This past weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, the UFC put on two title fights and a title contention fight that brought much excitement in the buildup to the fights. The long-anticipated fight between Khamzat Chimaev and Gilbert Burns shocked the arena with what was certainly a contender for fight of the year. Aljamain Sterling faced Petr Yan in the awaited rematch and bantamweight title unification fight. Alexander Volkanovski looked for his 3rd title defense at featherweight against the legendary Korean Zombie, Chang Jung Sung.
The first and most exciting fight of the main events was the 3-round brawl between surging Chechnyan fighter, Khamzat Chimaev, and former title challenger and #3 ranked welterweight, Gilbert “Durinho” Burns. The fight has been long anticipated, as it saw the return of a fan-favorite fighter in Burns, and the surging destroying force that is Khamzat Chimaev have his first fight against a top 3 ranked opponent. Chimaev jumped the line in rankings after facing and defeating the then #11 ranked Li Jingliang in a very dominant fashion. He was set to face Burns after many in the top 10 seemed to be avoiding Chimaev. Burns took the challenge of an unknown and highly dangerous opponent as he himself looked to find his way to another title shot in the near future.
The 3-round fight started and the two were quick to get in the face of the other, landing shots within the first minute. Khamzat found a home with his straight punches and outstruck Burns while going 100% on his takedown defense. Chimaev landed a devastating knockdown in the first which planted Burns on the canvas, but through his world champion Jiu-Jitsu expertise, Burns was able to withstand the vicious ground game of Chimaev after he instantly pounced on the downed Burns. After his inability to finish Burns in the first round through his ground game, Chimaev opted to keep the fight on the feet, still threatening here and there with his wrestling. Burns surged through the second round, defending more takedowns, forcing Chimaev to only land 1 of 3, and out-striking him, showing a vulnerability in Chimaev that no opponent has been able to do before. Chimaev was facing new adversity, which he managed to survive through in the second round. The last round was up for grabs by either fighter. The striking was on par for both fighters as it seemed that neither could land a takedown, but with Burns and Chimaev landing 45-44 significant strikes respectively in the last round, it was a 5-minute slugfest with the fight on the line. Burns seemed to land a vicious combination near the end that almost knocked down Chimaev, but Chimaev was able to turn his vulnerability into a takedown attempt. The final bell rang and the two fighters embraced after the war they both went through. In a unanimous decision victory, winning rounds 1 and 3 on all three judges’ scorecards, Khamzat Chimaev took the victory and established himself in the top 3 of the welterweight division, putting himself within striking distance of a title shot.
After a whole year since Aljamain Sterling took the bantamweight title from Petr Yan over a DQ victory due to an illegal knee on a downed opponent, the two were set to face each other. With much animosity towards the other, it was expected that the fight would be a banger. The first fight saw Sterling exhaust all his energy much too fast and found himself on the brink of collapse to Yan, who was landing strikes at will, until Yan threw an illegal knee at the head of Sterling while he was downed. Sterling embellished the hell out of the injury and won himself an Oscar along with the bantamweight title through his DQ victory. It was now time for Sterling to prove that the belt was truly his.
The fight started with Sterling showing a fast pace reminiscent of the first fight, likely due to the fact that Yan is a known slow starter and the first round is an easy one to win against him. Sterling landed more significant strikes than Yan, going 19-13 respectively. The fight saw the second round and the two began to pick up the pace when Sterling landed his first takedown of the fight, earning himself significant control time on the ground where he was able to land most of his strikes in that round. Yan was unable to quickly get to his feet in fear of giving up a submission, making the round go to Sterling based off of control. The third round went to Petr Yan, who was able to out strike Sterling even with the control Sterling was able to put on Yan on the ground. Without any submission attempts and just one significant strike on the ground by Sterling, his ground efforts were a waste, and Yan managed to outdo Sterling on the feet with ease. Yan unanimously won the last two rounds across all scorecards as he snuffed all of Sterling’s takedown attempts and began to land at will for the last 10 minutes, as he landed 38 significant strikes to Sterling’s 20, with 22 of Yan’s strikes landing to the head. The fight was a close one depending on the value control time has over damage, but the fight saw the distance and was left to the three judges. The victory of a split decision went to Aljamain Sterling in a massive upset. It was clear that it did not feel that Sterling won, once again, and the round that swung the two-judge majority was the first, with 2 going for Sterling and the other for Yan in that round. This is clearly not the end for Petr Yan, who is arguably a top 2-3 striker in the UFC and in contention for being one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the UFC.
The final fight of the night was a massive one-sided victory for the incumbent champion Alexander Volkanovski. In a display of utter striking dominance during his 3rd title defense, Volkanovski was landing at will on the veteran Chan Sung Jung in a 4-round beatdown. Throughout the rounds, Volkanovski was able to land 50% of his takedown and a majority of his strikes in any position. It was clear that the only thing keeping the Korean Zombie in the fight was his tremendous heart and determination in what is possibly his last ever shot at a UFC belt. Through the four rounds, Volkanovski landed 138 significant strikes to the Zombie’s 48, with 102 of Volkanovski’s strikes landing to the head. As one who can only imagine being hit in the head that many times within 16 minutes, I bet it does not feel amazing. The fight was stopped 48 seconds into the fourth round as the referee Herb Dean called an end to the fight after Zombie failed to respond to multiple shots, looking like a dead man walking. Volkanovski secured his 3rd title defense without incurring too much damage. On a goal to secure his status as the best featherweight of all time, a close second behind Jose Aldo, who was the first and longest- reigning champion in the division with 7 title defenses in the UFC, Volkanovski does not have the easiest road, as he must face Max Holloway and other title contenders such as Calvin Katter, Arnold Allen, Yair Rodriguez and even Bryce Mitchell when the time comes. Featherweight is one division to watch in the upcoming years as the mass of talent that looms around the top 6 of the division can give you a fight of the night on any card.