Best bets for UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs. The Korean Zombie

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The UFC vacation on Fight Island continues Saturday on ESPN+  with “Ortega vs. The Korean Zombie,” a terrific clash of top-five talent in the highly competitive featherweight division. This card features fighters from 10 countries competing in 12 bouts.

Chan Sung Jung -170 vs. Brian Ortega + 150, featherweight (145 pounds), main event

Many UFC fans are aware of Ortega, especially after his devastating finish of Frankie Edgar in March 2018. Nine months later, Ortega faced Max Holloway for the featherweight championship in a fight that displayed Ortega’s tremendous toughness as well his substandard strike defense.

Ortega came from humble beginnings and has scratched from nothing to being the No. 4-ranked fighter in this division. As I assess his fight arsenal, however, I can’t help but feel that he has been somewhat overestimated based on that highlight KO of Edgar as well as some of the peripheral activities with which he has been involved the last several months.

Ortega’s forte is in BJJ, and he’s a savant at its application. But all fights begin on the feet, so the Ortega plan of action calls for taking this bout to the mat. To execute that, he’ll have to overcome his substantial time away from the octagon as well as a very capable opponent.

Ortega’s offensive striking is functional but not explosive, precise or fluid. His defense is his biggest area of concern, as was highlighted in that fight against Holloway.

Jung, “the Korean Zombie,” is the second-ranked featherweight contender. He is similar to many natural-born combat specialists from Russia who are bred and trained to become masters at hand-to-hand combat. He is decorated in judo, hapkido, BJJ and taekwondo.

“Zombie” is a misnomer as Jung is a mature, level-headed individual as opposed to the bloodthirsty image his nickname implies. In 2014, he interrupted his career for two years to serve in South Korea’s military, which showed his maturity and selflessness. This is a solid young man outside the cage and a bred destroyer inside it.

Jung is primarily a stand-up fighter who practices aggressive forward striking. But at times he can be wild with that attack, which can expose him to damage from capable counterstriking opponents — which Ortega is not.

The intrigue is how Ortega will manage a much more complete fighter in Jung. Jung will be able to compete with Ortega on the floor but will strive to utilize his 77% effective takedown defense to prevent the fight from getting there.

Jung must manage space against Ortega, and though he’s the shorter fighter, he’ll own a 3-inch reach advantage. That will allow him to target strikes and kicks on an opponent who permits an exorbitant 7.3 significant strikes per minute.

Jung opened -220, which is a fair opening number. I believe it quite probable that Ortega’s movie-star looks, his beer commercials and the exposure he received from working with Halle Berry just after his Edgar domination have the market reacting favorably to Ortega.

Jung ITD (inside the distance), priced + 100, is the recommendation.

Jung -170 as Leg 1 of a two-team parlay can be used for those who can’t obtain the ITD.

The total is lined: 2.5 Under -120.

Ciryl Gane -540 vs. Ante Delija + 440, heavyweight (265 pounds)

Gane is the next heavyweight phenom. How long it takes to translate his incredible size, strength, speed and power into a complete and well-rounded champion is to be determined, but the raw talent and pure explosiveness are there.

Much like Francis Ngannou early in his career, Gane is as raw as a head of lettuce. But with patience and development, he’ll surely find himself inside the cage with Ngannou and the other elite heavyweights.

Gane’s biggest issue is finding fights: No one wants any part of this raw killer. Numerous bouts have been called off or postponed because other fighters fear this kid.

Gane’s last fight was against a future contender in Tanner Boser, a Canadian who is fearless and also on his way to the top. Boser fared quite well against Gane because Boser has special talent that will continue to surface. Gane won the fight via decision and was impressive in his own right.

Gane’s meal Saturday is a debuting UFC fighter who took this bout on short notice after many others ducked Gane. I tip my hat to Delija, of Croatia, for having the guts to step in for this bout, but he’ll be demolished.

Gane vs. Ngannou will short-circuit the UFC world in 2021.

Gane opened -550 for this fight.

Total is lined: 1.5 Over -120.

Jessica Andrade -145 vs. Katlyn Chookagian + 125, women’s flyweight (125 pounds)

Andrade, 29, is a former strawweight champion who is moving up in weight for this bout. Andrade was properly sized at strawweight, so I find it a bit of a tell that she is once again switching divisions this late in her career.

Since 2017 and her defeat to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Andrade has been on a tear against the absolute best of the 115-pound division. She won the title in 2018 by planting Rose Namajunas on her head but lost it in just as devastating a manner in her next bout.

Andrade is a bulldog who comes at opponents with unrelenting pressure and aggression, but that form of fighting has a shelf life — and Andrade going from 115 pounds to 125 with that style is a questionable move. Maintaining her style of fighting up a division does not add up positively for Andrade, especially at this stage of her career. This is the third time she has changed divisions.

Chookagian is a legitimate bantamweight (135 pounds) fighting down at flyweight. Her size advantage will be prevalent, and if she can utilize her deft footwork and maintain striking space from the incoming Brazilian brawler, she’ll be in position to peck Andrade apart as Andrade works to earn inside position.

Chookagian, primarily a decision fighter, will have 7 inches of height and 6 inches of arm and leg reach, making it mandatory that Andrade clasp, hug and grope Chookagian from the opening bell to negate the reach and snap of Chookagian’s strikes.

Andrade opened -125, but I honestly believe Chookagian should be the slight chalk.

Chookagian + 125.

Total is lined: 2.5 Over -230.

Jonathan Martinez -120 vs. Thomas Almeida + 100, bantamweight (135 pounds)

Almeida won 20 straight fights in impressive fashion on his way to being destroyed by Cody Garbrandt in 2016. Almeida has fought only twice in almost three years, both losses, and has not been in the octagon since January 2018, when he was head-kicked out by Rob Font.

Up to the Garbrandt fight, Almeida was a buzz saw with a belief of invincibility. The fighter we’ll see after so long out of the cage is anyone’s guess, but activity is a better gauge than inactivity in almost every instance. That said, Almeida did have to overcome an eye injury, and he has been in camp with one of the most complete fighters in the UFC in Charles Oliveira.

I think it probable that Almeida puts on a strong performance Saturday despite the time off.

Martinez does not have the experience of Almeida, and his best opponents would be overwhelmed by the Almeida of 2014-15. However, Martinez has fought five times since 2018. I believe this is what is affecting the market price.

Can Almeida enter this fight poised to return to his peak performances from years ago? Can Martinez overcome his lack of elite competition and experience to earn a victory over a top-name performer? These are the pertinent questions.

Almeida opened as the favorite -145 and has been bet to even money.

Almeida at + 100 or better pending weigh-ins.

Martinez missed weight in his last fight, and I suspect it was purposely. Let’s see what happens Friday morning.

Total is lined: 2.5 Under -125.

 

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