Usman - "People don't understand how tough Jake is"Sep 25
March will be a tough month to top for MMA fans after the historic success of UFC London a few weeks ago – but the UFC returns for the first time in April with an absolute sizzler of a card at UFC 273.
Headlined by a cracking world title fight between featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski and Chan Sung Jung, aka The Korean Zombie, there’s also a second world championship showdown coming your way as Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan settle their bantamweight rivalry in a long-awaited rematch.
Plus Khamzat Chimaev, arguably the most feared man in the UFC, returns to action in a potentially pivotal welterweight contest against Gilbert Burns.
With so much going on at the VyStar Veteran’s Memorial Arena in Florida on Saturday night, read on to find out the five things we’ve picked to look out for at UFC 273: Volkanovski vs The Korean Zombie.
Alexander the GOAT?
Alexander Volkanovski will make the third defence of his 145lb crown this weekend as he looks to extend an astonishing 20-fight win streak at the expense of The Korean Zombie.
Faultless in 10 straight fights since joining the UFC back in 2016, Volkanovski’s current win streak puts him behind only Kamaru Usman and Jon Jones for the best form of any fighter across the roster and the 33-year-old is quietly building an impressive featherweight legacy.
Despite what the stats say, it’s not often that the Aussie fighter’s name is brought up when discussing the GOATs [greatest of all time] of the UFC.
It won't be long before there is a serious GOAT conversation to be had around this guy
- Nick Peet
“He doesn’t get the props he probably deserves,” BT Sport’s own Nick Peet explained on the Fight Week UFC 273 preview show this week.
“I think that’s because he’s fighting people like Max Holloway who are big fan favourites. He’s fighting Korean Zombie this weekend who is another massive fan favourite.
“When you’re beating up everyone’s favourite fighters, it’s hard for you to become popular!
“But if he keeps winning, keeps dominating fights in the manner in which he has been doing then it won’t be long before there is a serious GOAT conversation to be had around this guy.
“His only loss was up at welterweight. He’s got an incredible engine, an incredible physique and I wouldn’t bet against him moving up a weight one day as well. That’s how good he is, even though he’s a tiny featherweight.”
The man from New South Wales comes into this bout off the back of a pulsating Fight of the Night showdown against Brian Ortega at UFC 266 that saw Volkanovski come within moments of submitting to a brutal mounted guillotine.
But the champion showed his mettle to survive a memorable third that will go down as one of the most exciting chapters the sport has seen, regaining control of the fight thereafter to come away with his legacy intact.
Having been set to face Max Holloway in a trilogy showdown at UFC 273 before the Hawaiian was ruled out by injury, Volkanovski will be relishing the challenge of facing fresh meat among the featherweight contenders.
The Korean Zombie will pose an entirely different set of problems for Volkanovski to decipher this weekend having won over legions of fans with his insatiable appetite for fight-ending violence over the years.
Now 35, Zombie, has pocketed performance bonuses in three of his last four wins thanks to a trio of first round knockouts, earning his title shot by usurping Dan Ige on the scorecards last time out.
But if Volkanovski finds a way to deny another challenger to the 145lb throne, the division may well have found a GOAT from Down Under.
Not many fight fans will need reminding of the farcical scenes that saw Aljamain Sterling crowned bantamweight champion by disqualification at UFC 259 last year.
Petr Yan looked well on his way to his first successful title defence as the 135lb ruler before inexplicably blasting Sterling with an illegal knee during the fourth round to surrender the belt in Las Vegas.
It was an unsatisfactory end to what looked on its way to being the crowning performance of Yan’s career so far but instead, it ended with the Russian stripped of the gold and sent on his way.
I will make sure there will be no questions left
- Petr Yan
With Sterling electing to undergo neck surgery to remedy a long-standing issue last year instead of hopping straight into a rematch to settle the score, Yan instead took a high-risk showdown against Cory Sandhagen for the interim belt in October 2021.
And after a hard-fought Fight of the Night contest at UFC 267, Yan secured the belt he stated made him “the real champion” - despite what the rankings might say.
Now Yan has the chance to prove that statement beyond doubt with Sterling healed up and ready to lay it on the line in a bantamweight unification at UFC 273 this weekend.
“I want to make sure there won’t be no questions left after this and I will make sure there will be no questions left,” Yan told the MMA Hour this week.
“We’re gonna see his crying head on your TV again.”
The Wolf in wolf’s clothing
It’s hard to remember another fighter making such an impact from relative obscurity in such a short space of time as Khamzat Chimaev.
The 27-year-old roared onto the scene in the UFC in 2020, breaking the record for the quickest turnaround between UFC wins when he followed up a submission win over John Phillips with an even more dominant win against Rhys McKee on Fight Island ten days apart.
Barely breaking a sweat while he manhandled and smothered the two Brits, Chimaev subsequently followed those breakout performances up with a 17-second knockout of Gerald Meerschaert and a first-round win over Li Jingliang – the latter coming after a year out due to lingering effects of Covid 19.
The Russian-Swedish athlete, also known as ‘The Wolf’, now stands alone as arguably the most feared contender in any division across the UFC and has aspirations of conquering two weight classes in record time.
“I think he’s the scariest contender we have seen for a while,” former two weight king Daniel Cormier said of Chimaev when speaking to MMA Fighting this week.
Saturday night sees Chimaev, a three-time national wrestling champion across two weight classes in his native Sweden, pitted against the highest ranked opponent of his career when he takes on #3 Gilbert Burns looking to parachute into the top five.
But Burns, a former 170lb title challenger, will enter the bout as the betting underdog despite his proven credentials as a top dog in the welterweight landscape.
Since an electric UFC debut, the pressure has been on Chimaev to deliver on his frightening potential – and so far he has risen to every challenge with aplomb.
Another similar performance this weekend could even see the 10-0 prospect considered for a title shot this summer – watch this space!
The Future returns
While Khamzat Chimaev may be the hottest thing among the welterweight prospects currently, there is another 170lb superstar in the making set to feature at UFC 273 this weekend.
Ireland’s Ian Garry will make his second Octagon walk having made the perfect start to life in the UFC last time out, stopping Jordan Williams in the first round on debut at UFC 268.
Garry is clearly highly rated by the top brass at the UFC and has been handed another potentially tricky assignment on Saturday night as he takes on the teak-tough Darian Weeks.
Weeks fell to a narrow loss against the wild Bryan Barberena last time out but showed he belongs among the very best in the world in the UFC during a spirited effort.
But “The Future” is confident of another knockout performance this weekend that would do little to dispel similarities between his own rise to prominence and that of another Notorious Irishman.
Indeed, Garry and Conor McGregor’s paths to the UFC are almost identical having both conquered their respective weight divisions under the Cage Warriors banner before joining the big time.
Will Garry be the man to bring in the next generation of dominance for Irish MMA? The journey continues on Saturday night.
Big bangers – don’t blink
It could all be over in a flash on the prelims as heavyweight contenders Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Marcin Tybura look to consolidate their places in the rankings with a timely win at UFC 273.
Rozenstruik, who burst onto the scene in the UFC back in 2019 with a ferocious streak of knockouts reminiscent of Francis Ngannou’s ascent when he scored four KOs in his first four fights.
But since then, the 34-year-old has gone 2-3 against a killer’s row of contenders including Ngannou, Ciryl Gane and Curtis Blaydes.
It was Blaydes against whom Rozenstruik made his last trip to the Octagon and the Surinamese powerhouse will be desperate not to fall to successive defeats for the first time in his career when he takes on #10 Marcin Tybura.
Tybura has been a mainstay of the heavyweight rankings for a number of years and was on the best run of his UFC tenure before dropping a decision to Alexander Volkov in October.
But the Polish veteran, whose last two wins have both come by knockout, remains hungry to emluate his countryman Jan Blachowicz and mount an unlikely charge towards the top of the rankings.
Who will triumph in this battle of the big hitters?