UFC 273 takes place in Jacksonville, Florida this Saturday, with two title fights topping the card at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
In the main event, Alexander Volkanovski defends the men’s featherweight title against the “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, after the co-main event sees interim men’s bantamweight champion Petr Yan seek to unify the division’s belts with Aljamain Sterling.
Sterling dethroned Yan last March when the Russian was disqualified for throwing and landing an illegal knee on the Jamaican-American, before Yan won the interim title against Cory Sandhagen in a fight of the year contender in October.
Ahead of Saturday’s two title fights, the most-hyped prospect in the UFC faces his toughest challenge yet. Khamzat Chimaev, unbeaten at 10-0 with 10 finishes, takes on former title challenger Gilbert Burns in a welterweight clash that has drawn fans’ attention more than either of this weekend’s championship bouts.
Here, we take a look at the narratives behind the three biggest bouts at UFC 273.
Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev
This bout has captured the imagination of more fans than even the two title fights, with followers of the sport desperate to find out whether Chimaev is as genuine of a contender as some believe. The Swedish-born Russian is 4-0 in the UFC and 10-0 overall; all of his wins from him have come via finish and he has remarkably absorbed just one significant strike in the promotion. He has suffocating wrestling skills and easily-generated knockout power.
Last time out, in October, the 27-year-old faced a step-up in competition in Li Jingliang, yet slammed the “Leech” to the mat while talking to UFC president Dana White through the fence, before choking Jingliang out cold. That was as much of a statement as Chimaev could have made against his first top-15 opponent.
Now, however, he will face the third-ranked welterweight in the UFC. It is a remarkable leap but a win would solidify Chimaev’s status as a title contender, a status that has stemmed from the manner of his victories rather than the caliber of his opponents.
Here, though, the “Wolf” has the chance to produce another performance of that ilk but against a former title challenger. This is an intriguing match-up. Burns is such a versatile combatant and even dropped champion Kamaru Usman in their clash last year. The Brazilian has heavy hands and is a world-class jiu-jitsu practitioner.
If Chimaev runs through Burns, we are looking at one of the most stunning rises in the history of the UFC – perhaps the single most stunning, and that is no hyperbole. Even if he narrowly beats Burns, he will have established himself as worthy of a title shot.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan
There is a compelling backstory to this fight. Last year, Sterling fought at an electric but unsustainable pace to arguably win the first two rounds against Yan, who then began to take over and pull away in the third and fourth. The Russian was landing shots at will and taking down the wrestling specialist with ease, and Sterling appeared to have nothing left.
The consensus was that a Yan victory was inevitable, until the champion landed a knee to the head of a downed Sterling, thus losing the fight and belt via disqualification.
Yan is one of the most adept strikers in the UFC and has terrific takedown defense and even respectable wrestling offense. He is seen as one of the best fighters in the promotion and exhibited the extent of his abilities in his thrilling points win against Sandhagen late last year.
Now, most fans believe Yan will claim the victory over Sterling that he was closing in on in their first meeting. Many think the interim champion will do so with ease. But it is worth looking at Sterling’s early success from their first clash; even if Yan was content to let the Jamaican-American expend his energy from him, Sterling was picking up points, and the defending champion can learn from his mistakes from him from that contest to make this bout more competitive than many fans expect.
Alexander Volkanovski vs ‘Korean Zombie’
Volkanovski (23-1) will make his third defense of the belt he won from Max Holloway, whom he was originally scheduled to face earlier this year. The Hawaiian, whom Volkanovski outpointed to win the belt and later beat via decision again to retain it, was set for a trilogy bout with the Australian until an injury ruled Holloway out. Sung Jung (17-6) was drafted in as a replacement despite his slightly patchy record in recent years.
Since returning from a four-year absence in 2017, the “Korean Zombie” has gone 4-2 in the UFC, beating Dan Ige last time out to rebound from a loss to Brian Ortega. Ige is a talented fighter but not (yet) considered an elite featherweight, while Ortega has twice challenged for the belt, so veteran Sung Jung’s credentials for a title fight have been questioned.
In fact, the 35-year-old challenged then-champion Jose Aldo in 2013 and was stopped by the Brazilian in Sung Jung’s final fight before leaving MMA to undertake his compulsory stint of military service in South Korea.
It would certainly be an upset if the striking specialist were to overcome the well-rounded Volkanovski, who has won 20 fights in a row, this weekend. The consensus is that the champion will win on points, having done just that in his last four fights – with his second win against Holloway proving controversial with fans, who were keen to see the Hawaiian again attempt to regain the title from Volkanovski, 33.
That trilogy contest will surely come next, if Volkanovski beats Sung Jung as expected.