Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will make its return to the pay-per-view (PPV) market in a big way this Sat. night (April 9, 2022) with a championship doubleheader inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Topping the “Sunshine State” fight card is the featherweight title fight between reigning division champion Alexander Volkanovski and 145-pound “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, a late replacement for the knackered Max Holloway, felled by mysterious circumstances last January.
Before that five-round headliner gets underway, the promotion will afford current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling 25 minutes to prove he’s deserving of the 135-pound strap, awarded by way of disqualification when Petr Yan went rogue in their first meeting at UFC 259 back in March 2021. In addition, welterweight hype machine Khamzat Chimaev will face the stiffest test of his young mixed martial arts (MMA) career when he goes head-to-head with former title challenger and No. 2 ranked contender Gilbert Burns.
Before we get started breaking down the five-fight main card, which also features Tecia Torres vs. Mackenzie Dern, as well as Aleksei Oleinik vs. Jared Vanderaa, take a closer look at our comprehensive preview and predictions for all the UFC 273 preliminary card action, expertly captured in NFT form by resident crypto-bro Patrick Stumberg, by clicking here and here. While we’re on the topic of throwing your money away for incremental spikes in dopamine, be sure to study the UFC 273 odds and betting guide right here.
Let’s get crackin’.
145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski (23-1) vs. “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung (17-6)
UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski is the top 145-pounder in the world and ranked No. 3 on the promotion’s pound-for-pound list, but still hasn’t gotten the kind of respect he deserves. Probably because he beat Max Holloway and well; let’s face it, everyone loves the “Blessed” Hawaiian so that makes Volkanovski a jerk by default. But even if you’re not on the “Great” train you can’t deny his numbers inside the cage. For example, Holloway — who holds the UFC record for total strikes (3058) — only landed 102 across five rounds of action at UFC 251, the lowest he’s ever connected in a five-round title fight. In fact, you have to go back six years to Holloway’s 94 strikes landed in a knockout win over Anthony Pettis to beat that number. Volkanovski also sports a takedown defense of 70-percent and a striking differential of 3.08, good enough for No. 8 on the all-time list. That’s why it does the champion a disservice when analysts hearken back to his rugby days and suggest Volkanovski is just a hard-headed tough guy too resilient to put away. That kind of mentality by opposing coaches is also why many fighters (like Brian Ortega) get into the cage and quickly realize there’s more to the adept Aussie than just a thick hide.
It’s hard to believe that Chan Sung Jung is just six fights removed from his Jose Aldo loss at UFC 163, which took place nearly nine years ago in Brazil. To put that into perspective, Max Holloway has racked up 19 fights during that same span. Jung lost two years of his athletic prime to mandatory military service in South Korea then threw away another two dealing with injuries. Putting that aside, one of the biggest knocks against “The Korean Zombie” is his inconsistency, stringing together a couple of big wins only to see his progress get wasted with a disappointing loss. That said, his last three defeats have come against Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez, who are both ranked in the Top 5, so it’s not like Jung has been getting worked by also-rans and tomato cans. It’s also not hyperbole to call Jung one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, a claim supported by a whopping nine performance bonuses in just 12 appearances for UFC. In addition, 14 of his 17 wins have ended by way of knockout or submission and “The Korean Zombie” is now training under Eddie Cha at Fight Ready gym in Arizona, which may not provide the comforts of home but will certainly pay dividends on fight night.
There are no easy fights at this level of competition and Jung has proven knockout power. You also don’t want to get too careless on the ground against a grappler who can pull of a twister inside the cage, so Volkanovski will need to perform at his absolute best. That’s about the only case I can make for Jung because he looked old and flat against Brian Ortega then rebounded with a ho-hum decision victory over Dan Ige. I didn't see anything in those two performances that would lead me to believe the champion is in any kind of trouble on Sat. night and I also can’t overlook the fact that Jung suffered a shoulder tear against “50k” — one that was still giving him problems as recently as last December. I’m sure it was healed enough to take this opportunity (they don’t come around very often) but we’re not making a case for a competitive contest. We’re trying to build an argument for dethroning a champion who’s won 20 straight fights and beaten some of the best combatants in the world. When you look at the cold, hard facts, it’s nearly impossible.
Prediction: Volkanovski def. Jung by technical knockout
135 lbs.: UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain “Funk Master” Sterling (20-3) vs. Interim Bantamweight Titleholder Petr “No Mercy” Yan (16-2)
The bantamweight division has been a complete dumpster fire over the last few years, which is surprising when you consider it wasn’t that long ago when three of the biggest names in the history of the weight class: TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt, and Dominick Cruz, were all battling for 135-pound supremacy. Dillashaw prevailed but then failed a drug test and got suspended, Henry Cejudo took over the reigns and abruptly retired, Garbrandt’s chin disintegrated faster than the “Nazi stooge” who drank from the false grail, and Cruz simply got too old to keep pace with the younger dogs. That collapsing house of cards allowed fresh-faced up-and-comer Petr Yan to come in and sweep up, taking the title from Jose Aldo at UFC 251 in summer 2020. The betting line was nearly even for his first title defense against Aljamain Sterling and it was a very close fight up until the fourth round, with many outlets scoring the bout two rounds to one in favor of “Funk Master.” I know it’s hard for the haters to accept that reality based on how the contest ended, with much of the vitriol borne from a successful smear campaign by Team Yan, but to suggest their fight was a blowout is simply not true.
At the same time, we can't overlook two very important facts. First off, let’s recognize that Sterling was in all kinds of trouble in the fourth frame (prior to KneeGate) and appeared to be running out of gas in a big way. Secondly, Yan has demonstrated that he’s a slow starter and not afraid to approach his fights methodically, instead of rushing in with a “No Mercy” blitzkrieg in the hopes of a fast finish. Never was that more evident than against Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267, where Yan captured the interim crown. The jizz-first, analyze-fights-later reactions from the cageside commentators favored the early display of skills from Sandhagen — which were indeed formidable — but the reality is Yan was just reading the room and preparing his counterattack. It’s not outrageous to think Sterling enjoyed similar breathing room in their first go-round and may get more of the same in Jacksonville, though I hope his coaches remind him that Uriah Faber was knocked out in the third round while Aldo got finished in the fifth. There is simply no such thing as a comfortable lead against Yan. You also have to consider that Sterling was completely outclassed in the wrestling department, going an anemic 1-for-17 in takedown attempts against a perfect 7-for-7 in favor of Yan. There’s no reason to believe those percentages won’t be replicated this weekend in “The Sunshine State.”
Sterling belongs at the top of the division and has beaten enough quality fighters to earn his place. What I don’t like about this rematch is the fact that “Funk Master” is coming off a 13-month layoff and walking right into a 25-minute war of attrition against an opponent who already sucked his cardio dry in their initial throwdown. I also think his best weapons — speed, agility, wrestling — are neutralized by Yan’s superior technique across all disciplines. Like every “No Mercy” fight it’s going to take the Russian bruiser a few rounds to get out of first gear, but once he does, expect him to put the pedal to the medal. A late (and somewhat violent) finish — not unlike the one that felled Aldo — would not surprise me.
Prediction: Yan def. Sterling by technical knockout
170 lbs.: Gilbert “Durinho” Burns (20-4) vs. Khamzat “Borz” Chimaev (10-0)
Gilbert Burns is ranked No. 2 at 170 pounds which on paper makes him the second most dangerous fight for welterweight rising star Khamzat Chimaev, currently seated in the No. 11 spot. That said, I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest Burns is overrated by the dubious rankings panel, particularly when you look at his strength of schedule. “Durinho” has just one victory over a fighter currently ranked in the Top 10 of his division and that was a ho-hum decision win over Stephen Thompson, a 39 year-old point fighter who’s dropped four of his last seven and hasn't finished an opponent in over six years. Am I supposed to break out the expensive china for a decision victory over the shopworn Tyron Woodley back in summer 2020? The same “Chosen One” who dropped four straight MMA fights and consecutive bouts in boxing? Granted, Burns looked good in the opening frame of his Kamaru Usman title fight and still packs a wallop, I just can’t make a case for his upcoming success based on how good he looked for a few minutes in a crushing knockout loss. Maybe it’s greedy to ask for a win over Colby Covington, currently ranked No. 1, but I would have settled for an impressive outing against Leon Edwards, or maybe even Jorge Masvidal or Belal Muhammad. But hey, he sure looked great against a 42 year-old Demian Maia, arguably one of the worst strikers in the history of the division.
Khamzat Chimaev has been a breath of fresh air in the 170-pound weight class for many of the reasons I mentioned above. Kamaru Usman is scheduled to defend his welterweight championship against Leon Edwards in a fight that will mark “The Nigerian Nightmare’s” third straight rematch. Waiting in the wings is the winner of Vicente Luque vs. Belal Muhammed — also a rematch — with No. 6 ranked Sean Brady slowly but surely climbing his way up the ladder. Chimaev, meanwhile, has been able to do a lot with very little. “Borz” does not escape the same complaints levied against Burns because his first two victories came over John Phillips and Rhys McKee, who are no longer signed to UFC (which should give you some indication of their respective skill levels). Gerald Meerschaert and Li Jingliang were both quality wins, despite neither opponent being ranked in the Top 10, and for Chimaev the performances carry more weight than the victories. He didn’t just beat “GM3” and “The Leech,” he absolutely destroyed them. Meerschaert lasted all of 17 seconds. Jingliang was outstruck 58-0. Maybe his wrestling would be neutralized by a collegiate standout like Covington, or perhaps his chin would be tested by the right hand of Usman. We don't know that yet, but what we do know is that “Borz” has demolished everyone they put in front of him.
If you’re a fan or Burns or just couldn’t resist the wildly out-of-control betting line, the most troubling statistic heading into this three-round feature fight is the Brazilian’s height and reach disadvantage, four inches in both categories. We have to consider that Burns is a former lightweight who over-performed at 170 pounds, as opposed to Chimaev, who could probably be a legitimate contender at middleweight. Also concerning is “Durinho’s” defensive wrestling, which currently sports a 50-percent success rate. I’m not sure that’s gonna cut the mustard against Chimaev, a three-time Swedish Freestyle National Champion who also outwrestled 185-pound contender Jack Hermansson in a grappling competition held earlier this year. Does that make him a lock? No, we can’t just shit-can the experience of Burns, who spent the last eight years putting in work inside the Octagon. The Brazilian boasts 14 finishes in 20 wins, eight of them by submission and six by way of knockout. If Chimaev comes in too cocky or treats Burns any less than what he’s ranked, a flash knockout or sneaky armbar is not out of the question. Barring those two upset specials, the more likely scenario is that Chimaev, eight years younger than Burns, will use his size and strength to keep a too-patient “Durinho” on his back foot, then take him down and smash him to pieces. A battered and bloodied tap — a la Jones-Shogun — is the order of the day.
Prediction: Chimaev def. Burns by submission
115 lbs.: Mackenzie Dern (11-2) vs. Tecia “Tiny Tornado” Torres (13-5)
Mackenzie Dern has not been competing in UFC for more than four years and has (mostly) lived up to the hype, putting together a 6-2 record with four submissions. During that span the faux-Brazilian endured early weight-cutting issues, nonstop accent jokes, and one pregnancy, which resulted in a healthy baby girl and a far more focused strawweight. There was some talk of Dern running the table at 115 pounds and it didn’t sound crazy at the time. After all, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt is one of the few females grapplers in the world to beat hulking heavyweight Gabi Garcia in her prime, so any fight that hit the canvas was expected to be a death sentence for her opponents. That has been true to some degree but hasn’t held up against more accomplished fighters like Marina Rodriguez, who was taken down but still won the fight on points. It’s also worth noting that Dern was 0-for-6 on takedowns in her loss to Amanda Ribas, who is also 11-2 (5-1 in UFC) but somehow ranked four spots below Dern at No. 9 because the UFC rankings panel is comprised of starstruck fanboys who don’t know any better.
Speaking of rankings, Tecia Torres is back in the No. 6 spot after winning three straight, including her unanimous decision victory over Angela Hill at UFC 265 last August. You would think a fighter nicknamed “The Tiny Tornado” would have a frenetic, Tasmanian devil type of style to her offense. Instead, the former “Ultimate Fighter” contestant has 11 decisions in 13 wins. On the flip side, she’s never been stopped in 18 professional fights. Torres survived the bludgeoning power of Weili Zhang as well as the precision striking of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so we can safely say she’s in no danger of getting popped and dropped against Dern. That said, I’m not so confident when it comes to the wrestling. If Brianna Van Buren and Bec Rawlings can get Torres down, I’m pretty sure Dern will be able to do likewise. To prevent it, Torres will have to keep Dern at bay with a stiff jab and superior footwork to keep herself from getting trapped against the cage or caught circling out. Not impossible in a three-round fight, but without knockout power, Dern can afford to eat a few “Tornado” sandwiches in order to buy her way inside. Once there, I think Torres is going to understand the difference between good jiu jitsu (hers) and world class jiu jitsu (Dern’s).
Prediction: Dern def. Torres by submission
265 lbs.: Aleksei “The Boa Constrictor” Oleinik (59-16-1) vs. Jared “The Mountain” Vanderaa (12-7)
Aleksei Oleinik really wants to get to 60 wins before calling it quits and the promotion was certainly not helping him get there by pairing him off with Derrick Lewis at UFC Vegas 6 back in summer 2020. Getting planished by “The Black Beast” marked the first of three consecutive losses and I can assure you that at age 44 (45 in July) a fourth will undoubtedly lead to separation. Working in favor of the aging “Boa Constrictor” is the fact that opponent Jared Vanderaa has experienced his own share of struggles over the last few years, posting three losses in four trips to the Octagon, with two of them ending by way of second-round technical knockout. I’m not sure what happened to the smashing machine who impressed Dana White on Season 4 of “Contender Series” but I would imagine White and Co. have buyer’s remorse after watching “The Mountain” crumble on the big stage. Like Oleinik, the competition hasn’t been easy and I’m not sure a split decision loss to Andrei Arlovski hurts his stock when you consider the never-say-die “Pitbull” has quietly won three straight and five of his last six.
I don’t know how to say this without sounding disrespectful but Oleinik’s striking is pretty sad, even by heavyweight standards, which may explain why the Russian “Boa Constrictor” has just eight knockouts in 59 wins. That’s one less knockout win than Oleinik has knockout losses (9) which is also telling and a troubling statistic against a fighter 15 years his junior. Vanderaa may not be a world beater at this stage of his combat sports career but he does pack a wallop, leading him to seven knockouts in 12 victories. It also helps that Oleinik’s head movement is on par with Seattle’s Statue of Lenin. I think most of us would agree that Vanderaa is toast if this fight goes to the floor, as most heavyweights are, but Oleinik’s takedowns are sloppy and getting slower by the fight. The fanboy in me wants to see him turn back the clock for one more bout, I just have a hard time picking a shopworn veteran who hasn’t won a contest in nearly two years.
Prediction: Vanderaa def. Oleinik by knockout
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 273 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
For more news and notes on UFC 273 be sure to visit our comprehensive event archive right here. For the updated, revised, and finalized “Volkanovski vs. Korean Zombie” fight card and ESPN+ PPV lineup click here.