On the one hand, UFC Busan couldn’t have gone much better for the immediate future of the featherweight division. ‘The Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung looks like a legit title contender for Alexander Volkanovski. On the other hand, it couldn’t have gone much worse for Frankie Edgar, and means the UFC has to do some scrambling to get Cory Sandhagen a new fight.
So, does TKZ claim dibs on the next title shot, or does the UFC book Holloway/Volkanovski 2? Will Volkan Oezdemir get his chances for revenge? And is there any chance Raoni Barcelos gets a ranked opponent next time out?
I’ll be answering all those questions – but not too much more – using the classic Silva/Shelby matchmaking ideology of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talents up against one another. If you’d like to take your own shot at some matchmaking glory, leave a comment below starting with, “I know how my voice sounds, okay. I know how my voice sounds.” I’ll pick one winner from the responses to join me next time for UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cerrone.
Now, let’s get to the fights...
CHAN SUNG JUNG
When it comes to trying to pick out a potential next UFC title contender, this is the best way the Busan main event could have gone. Even with a recent KO loss to Yair Rodriguez, the ‘Korean Zombie’ still feels like one of the most thrilling potential bouts out there for newly minted champ Alexander Volkanovski. If the UFC decides to move away from an immediate Holloway rematch (and I kind of think they should), then Volkanovski vs. TKZ is a fantastic title fight to make for the ‘Great’’s first defense. If, however, the UFC does book Volkanovski vs. Holloway 2, then waiting for Ortega to return for a re-booking of the original Busan main event would still be good—as would a potential bout against Zabit Magomedsharipov. And, of course, if the UFC decides to do something wild (like my Zabit vs. Volkanovski idea), then booking Chan Sung Jung vs. Max Holloway would be absolute fire. Chan Sung Jung vs. Alexander Volkanovski is the fight Korean Zombie should be chasing. And if not, give TKZ vs. Zabit a shot.
Welp. Of all the ways Edgar’s decision to jump back into the featherweight mix could have gone, this was pretty much the worst. ‘The Answer’ not only took the second KO/TKO loss of his career, but he almost definitely lost any chance at making his bantamweight debut against Cory Sandhagen next month as well. Age may finally be catching up to Edgar, but with his long reputation as one of the sport’s very best fighters, he’s almost certainly not about to take a big step back in competition.
Assuming he still has 135 on his mind, then he could clearly take on someone like Rob Font, or even a rematch against Urijah Faber (although frankly the first bout wasn’t all that great). But, I think there’s one fight that – while still very dangerous – makes a whole lot of sense: Pedro Munhoz. Munhoz is a blitzing combination striker with a deadly submission game and, while not the best athlete, absolutely as tough as they come. If Edgar can get by him, then maybe he can claw his way into the bantamweight mix. If he can’t? Then it may be that that the ‘Answer’’s time as one of the UFC elite has come to an end. Frankie Edgar vs. Pedro Munhoz is a good way for Edgar to prove he can still be ‘in the mix’ at 135.
‘No Time’ had a couple clear call-outs on hand after a difficult (and arguable) win over Aleksandar Rakic. He wants to fight Dominick Reyes, and he wants to fight Anthony Smith. Two bouts he’s already lost. And it feels a bit unlikely that he’ll get either of them right now, honestly. His fight against Rakic wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the kind of all-out thriller that seems like it’s going to drive him into fighting a top contender next. However, there are plenty of other name opponents I’d love to see Oezdemir face. Chief among those? Jacare Souza. Souza may have struggled in his light heavyweight debut, but if he’s going to stick around in the division, he deserves another chance to get a top-flight win. A bout against Oezdemir would be an opportunity to let him prove he can still make waves at 205. And it should be the kind of name to get Oezdemir interested, even without a top-five number next to it. Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jacare Souza; give Souza one more chance to prove he can be an elite light heavyweight.
This absolutely did not feel like a fight Jourdain was meant to win. A wild, flashy striker who has struggled to finish experienced opposition early; someone who would give Choi a lot of opportunites to land without being likely to pack the single shot power to put him away. But those left hands landed clean and hard all fight and eventually knocked ‘Korean Superboy’ out. After the win, he called out Cub Swanson—a smart move, even if it’s not a fight he’s likely to get. Much more likely would be fights against Giga Chikadze, Sean Woodson, Movsar Evloev, or maybe Bryce Mitchell. I think a bout against Woodson would be especially wild. ‘The Sniper’ looked incredibly composed while dismantling Kyle Bochniak in his debut. A wild, aggressive opponent like Jourdain would very likely bring out the best in him once again. And it would give Jourdain another opportunity to show he can maintain his pace against a more defensively minded striker. Charles Jourdain vs. Sean Woodson is a quality standup war.
DA UN JUNG
A hell of a win for Jung, in what felt a lot like a tossup bout going in. Both rangy strikers, both like to trade combinations in open space, and neither had ever been stopped by strikes before. The Korean did an excellent job slipping inside and nullifying Rodriguez’s reach advantage with a gorgeous counter straight right. After a wild brawl of a debut, this fight goes a lot further to establishing the KTT athlete as a potential hot prospect at 205. Much of the lower end of the division is booked solid right now, but if Jung wants a big step forward, he could go winner/loser against Khalil Rountree. Or he could try his hand against seasoned vet Ed Herman. It’s either that or try his luck with Ion Cutelaba or Magomed Ankalaev. Eventually, I think I’ll say he should give ‘Short Fuse’ a run for his money. Da Un Jung vs. Ed Herman should be a great scrap at 205.
Boser wasn’t a huge leap in competition for Gane, but as a highly seasoned and exceptionally tough opponent, it was a decent proving point: that Gane could keep to his strengths and control a fight against someone that wouldn’t make a lot of big errors, or get hurt easily. And Gane passed that test with flying colors. Even though it’s just ‘Bon Gamin’’s fifth pro bout, that puts him at 3-0 in the Octagon, and well-lined up for a ranked opponent. If Maurice Greene weren’t already booked, I’d love to see that fight—but Augusto Sakai or Sergey Pavlovich will both do well. If the UFC really wants to throw Gane a veteran challenge, they could match him up with Ben Rothwell too. In fact, given Rothwell’s recent win, and his stature as a longtime name heavyweight, let’s go with Gane vs. ‘Big Ben.’ That’ll be a good next step, and is pretty much guaranteed to launch Gane on toward more notable opponents if he can get the victory.
An especially tough win, and not just because the ‘Cannibal’ ended up knocking out a friend in the cage. Schnell put Pantoja through hell for the round+ their fight lasted; with the American’s cleaner punches doing an excellent job finding their way through the Brazilian’s heavier fire-power. Pantoja is a thrilling action fighter, but if he can’t clean up his defense, then his calls for a title shot seem likely to result in another fight like the one he had against Figueiredo. If ‘Deus da Guerra’ beats Benavidez coming up, is Pantoja the top contender? Probably not. With Jussier Formiga in much the same position (a very unlikely contender if Benavidez wins) then let them fight for the top spot. It could result in a title fight rematch, but a well earned one for whoever comes out on top. And in a division that thin, the UFC can’t afford to be too choosy. Jussier Formiga vs. Alexandre Pantoja is an excellent top contenders’ bout.
Barcelos vs. Nurmagomedov looked like a top ten fight. And it’s really only a testament to the UFC matchmakers’ lack of interest in rewarding skill over flash – and the ranking panel’s tendency to force fighters to gain rankings by replacement only – that Barcelos isn’t already ranked and fighting top-ranked opponents. Barcelos is a seasoned, extremely well-rounded, powerful veteran fighter. If he’s going to make waves in the UFC, his time is now. I’d be happy to see him booked against opponents as high up the ladder as Rob Font or Pedro Munhoz. But, with Cody Stamann coming off a controversial draw, that seems like the most reasonable jump from an early prelim bout (even if he likely ends up with someone like Khalid Taha instead). Raoni Barcelos vs. Cody Stamann is the right fight to reward Barcelos for his obvious elite skill and quality.
OTHER BOUTS: Aleksandar Rakic vs. Misha Cirkunov, Dooho Choi vs. Mike Trizano, Mike Rodriguez vs. Khadis Ibragimov, Jun Yong Park vs. Wellington Turman, Marc-Andre Barriault vs. Charles Byrd, Kyung Ho Kang vs. Luke Sanders, Liu Pingyuan vs. Brad Katona, Tanner Boser vs. Adam Wieczorek, Seungwoo Choi vs. Kyle Nelson, Suman Mokhtarian vs. Martin Bravo, Omar Morales vs. Mike Davis, Dong Hyun Ma vs. Kazula Vargas, Matt Schnell vs. Tyson Nam, Said Nurmagomedov vs. Cole Smith, Amanda Lemos vs. Loma Lookboonmee, Miranda Granger vs. Emily Whitmire, Alateng Heili vs. Benito Lopez, Ryan Benoit vs. Guido Cannetti