The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday heads back to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas with what figures to be a surprisingly fun main draw. From a marquee standpoint, UFC on ESPN 25 is a one-fight card: the Chan Sung Jung-Dan Ige headliner promises to be a banger and also looks to be the only bout with any sort of immediate stakes. Beyond that, entertainment exists up and down the six-fight slate. Alexey Oleynik’s brand of heavyweight strangeness is always worth watching, and veterans like Marlon Vera, Julian Erosa and Matt Brown always carry the potential for some violence.
Now to the preview for the UFC on ESPN 25 main card:
Featherweights#4 FW | Chan Sung Jung (16-6, 6-3 UFC) vs. #8 FW | Dan Ige (15-3, 7-2 UFC)
ODDS: Jung (-110), Ige (-110)
This has some serious banger potential, but then again, that is true every time Jung fights. The stateside debut of “The Korean Zombie” back in 2010 was absolutely perfect. Jung went to war with Leonard Garcia in the featured prelim on World Extreme Cagefighting’s lone pay-per-view, putting on an instant classic of an all-time great fight. Jung narrowly—and controversially—came out on the losing end, but between the reputation for excitement and one of the best nicknames in the history of the sport, he was immediately entrenched as an eternal fan favorite. Once the UFC absorbed the WEC, Jung’s violence, hero status and a three-fight winning streak that included another all-time great fight against Dustin Poirier earned him a title shot against Jose Aldo in 2013. That went about as poorly as possible. Jung was outclassed before suffering a dislocated shoulder near the end of the bout. He then became a forgotten man, as a spate of injuries led into his mandatory military service, resulting in three and a half years out of the sport and his falling completely off the radar. Once Jung returned in 2017, he was still an immediate headliner due to his reputation, and while he is still an exciting fighter, he is now a much smarter and more effective one. His return win over Dennis Bermudez saw the debut of a more patient “Zombie” who was willing to lay back and crack his opponent with counters. Jung is still willing to fill the empty space in a fight and lead the dance, but he has been at his best blasting and sniping his opponents, as he has done in headliners against Renato Carneiro and Frankie Edgar. Jung can still put in five exciting rounds as needed. His 2018 clash with Yair Rodriguez was one of the best fights of that calendar year and only resulted in a Jung loss after “El Pantera” hit a buzzer-beating elbow that ranks among the craziest finishes in the history of the sport. That leaves Jung’s last bout, a one-sided loss to Brian Ortega, as the only fight since his return where there has really been nothing in the way of positives. Ortega came off his own long layoff with an amazingly improved boxing game and essentially had his way with Jung over the course of five rounds. Jung is still only 34 and has the action bonafides to remain a prominent fighter for as long as he wants, but he has endured a tough career and his future seems to hinge on his ability to remain a contender. To do so, he will need to win against Ige.
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Ige’s rise through the ranks was far from a certainty. Despite scoring a finish on the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2017, the Hawaiian was not even offered a contract. Instead, he had to wait for a few months to get signed as an injury replacement, and he failed to win his UFC debut against fellow Octagon newcomer Julio Arce. From there, “50K” put together a six-fight winning streak that got him to the fringes of title contention. It was Ige’s 2019 win over Kevin Aguilar that really got him over the hump as someone to truly watch, and from there, he gutted out two important victories over Mirsad Bektic and Edson Barboza to kick off 2020. They were both narrow wins—Ige’s layered pressure sometimes gets him hit as much as he gives out in terms of offense—but they set up the Hawaiian for his first main event, a headliner against Calvin Kattar in July. Ige had his moments but mostly struggled against the much longer and harder-hitting Bostonian, but his March win over Gavin Tucker allowed him to regain most of his momentum. He blasted Tucker with a powerful counter just 22 seconds into the fight. Ige asked for a fight against Jung afterwards, and he gets his wish and a huge opportunity here.
There could be some tedium, given that each man is at his best trying to counter what his opponent has to offer, but this is a fascinating matchup, particularly after Ige’s quick knockout victory over Tucker. Jung has generally been the harder singular hitter, but he would have to be considered the less durable of these two. While the “Korean Zombie” nickname shows that Jung can charge through offense, he can get cracked and stunned, and Ige’s win over Tucker shows that could be a possibility that would not have seemed nearly as likely beforehand. Even though Ige typically reads as the shorter fighter, the frames of these two are surprisingly close to being even, so range will not be an issue when it comes to either man being able to close the distance or getting picked apart from afar. This really comes down to who chooses to lead and who can hit with the faster and stronger counters. The former point is another aspect that is about even, as each man tends to ebb and flow with the fight. Both are willing to lead when needed, but again, Jung has traditionally been the harder hitter and might have the faster hands. While Ige might be better able to stand up against attritional damage with all else being equal, Jung being the harder hitter should see the Korean through, along with Ige’s traditionally inconsistent cardio. While Ige can go five rounds, he has also had the tendency to slow down before regrouping with second and third winds. The bet is that Jung can take over during one of those lulls and put an end to what should be an otherwise fun and violent affair. However, if this goes the distance, it basically becomes a coinflip. The pick is Jung via second-round knockout.
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