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UFC 273 preview: Two title fights headline a stacked fight card

Get the scoop on UFC 273’s title fights as Alexander Volkanovski and Aljamain Sterling look to defend their gold against worthy challengers in the Korean Zombie and Petr Yan.

Alexander Volkanovski punching Brian Ortega at UFC 266
Alexander Volkanovski punching Brian Ortega at UFC 266
Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Alexander Volkanovski could very well be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport of MMA today. He’s been fighting the best of the best at featherweight over his last five fights and has yet to see a blemish on his record. And yet, it could be argued he’s the B-side in the eyes of many fans to his opponent, the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung. Given the legendary battles Jung has put himself through over the years, it isn’t much of a surprise. However, in what may be a further sign of disrespect to Volkanovski, most fans seem more interested in the bantamweight title fight between Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan as they have unfinished business to attend to. To take it a step further, Volkanovski’s fight might be third on the list of many given Khamzat Chimaev is also on the card. Anyone think Volkanovski is lacking for motivation?

For the early prelims preview, click here. For the televised prelims, click here. For the rest of the main card, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Chan Sung Jung, Featherweight

Part of the reason Volkanovski hasn’t been able to get the respect many believe he deserves is the lack of finishes on his record. Of his ten UFC wins, only three of them managed to avoid going the distance. Watching footage of Volkanovski makes it clear the lack of finishes is an anomaly. Volkanovski hits plenty hard. Just look at the face of Brian Ortega after their contest or watch Volkanovski’s KO of Chad Mendes. Some may point out Ortega’s face was due to the sheer volume of Volkanovski, but Volkanovski throws a ridiculous amount of volume. It isn’t just volume for the sake of volume either; most of Volkanovski’s strikes land. He does a great job of mixing his strikes to all levels, but it’s impossible to miss the insane amount of low kicks he tends to throw. If Volkanovski can take out the base of Jung, perhaps he can get Jung to lose his newfound discipline.

Wait, discipline? Jung is a legendary brawler, right? The talk around Jung is that he has matured to the point where he can’t be considered a reckless brawler anymore. While the brawler is still in Jung — and it isn’t hard to drag it out of him — it is true that it no longer appears to be his first instinct. He does still have the killer instinct in him as he pounced on the likes of Dennis Bermudez, Renato Moicano, and Frankie Edgar immediately after hurting them. Perhaps all it will take for Jung to score the upset is to hurt Volkanovski just once....

While Volkanovski hasn’t lost in years – and never at featherweight – he has been hurt in several of his contests. Thus, it appears there is a route for Jung to secure the upset. I’ve seen others suggest the idea that Jung could catch Volkanovski in a submission as Jung is the proud owner of the first twister submission in UFC history. However, given Volkanovski was able to hold on during several tight submission attempts from Ortega. MMA is a crazy sport in which the math doesn’t add up, but I don’t see Jung doing what Ortega was unable to do.

The other reason a submission from Jung seems unlikely is Volkanovski’s wrestling. While on the short side for featherweight, there is no way Volkanovski would be able to cut down another weight class. Volkanovski is built like a brick house and isn’t easy to get to the mat. Jung isn’t bad in terms of his wrestling, but save for his most recent contest against Dan Ige, he almost never uses it. Jung’s best chance might be for him to initiate a brawl.

The funny thing is when I say Volkanovski can get Jung to fight undisciplined, I don’t mean getting Jung to brawl. Volkanovski doesn’t want a brawl. He wants to stay on the outside and pick apart Jung with low kicks and straight punches. If Volkanovski can break down Jung’s base and force him into unwise entries, he’ll have the fight he wants. For all the gains Jung has made in his fight IQ, Volkanovski could very well be the smartest fighter in the UFC today. One doesn’t remain undefeated as long as he has in the UFC by fighting stupidly.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan, Bantamweight

The narrative between Sterling and Yan is well established. In their first contest, Sterling started out strong, only to fade quickly after the second round. Yan was firmly in control by the fourth when he erroneously followed the advice of his corner and kneed and downed Sterling in the head, awarding Sterling the title via disqualification. Through Yan’s actions, Sterling became a villain in the eyes of many fans as he became the champion based on a technicality. Technicality or not, Sterling is the rightful champion as that’s what the rules state.

To compound things further, many stated Sterling was trying to dodge Yan by having a neck surgery. If that was the case, Sterling did a miserable job dodging him as he’s now scheduled to face him. However, that surgery does leave open a lot of question marks about Sterling’s health. Sterling could very well be in the best shape he has been in a long time given he’s had plenty of time to heal the wear and tear on his body. More encouraging could be his neck. However, neck surgery is trickier than a typical knee or hand surgery. He could be in worse shape. Sterling looks good physically on his social media posts, but we won’t know for sure until fight day.

The other question is what Sterling has learned from his performance. Sterling’s strategy in their first fight made a lot of sense. Yan is notorious for starting on the slow side as he makes reads on his opponent. Thus, Sterling was hoping to overwhelm Yan early when the Russian is most vulnerable. Instead, Sterling wore himself out with his high pace, allowing Yan to take firm control down the stretch. It’s not like Sterling was firmly in the driver’s seat early either. Sterling doesn’t throw with a lot of power either, meaning it’s doubtful he can put Yan to sleep. As for takedowns, Sterling tried time and again without success in their first contest. On the flip side, Yan was taking Sterling down at will. Keeping him down was another matter, but Yan was fine with letting Sterling up.

About the only advantage Sterling has for sure is in a pure grappling contest. Yan can’t hope to match the creativity of Sterling on the mat, but that won’t matter if Yan can keep the fight standing. Yan is one of the most intelligent strikers in the sport once he picks up the ticks of his opponent. If there is anyone who can find a hole in his opponent’s defense, it’s Yan. Plus, his hand speed is amongst the best in the business. Sterling is hard to put away, but most would agree Yan was on his way to doing that before the illegal knee. Outside of Sterling finding a way to initiate a scramble and catching a sub, I don’t see how he can win this. Yan via TKO of RD3