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After the longest Ultimate Fighting Championship event in company history, the promotion cuts back with a 12-fight offering that airs a little earlier on Saturday than a typical pay-per-view. While few individual matches jump off the page beyond the main event, it is a closely matched card from a sportsbook standpoint, with half of the pairings seeing favorites of -150 or less. A headliner that has obvious makings of “Fight of the Night” is one of four promising options, along with a heavyweight battle of generations, a potential grappler’s delight and a big man on whom some people may be sleeping. Join us for the UFC on ESPN 25 edition of Prime Picks.
Chan Sung Jung (+115)
This featherweight headliner will serve as a litmus test for much of the division, as there are far-reaching implications depending on who performs on fight night. While their respective last two outings could not have gone much differently, the overall skill level and variety of tools at their respective disposals should favor “The Korean Zombie.” Despite this, he comes in as a betting underdog against Dan Ige, who bounced back from a tough loss to Calvin Kattar—much like Jung’s last loss to Brian Ortega—with a lightning-quick knockout victory over Gavin Tucker. Based on his relative competition, even from that speedy win over an unranked Tucker, Ige has somehow punched his way up the rankings even higher from Kattar to Jung. Like the potentially eye-opening Kattar fight, this matchup could further show evidence of Ige’s ceiling atop the division.
With Jung as a betting underdog at the time, there is significant value in his line. Six of the nine bouts that the South Korean has taken have closed with him as an underdog, and he has still won in most of those. The only clear-cut loss was against Jose Aldo, unless you count the buzzer-beating “Knockout of the Year” winner that resulted from Yair Rodriguez’s elbow in 2018 in a bout Jung was leading until the unthinkable happened. Each of the UFC wins for “The Korean Zombie” have come by stoppage, so to continue that current trend, he would have to do what no man has done before. Ige carries a nearly comical level of durability. Taking everything from the likes of Edson Barboza, Kattar and Mirsad Bektic in recent memory and not falling is significant in its own right. Whether from sheer power or through his sneaky submission game, Jung is capable of ending a fight in an instant, and Ige will need to be on his toes to make it through the night.
Ige’s well-rounded nature gives him a boost in this high-stakes featherweight collision, as he does not show any glaring deficiencies Jung can exploit. If he has fallen short in one area, it is that he has fought to the level of his competition of late and does not often exceed it. Doing just enough to get the nod—this was the case against both Barboza and Bektic in fights that some scored in favor of his opponents—may not be enough against an all-action Jung. His striking appeared limited when facing a sharper boxer in Kattar, and he could find himself watching instead of competing should Jung string together the type of combinations he is accustomed to throwing.
The main question is whether Jung’s loss to Ortega can be written off as an outlier and one that simply showed that “T-City” is on another level. It would be deflating for Jung if he has reached a cliff at 34 and that dynamic wins from 18 and 24 months ago were not what he can present now. The number of “everything and the kitchen sink” battles that Jung has endured over the years has to have an effect on the fighter, so it remains to be seen if the best “Zombie” is in the past or if he can once more hoist the torch for Korean MMA. Ortega has shown himself to be top-notch to practically everyone outside of Max Holloway, so it stands to reason that Jung is not a spent force and is a worthy option as a betting underdog.
Alexey Oleynik-Sergey Spivak Goes Under 1.5 Rounds (-155)
Heavyweight is one of the only divisions where aging specialists can still excel, as the squeeze Oleynik locked on Derrick Lewis would have very possibly finished any other opponent at that moment. If not for Lewis’ unearthly ability to simply power out of bad situations, Oleynik would still be floating around in the Top 10 and possibly flirting with title contention. As age goes, so goes the chin, and Oleynik has taken some serious punishment in recent memory, as he elects to throw bombs and fall on top of opponents to get submissions. The nature of Oleynik’s and Spivak’s styles and abilities lead to this fight not lasting long, and it very well could be wrapped up before the opening round even concludes.
The line as it stands allows for either man to win, as long it is by finish within 7:30. This may provide a better option than selecting one fighter to secure a stoppage. Even at 43 and climbing, Oleynik is crafty enough to create a submission out of thin air, and if Spivak is careless for even a second, he may find his neck ensnared with an Ezekiel choke from the bottom or some such standing arm-triangle. On the other hand, the Moldovan has developed since disappointing showings against Walt Harris and Marcin Tybura, and Oleynik cannot present the styles that either of those two represented. Whether it goes to the ground and Spivak tries to pound Oleynik’s head through the canvas, or one of Oleynik’s unusually successful haymakers lands, this heavyweight co-headliner should wrap up quickly.
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Kanako Murata-Virna Jandiroba Goes to Decision (-170)
There are two schools of thought when it comes to this strawweight tilt: either Jandiroba gets the submission or she does not and the fight grinds to a halt. A gaudy tapout rate of 81% bolsters the woman known as “Carcara”—named after a breed of falcon —but more skilled ground fighters like Carla Esparza and Mackenzie Dern have staved off her attempts and stayed out of danger. Murata is one such grappler who can do just that, as she fearlessly waded into Randa Markos’ effective offensive guard and had her way with “Quiet Storm.” Other than a late submission setback against the larger Rin Nakai in 2016, Murata has used her grappling prowess to her advantage, even notching a few Von Preux chokes along the way.
Even though both women present unique dangers on the ground—Murata sets traps and Jandiroba chains one submission to the next—both are savvy enough ground players to know when it is coming. This may present a stalemate, and it remains to be seen if Murata decides to take the fight down or if the match transforms into a sloppy kickboxing affair. Either way it shakes out, unless Jandiroba can snag an early armbar when both women are dry, this fight should move along at a labored pace until the final bell sounds. It might present some interesting exchanges on the ground should the two spend considerable time there, so it does not fit in the category of being a potential snoozer. What it does provide, however, is the expectation that this fight goes to a decision when neither of them can employ their usual tricks and get a tap.
Josh Parisian (-135)
It has been tough sledding for the two-time Dana White’s Contender Series victor and “The Ultimate Fighter” participant to try to break into the UFC. Parisian’s long-awaited debut may not have gone his way, but he did show signs of life in the opening round against Parker Porter before fatiguing and getting grounded. Roque Martinez may be about as prototypical of a “stand and bang”-type of heavyweight as there is in MMA, with a granite chin and the ability to come back with his hands until the wheels come off. This preliminary contest may be tailor made for Parisian to get his hand raised, as long as he effectively uses his size and reach to ruin the Guam native’s day.
Six inches in height and seven inches in reach separate Parisian from his smaller, stockier counterpart, which seems especially important, as they both would vastly prefer to keep the fight standing. Parisian’s longer legs will work to his advantage, affording him the opportunity to drill his adversary in the midsection any time Martinez looks to close the distance. Getting sucked into a knock-down-drag-out brawl with Martinez would not be a wise move; instead, he should set up strikes, like his fabled spinning backfist. Asking a finish of Parisian may be a bridge too far, as the only fighter to ever officially crack Martinez’s chin was Kelvin Fitial just over a decade ago in a stoppage that may have been more due to fatigue. The two men were seconds away from the 20-minute mark. Based on their respective bodies of work on the major stages, Parisian’s value partly stems from his ability to win this fight and also from the consideration that he should likely be a far heavier favorite in this heavyweight slobberknocker.