Jacksonville, Florida, hosts UFC 273, where the co-main event features a championship rematch in the bantamweight division before the main event sees a title fight in the featherweight division.
Thirteen bouts featuring fighters from 11 different countries will go down in the large cage Saturday, with early preliminary action beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern time.
My most recent release of Ilir Latifi against Aleksei Oleinik never saw the light of day. Instead, Oleinik faces short-notice replacement Jared Vanderaa in a heavyweight bout on this slate.
To date, favorites are 72-34-2 (66.6%).
Insight the Octagon profitability for 2022: 5-4 (+ .85 units).
Alexander Volkanovski (-500) vs. Chan Sung Jung (+ 400)
Saturday’s main event features fourth-ranked Jung, “The Korean Zombie,” against champion Volkanovski.
Jung is technically versed in tae kwon do, hapkido, judo and BJJ. He has not only faced a deep and talented pool of UFC opponents, but he’s also served in the Korean military, refining his maturity and mettle.
Suffice it to say, Jung is a focused, driven and gifted athlete, but one who is now 35 and whose body has persevered through a 15-year professional fighting career on top of a full stint in the military.
Jung prefers to strike, so he requires distance in order to measure opponents before lashing at them with kicks, spinning elbows, fists and knees. He has height and arm/leg advantages over Volkanovski, which he’ll need to use when on the feet.
Grappling between the two should be interesting, as each has specialized skills. It’s unclear if Jung has the inclination or cardio to try to compete with the champion at his strength, which is a grappling/wrestling affair.
From the champion’s perspective, this was supposed to be a bout against No. 1 contender Max Holloway. After Holloway was injured, Volkanovski was basically able to choose his opponent, and Jung was the fighter the Aussie decided was his best matchup out of the pool of contenders he had not already dominated.
Though the Zombie has grit, technical ability, toughness, experience and drive, it’s my judgment that he’s past the point of being a top-five featherweight talent.
Unrelenting forward-pressure wrestling/grappling/striking from Volkanovski will be employed to force Jung to work diligently early in this fight. Jung will expend precious energy to try to fend off the determined champion while striving to create enough space for his striking. Volkanovski will try to smother Jung by crowding him, pressing him into the fence and negating the space he needs.
Let’s also recall that Brian Ortega painted the Zombie with his striking and Volkanovski completely dominated Ortega on the feet. While MMA math does not always apply, my handicap is swayed to the champion with the chip on his shoulder.
Total for this fight: 4.5 Over -155
Play: Volkanovski ITD (inside the distance) at + 175
Petr Yan (-460) vs. Aljamain Sterling (+ 370)
This rematch from March 2021 seems like a long time in the making. Sterling has had to overcome surgery as well as unfair criticism for how the first bout transpired. In that first fight, I was quick to jump on the Sterling train. Though that outcome was graded a win, Sterling was in the process of losing a fight he controlled for two rounds before hitting the wall and running out of juice.
That first bout had Sterling as a + 240 underdog and the takeback is even higher now. For those who witnessed the first fight, it’s clear why the market has sided with Yan.
Pound for pound, Yan may be the most effective, dangerous, gifted athlete on the whole roster. He’s earned Master of Sport in both boxing and MMA, with a blue belt in jiu-jitsu for good measure.
Yan is highly intelligent and extremely patient. He processes opponents for minutes in bouts before deciding how he wants to take them apart. Yan’s striking differential is better than + 1.5 strikes per minute. He rejects 89% of opponents’ takedown attempts, while he completes 1.75 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time. Those numbers spell trouble for anyone not able to outperform him or out-condition him.
Sterling’s unorthodox striking nature and his focus on the ability to pace himself will determine his fate. When he was fresh in the first bout, he had Yan on the outside of his strikes and was confounding the Russian with his speed, quickness and quirky movement.
Pressing Sterling back to make sure he expends energy and controlling distance will be critical for Yan. Forcing opponents into retreat mode drains cardio and helps dictate the fight. Once Yan, who seems to gain momentum as bouts wear on, senses that Sterling may be running low on gas, he will surely ratchet up his pressure in order to try to take out Sterling, who he dislikes greatly.
For Yan, this is about maintaining composure and finishing the job he started 13 months ago. He must not let emotions alter his approach. For Sterling, this fight is about pace. He was in control of that first fight for several minutes before his pace sucked him dry, when Yan was able to compromise him.
It’s my take that the market is overlooking Sterling to some degree. I’ll wait until later in the week to determine how I want to approach this fight.
Total in this fight: 4.5 Over -125
Khamzat Chimaev (-800) vs. Gilbert Burns (+ 550)
This fight is not what it seems.
Burns is a perennial lightweight who has had real success at welterweight (170 pounds). Burns is gifted, tough, experienced and game for this test, but the fact remains he is seven years older than his opponent, four inches shorter and has a four-inch reach disadvantage.
The third-degree BJJ black belt is a Sanford MMA fighter who trains with the best athletes in the world. He also has a wealth of experience in mixed martial arts, and more specifically, he’s a world-class grappler.
Burns, the No. 2 ranked welterweight, is a momentous underdog to the 11th-ranked fighter in the division. Chimaev has a total of 10 professional bouts, with four of those in the UFC against athletes who fall short of Burns’ skill. Burns is motivated by the challenge and has been working hard to prepare for this opportunity.
This kid Chimaev is a beast, though.
He’s fought at 170 pounds as well 185, and there’s little doubt that as he matures, he’ll leave welterweights to compete at middleweights and above. Chimaev’s wrestling is world class; his grappling is too. Striking? Chimaev packs power and obtuse speed when striking. Chimaev may be one of the most lethal, dangerous fighters in UFC when considering speed, ferocity, strength, raw talent, insane work ethic resulting in unending cardio mixed in with an abundance of mean.
It will be Chimaev’s striking effectiveness coupled with his wrestling acumen that together will inflict uncertainty on the more experienced Burns. Once Burns is forced to think about how his opponent is attacking him, his improvisation, power and game plan will evaporate. He’ll find himself in a 30-foot cage fending off one of the most complete fighting machines ever constructed at this weight class.
Could Chimaev walk into a submission, a Sunday shot or a flash kick to the kisser? Sure, but more likely this fight will look mighty one-sided with most people wondering why two men of such uneven size are even allowed to compete in the same octagon.
I handicap this bout as uneven based on Burns’ physical size, but with Burns we must remember that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Monitoring as Chimaev has struggled at 170 pounds before.
Total in this fight: 1.5 Over -120
Catch my final releases on GambLou’s “ ’Bout Business Podcast,” which drops Friday afternoons wherever podcasts are offered.