on their feet, but the question is whether Burns will be able to hit Chimaev. In Chimaev’s four fights, he’s only had one significant strike landed on him, and only two total strikes landed on him. Jingliang is a legitimately ranked contender, and he didn’t even land a strike on Chimaev. Odds are in Burns’ favor in that he’s going to land, just because of his talent, but that isn’t necessarily a given. Chimaev is excellent at applying pressure, which is something Burns hasn’t really dealt with at welterweight. He didn’t fare too well when pressured against larger opponents at lightweight. Chimaev’s wrestling is outstanding, and while Burns is world class on the mat, he can be put on his back and controlled from the top. Burns needs to be the one pushing the pace and he should look to land to the body to try and slow Chimaev down. Chimaev’s chin is untested, but Burns might not be able to get inside the length and reach of Chimaev without applying pressure. Ultimately, this looks to be Chimaev’s fight to lose. That’s not a knock on how good Burns is, it’s a credit to how talented Chimaev is. I see Chimaev getting it down and doing his customary smashing en route to stopping it in the first.

What’s at stake: This is a huge fight for both men for many reasons. Burns is eager to be the guy to derail the Chimaev hype train and hand him his first loss, and the condition he has himself in shows that he’s ready for this. I don’t see him getting a rematch with Usman with a win, but it would go a long way towards possibly getting a second shot at the title. For Chimaev, a win would have everyone ready to put him in a title fight against Usman. To me, it depends on if and how he wins. If he runs through Burns and finishes him in the first round, you have to give him a shot. If he wins and it’s a decision in a close fight, you give him more time. If he loses, it’s not a loss that hurts him in the long run, but it would take the bloom off the rose. He needs to win this if he’s going to carve out his legacy and prove he’s worth the hype. This is a massive fight for both men.

Pick: Chimaev

Women’s Strawweights: #5 Mackenzie Dern vs. #6 Tecia Torres

Overall Records: Dern 11-2, Torres 13-5
UFC Records: Dern 6-2, Torres 9-5
Last Fight: Rodriguez def. Dern–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21), Torres def. Hill–UDec–UFC 265 (8/7/21)
Last Five Fights: Dern 4-1, Torres 3-2
Betting Odds: Dern -120, Torres +100
Background: A pivotal strawweight bout that could have future title implications on the line takes place here as Dern looks to get back into the win column against the streaking Torres. Dern was on the cusp of a title shot, perhaps even just one win away, when she stepped inside the Octagon across from Marina Rodriguez in October. The night didn’t go the right way for her, as she dropped a unanimous decision to Rodriguez, ending her four-fight win streak. Dern is one of the best submission artists and ground fighters in the sport, and seven of her eleven wins have come by submission. Torres comes into this fight riding a three-fight win streak that has solidly gotten her back into the higher spots of the division and back into the title picture. She was on the cusp of title contention after starting her UFC career 6-1, with the lone loss coming to current champion Rose Namajunas. However, she fell out of contention and had her UFC career in question with four straight losses, though they came to three former champions and the current top contender. Her wins over Brianna Van Buren, Sam Hughes and Angela Hill have gotten her back to sixth in the rankings.

How they match up: This is actually a very interesting match-up and one that isn’t quite getting the attention that it probably should. Dern is very aggressive on the feet and she has some power, but she’s not technically great. Torres is a technical master on the feet, mixing in fluid combinations, but she likely won’t be able to match the power of Dern. Torres has solid footwork and she should use movement to keep Dern away from looking for the takedown. Torres does have good takedown defense and is the more consistent wrestler. She also has really good fight IQ and isn’t going to be baited into going to the mat with Dern. Dern is going to have to utilize scrambles to get Torres down. If Dern is able to get Torres to the mat and keep her there, we all know about Dern’s world-class submission skills. Dern does seem to have a chip on her shoulder coming into this fight, wanting to show that it was the knee injury she was suffering as the reason she didn’t perform all that well against Rodriguez. It’s going to come down to aggression against speed, and I think the aggression of Dern edges her over the speed of Torres.

What’s at stake: I firmly believe the winner of this fight goes into a title eliminator bout for their next fight. Both would have earned it after this fight, as the winner is a clear top-five fighter at 115 lbs. and a legitimate title contender. Both ladies are fighters many expected to fight for UFC gold some day, and it’s taken both of them time, but they have a chance with a win here, while a loss sets both back and could put them in danger of gatekeeper status. This is a big fight for both ladies.

Pick: Dern

Lightweights: Vinc Pichel vs. Mark Madsen

Overall Records: Pichel 14-2, Madsen 11-0
UFC Records: Pichel 7-2, Madsen 3-0
Last Fight: Pichel def. Hubbard–UDec–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21), Madsen def. Guida–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21)
Last Five Fights: Pichel 4-1, Madsen 5-0
Betting Odds: Pichel -125, Madsen +105
Background: An interesting lightweight battle kicks off the main card as veteran Pichel looks to be the first man to hand a loss to Madsen in his professional career. Pichel has long been one of the more underrated fighters in the lightweight division. He started his career 7-0 before getting on the cast of season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, the live edition of TUF. He won three fights on the show but was eliminated in the semi-finals by Al Iaquinta. He made his UFC debut in December 2012, but it was his first career loss, coming to Rustam Khabilov. He’s since gone 7-1, including wins in his last three fights. Eight of his 14 wins have been by knockout. Madsen, the silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling in the 2016 Summer Olympics, is looking to remain undefeated in his mixed martial arts career as he enters this fight a perfect 11-0. He’s 3-0 since signing his UFC deal, scoring wins over Danilo Belluardo, Austin Hubbard, and, most recently, Clay Guida in August. The fight against Guida was a close fight that Madsen won by split decision, just barely keeping his record perfect. Six of his eleven career wins have come via a finish.

How they match up: In a battle of two older dudes, this fight might end up coming down to a game of pace. Madsen is aggressive and fights fast, but it comes at the expense of his gas tank as he’s slowed down late in his two recent outings. Pichel tends to start slow and come on strong as the fight goes on, showing his strong stuff in the last two rounds. Pichel has power in his hands and has really good leg kicks, something that Madsen struggled at defending against Guida. Madsen has a decent jab and he throws leg kicks, but not with much effort or power. He mainly uses those two strikes to set up his wrestling. Pichel doesn’t have the best takedown defense, only defending 25% of takedowns attempted on him, but he is very good at being able to get up if he’s taken down. Pichel also doesn’t expend a lot of energy on the mat and will beat opponents up in the clinch. Madsen doesn’t have the gas tank to endure the type of grind that Pichel is going to put him through, and while this will be an interesting fight, it could end up being ugly. Ugly fights tend to go the way of Pichel, and I see this being no different.

What’s at stake: Both of these guys are among the oldest in the division, with Pichel being 39 and Madsen being 37. Despite their records, it’s hard to see them as title contenders, mainly due to age and the fact that neither are fighting consistently with this being just the second time each has fought since the calendar turned to 2021. However, both have shown solid skills and the ability to compete at the highest level despite having to often fight younger opposition, and they both can be counted on to have some decent fights. They’re not gatekeepers for title contention, but they’re both guys younger opponents need to beat to get into the rankings, so there’s value in both. Neither will be gone with a loss, but don’t expect either to fight a top-ten opponent with a win.

Pick: Pichel

Preliminary Card
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Welterweights: Ian Garry vs. Darian Weeks

Overall Records: Garry 8-0, Weeks 5-1
UFC Records: Garry 1-0, Weeks 0-1
Last Fight: Garry def. Williams–R1 KO–UFC 268 (11/6/21), Barberena def. Weeks–UDec–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21)
Last Five Fights: Garry 5-0, Weeks 4-1
Betting Odds: Garry -380, Weeks +290
Background: One of the most interesting prospects on UFC’s roster makes his second appearance inside the Octagon as Irish sensation Garry takes on Weeks in a welterweight battle. Garry made his debut under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden at UFC 268 in November, and it was successful as he scored a first-round knockout of Jordan Williams. He then cut a great post-fight promo about being the second wave of Irish fighters here to take over the promotion, and his nickname of “The Future” is very fitting. He’s undefeated at a perfect 8-0, just turned 24 shortly after his debut, and has scored six of his wins via a finish. Weeks is also making his second appearance inside the Octagon as he looks to bounce back from a loss in his debut. It was a debut that he took on short notice in December, but he came up short in a valiant effort against Bryan Barberena. That ended the five-fight win streak Weeks was on to start his career, which saw him score finishes in all five of those wins. Weeks also had an extensive amateur career, going 15-3 over the span of just over two years, plus he has pro boxing experience.

How they match up: Garry is a physically big welterweight who is still growing, and welterweight may not end up being his end destination. He’s a knockout artist and a submission threat. Williams did show some stuff that Garry needed to work on, so he moved his camp from Ireland to Sanford MMA in Florida. He has great long-range striking, and backs it up with solid wrestling and grappling. Weeks is well-rounded on his feet, athletic, tough and durable. However, he isn’t going to be able to match Garry on the feet, and definitely won’t be able to match Garry in the wrestling or grappling. Even while being well-rounded, he is limited on the feet in comparison to Garry. This is a set-up fight for Garry to showcase himself, and while Weeks will bring him a fight, unless there is some sort of lapse in Garry, I see another first-round finish for the Irishman.

What’s at stake: Garry is one of the best prospects in the sport, and this feels like a fight designed for him to get another impressive win. It sucks for Weeks that it feels like he’s being fed here and is likely going to start his UFC career with two straight losses, which will put him in a must-win situation for his next fight. This is going to be a showcase for Garry, and it’s just a matter of time as to when he gets the finish, and the sky is the limit for him.

Pick: Garry

Heavyweights: #8 Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. #10 Marcin Tybura

Overall Records: Rozenstruik 12-3, Tybura 22-7
UFC Records: Rozenstruik 6-3, Tybura 9-6
Last Fight: Blaydes def. Rozenstruik–UDec–UFC 266 (9/25/21), Volkov def. Tybura–UDec–UFC 267 (10/30/21)
Last Five Fights: Rozenstruik 2-3, Tybura 4-1
Betting Odds: Rozenstruik -155, Tybura +135
Background: A pair of heavyweights looking to avoid the dreaded gatekeeper status and get back into the win column battle here as Rozenstruik and Tybura battle. Rozenstruik took the heavyweight division by storm during the early stages of his UFC career. He started his career with a 10-0 record, which included a 4-0 UFC start that saw him win all four by knockout, including a last-second knockout of Alistair Overeem. However, it’s been a struggle for him since as he’s lost three of his last five, including a decision loss to Curtis Blaydes at UFC 266 in September. It’s not all doom for Rozenstruik, as his other two losses came to Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane, but he needs a win to remain in contention. Eleven of his 12 wins have come by knockout. Tybura has had a roller coaster of a UFC career. He signed as the M-1 Heavyweight Champion with a 13-1 record and debuted in April 2016, but suffered a loss to Tim Johnson. He then went on to three straight, but followed that with losses in four of his next five, which almost got him cut from the roster. He bounced back with five straight wins, but is now coming off a loss to Alexander Volkov at UFC 267 in October. Tybura has scored 15 of his 22 wins via a stoppage.

How they match up: While Rozenstruik is physically imposing, it should be noted that Tybura is likely going to be the bigger fighter inside the Octagon. Tybura is also the higher-volume striker of the two, more accurate on the feet, and has better defense. Rozenstruik has the power edge, which is important because Tybura’s chin is questionable at times. Tybura has done well against power punchers in his recent outings, being able to weather any storm on the feet and utilize his wrestling approach. Rozenstruik has solid takedown defense, but he can be taken down and controlled on the mat. Tybura also won’t have to worry about Rozenstruik scoring any takedowns- he has yet to do so during his UFC career. If Tybura can get it to the mat, his top game and submissions could see him get the finish. However, I think there’s a level in the heavyweight division that Tybura stalls at, and Rozenstruik is right at that level. I see Rozenstruik getting himself out of his funk and scoring a brutal knockout win to keep himself right on the outside of the title picture.

What’s at stake: The winner of this fight stays just on the outside of the title picture, but definitely still in the hunt. However, the loser is likely to never find themselves in a title fight and will be firmly established in that gatekeeper role. I think there is still more upside for Rozenstruik, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together recently. Tybura is a quality fighter who has bounced back from rough times. This could be a quick finish or a boring decision, but it’s a real must-win for both.

Pick: Rozenstruik

Women’s Bantamweights: #4 Aspen Ladd vs. #7 Raquel Pennington

Overall Records: Ladd 9-2, Pennington 13-8
UFC Records: Ladd 4-2, Pennington 10-5
Last Fight: Dumont def. Ladd–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 53 (10/16/21), Pennington def. Chiasson–R2 SUB–UFC On ESPN+ 57 (12/18/21)
Last Five Fights: Ladd 3-2, Pennington 4-1
Betting Odds: Ladd +155, Pennington -180
Background: A women’s bantamweight bout that wasn’t originally scheduled for this card sees Ladd moving back down to 135 lbs. as she takes on late replacement Pennington in a pivotal bout. Ladd was originally slated to fight Irene Aldana in this bout, but Aldana had to pull out due to an arm injury, and Pennington steps in on about two weeks’ notice. Ladd is moving back down to the bantamweight division as she looks to rebound from a loss to Norma Dumont in October in a featherweight fight. Ladd’s issues at the scale in making 135 lbs. have been well documented, and will be something to look out for at the scales. If she can make it and not have any issues, she has performed well at the weight, going 4-1 since her UFC signing. However, injuries have also side-tracked her, and she’s looking for her first win since December 2019. Pennington, a former title challenger, comes into this fight with some great momentum as she has won three straight, and four of her last five overall. She’s coming off a second-round submission win over Macy Chiasson in December, her first finish in over six years, and a win could put her right back into a title fight.

How they match up: Ladd’s last performance was easily her worst to date, and, no offense to Dumont, but Pennington is way more talented than Dumont is. If that Ladd shows up in this one, Pennington is going to have a flawless win. Pennington, despite what her record may show, has clearly progressed into a very solid fighter, especially during her recent win streak. She’s finally putting everything together, mixing a sound striking attack with some good wrestling and good submissions. Pennington likes to fight in the clinch and make it ugly, and Ladd had difficulty in the clinch against Dumont. Ladd is usually aggressive and generally has great wrestling, but her flat showing in her last fight leaves a ton of questions. Whether it’s because of the coaching in that fight, which got tons of questions, or whether all of the weight cuts have taken a lot out of Ladd, it may be signs of being done as a top-level fighter. Pennington is consistent, if anything, and her outing against Chiasson was a career-best performance. It’s hard to pick Ladd until we see where she is, and this is a tough match-up even if she shows up at her best. Pennington’s grind and work in the clinch is going to wear Ladd down en route to Pennington getting the decision.

What’s at stake: This is an important fight when it comes to the title picture in the bantamweight division. The rematch between Julianna Pena and Amanda Nunes looks to be happening in the summer, but there is no clear top contender after that. This fight would go a long way to establishing who might be next, though it could be a year and another fight away for either to getting that title shot. It’s a big fight for both, probably even more so for Ladd, who was thought of as a future champion until the injuries and weight issues slowed her progression.

Pick: Pennington

Welterweights: Mickey Gall vs. Mike Malott

Overall Records: Gall 7-4, Malott 7-1-1
UFC Records: Gall 6-4, Malott 0-0
Last Fight: Morono def. Gall–UDec–UFC On ESPN 31 (12/4/21), Malott def. Smotritsky–R1 SUB–Dana White’s Contender Series 42 (10/5/21)
Last Five Fights: Gall 2-3, Malott 3-1-1
Betting Odds: Gall +155, Malott -180
Background: A welterweight bout between a veteran who has had nearly his entire career transpire inside the Octagon against a newcomer kicks off the featured prelims as Gall welcomes Malott for his debut. Gall will be fighting for the 12th time in his career, and 11th time as a member of UFC’s roster. He debuted in February 2016, beating Mike Jackson to lead to be the opponent for CM Punk’s UFC debut. He defeated Punk, then beat Sage Northcutt to move to 4-0, with all wins by submission. He’s struggled since, going 3-4 and rotating wins-and-losses. History says he’s due for a win, and six of his seven wins have come by submission. Malott is best known as a coach at Team Alpha Male and is often in the corner of fighters from the camp, but he gets his UFC debut after scoring a first-round submission win on Dana White’s Contender Series in October. It was his third straight win and seventh career win, with the lone loss of his career coming to Hakeem Dawodu, a solid featherweight prospect. Malott has scored all seven of his wins by finish, with three by knockout and four by submission.

How they match up: Gall is someone we’ve seen nearly the entire career of, and his progression has been good, although it has seemed slow and possibly peaked. His striking has gotten better, but he still relies on trying to knock opponents out with one punch instead of stringing together combinations. His strong suit is still his grappling, and he’s never lost two straight. Malott has only fought twice since 2017, and his cage time is about two-and-a-half-minutes in those two outings combined. He’s done a ton of coaching, but that doesn’t always translate well when it comes to actually competing. He doesn’t tend to force the pace and he’s a hittable opponent. This likely comes down to a ground battle, and I favor Gall there as he’s shown to be a solid grappler with some good submissions. Gall has good conditioning, and the lack of fighting from Malott leaves questions about his gas tank. I like Gall to win a decision in a fight that could be uneventful.

What’s at stake: Both men have hit the age of 30, so if they want to contend for a title, now is the time to make a run. Gall is really in a must-win fight, as his struggles have many questioning whether he peaked early in his career. Malott is making his UFC debut at a late stage in his career, most of which has to do with his constant coaching, but he’s a solid addition who can cause some trouble for those wanting to break into the welterweight rankings and title picture. This should be a really solid fight between two guys who are very skilled.

Pick: Gall

Early Preliminary Card
Start Time: 6:00 p.m. ET, 3:00 p.m. PT
Where to watch: ESPN+

Heavyweights: Aleksei Oleinik vs. Jared Vanderaa

Overall Records: Oleinik 59-16-1, Vanderaa 12-7
UFC Records: Oleinik 8-7, Vanderaa 1-3
Last Fight: Spivac def. Oleinik–UDec–UFC On ESPN 25 (6/19/21), Arlovski def. Vanderaa–SpDec–UFC 271 (2/12/22)
Last Five Fights: Oleinik 2-3, Vanderaa 2-3
Betting Odds: Oleinik -105, Vanderaa -115
Background: A heavyweight bout that came together on short notice takes place here as Oleinik still searches for his 60th professional win, this time against short notice replacement Vanderaa. Oleinik was supposed to fight Ilir Latifi on the Columbus card on 3/26, but that fight was cancelled hours before it was supposed to happen due to medical issues for Latifi. It was re-booked for this card, but Latifi had to pull out again a few days later as he was still dealing with those medical issues, with Vanderaa taking the fight on about ten days’ notice. Oleinik is trying to end his three-fight losing skid, which has seen him drop fights to Derrick Lewis, Chris Daukaus and Serghei Spivac. The long-time veteran of the sport, who has been competing since November 1996, is fighting for the 77th time, going for his 60th win. 54 of his 59 wins have come by finish, with 46 coming by submission. Vanderaa will be fighting for the second time in 2022 as he looks to end a two-fight losing skid himself. He was last seen inside the Octagon in February, where he dropped a split decision to another long-time veteran, Andrei Arlovski, at UFC 271. Vanderaa has lost three of his four fights since his UFC signing, so he’s in need of a win here. Ten of his 12 wins have been by finish.

How they match up: While it feels like age has finally caught up to Oleinik, this is a winnable fight for him. Vanderaa hasn’t shown much inside the Octagon during his four appearances. He likes to grind fights, which was effective during his regional days, but going to the ground with Oleinik is playing with fire. Oleinik wants to go to the ground with his opponents, and he prefers to be on the bottom where he can set up his famous Ezekiel choke. Oleinik doesn’t have much in the way of conditioning, so he needs to get the win inside the first round, otherwise it’s going to be a long night for him. Vanderaa can go the distance, but he gets tired as well. This could turn into a very ugly fight if it goes past about the seven-minute mark. Vanderaa is on the level of opponents that Oleinik has made easy work of with in submitting, and I see this being the spot where the veteran picks up his 60th win.

What’s at stake: Oleinik doesn’t have a lot of time left in the sport, as he’s approaching his 45th birthday and has been fighting for 26 years. He’s always been a solid fighter, but with his age and the fact he’s 2-5 over his last seven, it’s a little surprising he’s still on the roster, but they seem like they want to let him go out on his own terms. It wouldn’t surprise me if he retires once he hits that 60 win mark, which could happen here. Vanderaa is likely on his second UFC deal, and being willing to take short-notice fights like he has might be the reason he’s gotten another chance despite his 1-3 record, but he needs a win or there’s a chance he’s fighting for a roster spot in his next fight. This is really a must-win for both men.

Pick: Oleinik

Middleweights: Anthony Hernandez vs. Josh Fremd

Overall Records: Hernandez 8-2 1 NC, Fremd 9-2
UFC Records: Hernandez 2-2, Fremd 0-0
Last Fight: Hernandez def. Vieira–R2 SUB–UFC 258 (2/13/21), Fremd def. Bauman–R2 SUB–FAC 12 (2/6/22)
Last Five Fights: Hernandez 2-2 1 NC, Fremd 4-1
Betting Odds: Hernandez -190, Fremd +160
Background: A lot of changes in this middleweight bout took place, with Hernandez seeing the third different opponent he was scheduled to fight as he welcomes the debuting Fremd on short notice. Hernandez was originally slated to fight Albert Duraev, but he pulled out due to a rib injury. He was then going to fight Dricus Du Plessis, but some card shuffling ended with Hernandez taking on Fremd, who is debuting on about 12 days’ notice. It doesn’t matter to Hernandez, who is fighting for the first time since February 2021, where he pulled off one of the most stunning finishes of the year, submitting five-time Jiu-Jitsu world champion Rodolfo Vieira in the second round at UFC 258. He’s looking to get a groove going, as he’s rotated wins-and-losses over his four UFC appearances, but he’s yet to go the distance inside the Octagon. Fremd was signed after fighting in front of Dana White on a recent edition of Lookin’ For A Fight, and debuts having won two straight and seven of his last eight. He’s a fairly big middleweight, and seven of his nine professional wins have come by stoppage, with four knockouts and three submissions.

How they match up: This is not a knock on Fremd’s skills, but he is the easiest opponent Hernandez has been matched up with for this fight. Fremd is a solid prospect as a tall and physical middleweight with an effective wrestling and grappling game. Hernandez has solid power in his hands and Fremd does lack some striking defense at times. Fremd does like to pressure opponents, but Hernandez fights well when being pressured. Hernandez likes to go to work on the mat, and as evidenced by his submission of Vieira, he has great skills on the mat. Fremd does tend to leave a lot of openings, and Hernandez is going to exploit them, including cracking Fremd early. I see Hernandez rocking Fremd early, then getting him to the mat and submitting him inside of the first five minutes.

What’s at stake: Hernandez looked ready to capitalize on that stunning upset of Vieira last year, but injuries and inactivity have slowed him down to a 14-month layoff. He’s just 2-2 during his UFC tenure, and a win would move him close to fighting ranked opposition, while a loss could put him fighting to stay on the roster in his next fight, so this is an important fight for him. Fremd has lots of potential, but this is his debut and on short notice, so a loss won’t be held against him all that much. An impressive debut, however, and a win could see him quickly vault up towards high-level competition.

Pick: Hernandez

Women’s Strawweights: Piera Rodriguez vs. Kay Hansen

Overall Records: Rodriguez 7-0, Hansen 7-5
UFC Records: Rodriguez 0-0, Hansen 1-2
Last Fight: Rodriguez def. Machado–UDec–Dana White’s Contender Series 44 (10/19/21), Jasudavicius def. Hansen–UDec–UFC 270 (1/22/22)
Last Five Fights: Rodriguez 5-0, Hansen 3-2
Betting Odds: Rodriguez -110, Hansen -110
Background: A debuting fighter taking on an opponent who is in need of a win takes place here in the strawweight division as Rodriguez makes her UFC debut against Hansen. Rodriguez was signed off the most recent edition of Dana White’s Contender Series, where she scored a unanimous decision over Valesca Machado in an exciting bout in October. That kept Rodriguez undefeated in her career, moving her to 7-0. She’s scored five of those wins by knockout. Hansen has had an up-and-down career thus far. She signed her UFC deal after starting her career 6-3, but impressed with a submission win over Jinh Yu Frey in her UFC debut in June 2020. She then dropped her next fight against Cory McKenna in November 2020. She took time off after developing an eating disorder and wanting to get mentally and physically back to fighting condition. She returned in January, at flyweight, but dropped a decision to Jasmine Jasudavicius. Hansen moves back down to strawweight for this one as she looks to end her two-fight losing skid.

How they match up: This will be a battle of striker against grappler in this one. Rodriguez is better on the feet in mixing all of her strikes and has more power, but she tends to be flat footed at times. Hansen will be looking to bully Rodriguez with pressure and fighting in the clinch and with the takedowns. She’s the clear better fighter on the mat, though Rodriguez has shown some solid wrestling ability. Hansen’s weight is a question mark, and even if she makes it, whether she’s able to recover safely remains to be seen. I think this fight will stay on the feet, which is where Rodriguez will need to keep it, and she’ll do enough to win on the scorecards.

What’s at stake: Rodriguez wants to keep her undefeated record and have an impressive debut, and a win here would quickly establish her as a solid prospect at strawweight. Hansen wants to be the one to hand Rodriguez her first loss, while showing that her issues are behind her and that she’s ready to live up to the potential she showed after her UFC debut win. It’s also a pivotal fight for Hansen in that a third straight loss could see her contract not be renewed and her back on the regional scene trying to work her way back here.

Pick: Rodriguez

Bantamweights: Julio Arce vs. Daniel Santos

Overall Records: Arce 17-5, Santos 10-1
UFC Records: Arce 4-3, Santos 0-0
Last Fight: Yadong def. Arce–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 55 (11/13/21), Santos def. Nizambek–R1 SUB–Brave CF 32 (12/14/19)
Last Five Fights: Arce 2-3, Santos 4-1
Betting Odds: Arce -190, Santos +160
Background: The night kicks off with one of the most exciting and interesting match-ups on the card as Arce welcomes the debuting Santos in what could be an early contender for “Fight Of The Night” in bantamweight action. Arce is an action fighter who got his UFC career off to a good start with two straight wins, putting his record at 15-2 at the time. It’s been up-and-down since then, as he’s rotated losses-and-wins over his last five, going 2-3, and is coming off a loss to Song Yadong in November. History says he’s due for a win. Santos makes his long-awaited UFC debut after signing with the promotion last year, but having multiple fights cancelled. He hasn’t fought since scoring a submission win in December 2019, and comes in having won ten of his eleven professional fights. He’s a highly-touted prospect from the Chute Boxe Academy, and seven of his ten wins have been by finish.
How they match up: This fight should be a brawl. Santos is pure action and intensity on the feet, while Arce has yet to be in a fight he didn’t like. Santos hasn’t fought in a while, so there is a potential for ring rust. Arce is coming off of being knocked out for the first time in his career, so it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts and if the chin is still there. Santos is flashy on the feet and likes his spinning attacks, and he is very powerful. Arce has better movement on his feet and is just as powerful, and could easily put Santos to sleep just as much as Santos could put him to sleep. I don’t see this fight going to the mat, but in the odd chance it does, Santos is more skilled on the ground, though Arce has great takedown defense. In the end, it’s going to come down to the action on the feet. They’re both going to rock each other, and either Santos finishes Arce or Arce wins on the scorecards. I’m going with Santos getting the finish.
What’s at stake: Arce is really in a position where he needs a win, as a loss would put him 2-4 over his last six and in danger of being put on the chopping block. He’s an exciting fighter who has exciting fights, though, so his leash is a little longer, plus he’s very skilled as well. Santos has lots of potential and is looking to quickly establish himself as a threat at 135 lbs., and a finish here would do just that. This is an exciting fight, especially considering it’s going to kick things off in Jacksonville.
Pick: Santos

Support the Fight Game Media Network on Patreon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *