It’s not unusual for a UFC PPV card to host two championship fights on the main card. What is unusual is to have two championship fights on the main card that many believe are already concluded before Bruce Buffer even announces the arrival of the moment UFC fans have all been waiting for. In fact, more people seem more undecided in the conclusion of Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev than the co-main and main events.
Aljamain Sterling and The Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, aren’t being given much of a chance. Neither fans nor analysts seem convinced that the underdogs will be able to get their hands raised at the conclusion of their fights this Saturday from the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
As of the publication of this article, the Korean Zombie is a staggering +500 underdog, while incumbent champion Aljamain Sterling is +385. Not exactly the kind of odds you’d expect in a UFC championship fight, let alone two divisions as stacked as bantamweight and featherweight. The last time a UFC championship had such a gap was when Julianna Pena shocked the world by defeating Amanda Nunes at UFC 269 last December.
Julianna Pena was even more of an underdog than Sterling or Jung going into that bout, a whopping +675. It was one of the biggest upsets in UFC championship history, with fans left wondering what exactly had transpired. Going into UFC 273, with the odds seemingly stacked against Sterling and Jung, one has to wonder if one of these men can pull off a spectacular upset like Pena.
Both championship fights have interesting circumstances surrounding them. Petr Yan lost his belt to Sterling via illegal knee at UFC 259, a controversial moment that had many fans up in arms. Although it was competitive in the early rounds, Yan was ahead on the scorecards and just finding his rhythm before throwing that fateful knee. It’s very likely that Sterling would have gone on to lose the fight had the illegal blow not landed, leaving many fans wondering why it wasn’t called a no-contest.
Considering how the momentum was shifting in the fight and Yan’s impressive performance against top bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267, many expect the Russian dynamo to make quick work of Sterling in their long-anticipated rematch. They were expected to fight again sooner, but Sterling had to sit out due to injury, much to the chagrin of many fans.
Although the odds and expectations are stacked against him, Aljamain Sterling still has a path to victory. In their first fight, he threw too many energy-expending attacks that brought little return. His wrestling was largely unsuccessful, but if he could find a way to make adjustments and take Yan down in the rematch, the outlook of the fight changes. It’s no easy feat, as Yan is one of the most well-rounded fighters on the UFC roster.
Sterling knows what Yan is going to bring to the table. His team will have to have an excellent game plan for their approach in the rematch. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility, and it would be very interesting to see the reaction from a disgruntled fan base that has been spamming Sterling’s social media accounts with accusations of “paper champ” incessantly for over a year now.
The task in front of Chan Sung Jung is equally daunting, if not more so. The Korean Zombie stepped up as a replacement after Max Holloway was originally scheduled for a third fight against featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, despite being only 3-2 in his last five fights. One of those losses came against Brian Ortega at UFC Fight Night 180, who was the last man not named Holloway to challenge Volk for the belt.
Despite the fact that he’s officially beaten Max Holloway twice, many fans were eager to see a third fight between the Hawaiin and Volkanovski, believing that the judges botched the scorecards not once, but twice. The UFC was interested in the rebooking, but after Holloway pulled out, the Korean Zombie was granted his first title shot since losing to Jose Aldo all the way back at UFC 163.
While some question whether or not the Korean Zombie deserved the title shot, many long-time fans of the promotion are glad to see the fan-favorite veteran getting another chance. It’s a title shot that Giga Chikadze would have lined himself up for if he was able to beat Calvin Kattar during their fight at UFC on ESPN 32. Chikadze instead got dominated, leaving the opportunity open for the Korean Zombie.
Alexander Volkanovski is widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, having gone 10-0 during his UFC tenure. The man has only ever lost once in his career, nearly a decade ago in an Australian MMA circuit. His dominance of Ortega and success against Holloway are solid reasons to believe that Korean Zombie won’t be up to the last.
However, in the world of MMA, there are no guarantees. Chan Sung Jung still has heavy hands in the featherweight division, and Volkanovski has been knocked down before. Fans are expecting Volk to pick the Zombie apart, but there’s always a puncher's chance for Jung.
It’s hard to say which underdog has more of a chance to pull off the upset. The betting odds give Sterling a slightly better chance to win, though there could be some poetic justice in the ether for Chan Sung Jung. The Korean Zombie was destined to seal his victory against Yair Rodriguez at UFC Fight Night 139 before getting knocked out in the very last second by a hail mary elbow that shouldn’t have worked.
If the Korean Zombie, against all odds, could knock out Alexander Volkanovski, it would be a storybook ending to a long and illustrious UFC career. Still, there’s a good reason why Petr Yan and Volk are such heavy favorites. Can Sterling or Jung pull off the upset?
This is combat sports, so the answer is yes. The fights aren’t played out on paper. Still, I wouldn’t place too large of a bet on the underdogs.