Trust a “zombie” to stand up, brush off the dirt of a recent defeat and get right back on track to title contention in the UFC featherweight division.
In the main event of UFC on ESPN 25 on Saturday at the Apex in Las Vegas, Chan Sung Jung withstood a spirited effort from Dan Ige to win either three or four of the five rounds, depending on which judges you happen to agree with. “The Korean Zombie” confirmed his status as both a star — his eight consecutive headlining appearances are by far the most for a non-champ — and as a contender, as he put some distance between himself and his one-sided loss to Brian Ortega last October.
The question now for Jung is just how close the win over Ige gets him to a second shot at UFC gold. In addition, the rest of the “UFC Vegas 29” main card featured fighters making statements, making moves and making a case to rise into the Top 10 of their respective divisions. All of them need a next opponent. In the wake of UFC on ESPN 25, here are some matches that ought to be made:
Chan Sung Jung vs. Max Holloway: If not for timing, the UFC would probably consider putting Jung in line for an immediate shot at the winner of the Alexander Volkanovski vs. Ortega title fight, but since those two don’t face off until Sept. 25, it would probably leave Jung on the shelf until next year. Better to build even more interest by having “The Korean Zombie” take on Holloway, as they are just about the only two of the Top 5 who haven’t fought one another yet.
The UFC would run the risk that Volkanovski defends successfully while Holloway defeats Jung, leaving the promotion to try and sell Volkanovski-Holloway 3 when the champ already won the first two meetings. However, considering how good the first two fights were, and that the second was so close that many scored it for the Hawaiian, that isn’t too bad a worst-case scenario. Meanwhile, the other potential outcomes — Volkanovski vs. Jung, Ortega vs. Jung, and Holloway vs. Ortega 2 — range from palatable to amazing.
Sergey Spivak vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov-Chris Daukaus winner: It was the best of wins, it was the worst of wins. While Spivak’s unanimous decision victory over Alexey Oleynik in Saturday’s co-main event represents the biggest win of the Moldovan’s career in terms of name value, by the eye test it was not a huge level-up moment. Faced with a 43-year-old, one-dimensional foe in the Russian submission wizard, Spivak did a credible job keeping the fight standing, and survived the one sequence during which Oleynik had him in trouble. However, Spivak’s 16-year youth advantage did not translate to any particular edge in speed or power, and he was unable to even threaten to finish the fight in the third round when Oleynik was practically too exhausted to stand.
There are two heavyweight matchups happening next month that might yield an appropriate next opponent for Spivak, depending on how much you credit him for the Oleynik win. If you are of the mind that an ugly win is still a win and “The Polar Bear” deserves another cautious step forward, Abdurakhimov and Daukaus square off at UFC on ESPN 27 on July 24. The winner would be a great next test for Spivak, and vice versa. If you believe Spivak is in more or less the same place he was a week ago in the heavyweight rankings, Greg Hardy and Tai Tuivasa are scheduled to slug it out at UFC 264 on July 10. Spivak has already beaten Tuivasa convincingly, but if Hardy wins, he would be a decent choice that’s neither a big step down nor up.
Marlon Vera vs. Dominick Cruz: The victorious Vera called out former champ Cruz after his win over Davey Grant. “The Dominator,” working as a color commentator for the UFC, used his legendary footwork to sidestep the callout, but I’m saying “not so fast, Dom.” While Cruz might still be the most accomplished bantamweight of all time based on his body of work up through 2016, in 2021 he has just as much to prove as Vera does. Cruz said, “He wants to fight up the ladder. I want to fight up the ladder too.” Cruz’s last win was over promising but unranked prospect Casey Kenney. Vera is absolutely a step “up the ladder” from Kenney. Problem solved.
Seung Woo Choi vs. Andre Fili-Daniel Pineda winner: ”Sting” put an end to the nice redemption story Julian Erosa had going, blowing away “Juicy J” with punches in 97 seconds. In so doing, he ended the three-fight win streak with which Erosa had begun his third stint with the UFC, while winning his own third in a row. Choi’s wrestling remains a question mark — though Movsar Evloev and Gavin Tucker take a lot of people down — but his crisp, powerful striking is a force to be reckoned with. Fili and Pineda, who throw down next weekend at UFC Fight Night 190, are both tough, well-rounded veterans who can threaten an opponent in any situation or position. Whoever emerges victorious would be a suitable next step up for the 28-year-old Korean.
Bruno Silva vs. Eryk Anders: Silva’s long-delayed UFC debut offered enough to remind us why the UFC would hold a roster spot for the former M-1 Global middleweight champ for over two years, while not dispelling all of the questions hanging over him after the PED suspension. Certainly his vaunted knockout power was on full display on the feet as well as in the brutal ground-and-pound sequence with which he finished Wellington Turman. However, he struggled to keep things standing against a borderline UFC talent in Turman, and in fact only did so with the help of several blatant fence grabs. Nonetheless, it’s onward and upward for “Blindado” in the wide-open 185-pound division. Anders, who moved up to light heavyweight for his rematch with Darren Stewart last week but intends to return to middleweight, would be a fine next opponent, as would Roman Dolidze, who was victorious over Laureano Staropoli two weeks ago.
Matt Brown vs. Alex Morono: The 40-year-old Brown showed flashes of his vintage self on Saturday, absolutely scorching Dhiego Lima with a one-punch knockout in the second round of their welterweight matchup. While the win was a great way to snap a two-fight losing streak while picking up a cool $50K for “Performance of the Night,” I’m going to rain on the party and say that it still doesn’t make me want to see Brown take on Top 10 fighters at this stage of his career. Neither do I want to see him used as a stepping stone for any more of the Miguel Baezas of the world.
What Brown needs for his farewell lap around the sport are competitive, but winnable matchups against fighters who are well established, but at least a few wins away from contention. While plenty of welterweights fit that description — someone like Bryan Barberena or Lyman Good would fill the bill just fine — Morono is on a bit of a bucket-list tour already, having faced Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone in his last two fights. A matchup with Brown would allow “The Great White” to scratch one more legendary name off the card — and would probably yield a fantastic fight.