UFC Fight Night 180 on Saturday in the United Arab Emirates features a shockingly strong five-fight main card. The Brian Ortega-Chan Sung Jung headliner looks to be as captivating as any non-title bout the Ultimate Fighting Championship can put together at the moment, as it combines high stakes, guaranteed excitement and some personal animosity. In addition, the lineup sees the rare interesting heavyweight co-main event, where top prospect Ciryl Gane draws his toughest test to date. When linked with former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade’s intellectually fascinating move to 125 pounds, a showdown between decent light heavyweight prospects and the long-awaited return of Thomas Almeida, there is a lot to love about this card.
Now to the preview for the UFC Fight Night “Ortega vs. Korean Zombie” main card:
FeatherweightsBrian Ortega (14-1) vs. Chan Sung Jung (16-5)
ODDS: Jung (-175), Ortega (+155)
Given his moniker, it should not have been a surprise that “The Korean Zombie” would rise again, but Jung’s recent surge since returning from military service has been an absolute delight. Jung’s 2010 stateside debut against Leonard Garcia went perfectly everywhere but on the scorecards. The two had an absolute war that made Jung, thanks in part to one of the best nicknames in the history of the sport, an immediate star and cult favorite even in defeat. When Jung started his UFC career with three straight wins, the promotion decided he was the best choice to face then-featherweight champion Jose Aldo, if not on merit then certainly based on excitement. However, it went about as poorly as possible for Jung. He did not get much done before suffering a major shoulder injury that would keep him out of action for over a year. Of course, that injury layoff bled into Jung’s mandatory service with the Korean military, so the end result was that it would be three and a half years until he made it back. He returned in excellent form, quickly blasting Dennis Bermudez before winding up on the shelf again, this time due to a serious knee injury. Given all that, it was easy to craft a narrative that Jung’s years of high-level violence had finally caught up to him, but since his return from his latest injury, he has been the best “Zombie” yet. He won 24 minutes and 59 seconds of an excellent war against Yair Rodriguez in his latest comeback fight, only to fall victim to one of the craziest endings in UFC history—an inexplicable pop-up elbow from Rodriguez that put out Jung’s lights just as the final horn sounded. If any loss deserved a mulligan it was that one, and Jung did his best to wash it away with an excellent 2019 campaign, winning main events against Renato Carneiro and Frankie Edgar in quick and brutal fashion. At this point, Jung is firmly in the mix for a title shot, and a win here in this grudge match against Ortega would make him undeniable.
Ortega is ready to craft his own successful return, given that it has been nearly two years since “T-City” graced the Octagon. Ortega remains one of the most venomous submission artists in the sport, and that has allowed him to craft an odd but successful style that is much more than the sum of its parts. Ortega once had a string of four straight third-round finishes—while possibly never winning a single round on the scorecards—and at first, it seemed like random chance. However, there is a method to the madness, as Ortega just keeps moving forward and presenting offense until his opponent eventually slips up, at which point he can find a finish, whether via a highlight-reel knockout or one of his signature chokes. There are other fighters who adopt similar strategies in broad strokes, but what makes Ortega’s particularly odd is that it is a particularly rudimentary form of the approach. Ortega does not seem to make defensive reads or try to attempt to drown his opponent in pace, and his evolution has been more about adding tools to his toolbox rather than developing any sort of clear progression of his fights. Ortega just cycles through an ever-expanding array of techniques until something works, at which point he is just a shockingly effective finisher, particularly on the mat. Of course, this all got laid bare in his last appearance, a featherweight title fight against Max Holloway in which the Hawaiian proved too fast and elusive for Ortega to accomplish much of anything. Ortega was so outclassed technically that Holloway essentially gave him pointers during the latter stages of the fight. If nothing else, Ortega continued to show the ridiculous durability that has helped carry him this far, as it was the doctor who stopped him and not Holloway. Hopefully that holds true here, since he will need it against Jung.
There is also a personal side to this, as the two camps had a blow-up in the crowd at UFC 248, and the end result was that few non-title fights are quite as interesting as this one. Both men are adept enough on the ground that they will likely cancel out each other; a club-and-sub is not out of the question, but it would be a shock if either man went out and dominated the action on the mat. That makes this an interesting striking match. Given the success that Holloway had against Ortega as the much faster striker, it seems fairly certain that the Californian is going to eat quite a bit of damage in this one. Ortega seems up to the task unless that beating was truly career-altering, and from there, the fight gives rise to many question marks.
Again, Jung figures to have success on offense, but the question is whether or not he can stay consistently dedicated to getting out of danger afterwards. Jung has gotten much more prudent in terms of picking his spots to swarm in and blitz his opponents, but once he does pull the trigger, he is ready to throw down for an exchange. Bermudez, Carneiro and Edgar all figured to have trouble holding up against those vicious combinations and were taken out without much trouble, so that leaves a comparison between Ortega and Rodriguez that is difficult to parse. Rodriguez had success returning fire, but he is also a much quicker fighter than Ortega. However, even if Jung has a clear speed advantage, Ortega is a thudding hitter who can make up the deficit with the harder strikes. A win for Jung has to bank on one of two things: Either he can knock out Ortega cleanly in a fashion that nobody has before, or he can cleanly exit exchanges after he decides to blitz in and swarm the Rener Gracie protege with combinations. The latter scenario is the worry. In an extended fight, “Zombie” basically has to zombie, and if this winds up in a war of attrition, Ortega has proven to be the much more durable fighter. This figures to be a dogfight and Jung could make Ortega look foolish for most of it, but the call is for “T-City” to cycle through his options and find something that can quickly turn the tide of the fight. The pick is Ortega via third-round stoppage.
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