Yeah, I know his name is Chan Sung Jung. But if you don’t prefer “The Korean Zombie” in any and all circumstances, this breakdown isn’t for you.
After last week’s decent card in the oxygen-starved climes of Denver, Colorado, we’re straight back at it with another well-matched MMA show that’s lacking in big-name value but full of intriguing fights – including the long-awaited return of a perennial fan-favourite and a classic veteran vs. prospect matchup in the women’s strawweight division. It’s hardly a stacked affair, but if it helps just think of this as an appetizer for next week’s big, numbered main course.
Let’s get on with it.
Fight Pass Prelims
Khalil Rountree vs. Daniel Jolly
The night opens in classic Fight Night fashion with a light-heavyweight clash between guys with a combined UFC record of 0-3. Ouch. Daniel Jolly was soundly dominated in his promotional debut, and Khalil Rountree lost a decision at the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 23 and then got tapped in the first by Tyson Pedro back in November. Again, ouch.
Still, let’s look on the bright side. Jolly’s loss was way back in August 2015, and for a young, athletic dude that’s lots of time to make significant improvement. It can hardly be said he showed any depth of skill in his last outing, but we’ll see how he fares this time around. Meanwhile, Rountree is a southpaw counter-puncher with ridiculous power and expressive eyebrows. Only one of those might win him the fight, but the other will make sure everyone knows exactly how he feels about the outcome.
Jolly’s a little too much of an unknown quantity at this point for me to put much faith in him, and to deal with Rountree’s superior striking he’ll need a wrestling and grappling game that I just don’t think he has. And Rountree’s defensive wrestling is utterly atrocious, so that’s saying something. Expect an early KO.
Alex Morono vs. Niko Price
I picked against the undefeated Niko Price in his last fight against Brandon Thatch, but I won’t be doing so again. The prospect pulled off a serious upset by handily strangling the big welterweight, and I was thoroughly impressed with his aggressive submission game. It should serve him well here against the pacey striking of Morono.
Price isn’t a bad striker in his own right, and what he lacks in technique he makes up for in power and durability, but if he’s able to ground his opponent (which he should be able to) then he’ll have a distinct advantage on the mat. I’m expecting a submission or a dominant decision in Price’s favour.
Bec Rawlings vs. Tecia Torres
David takes on Goliath as the 5’1” Tecia Torres draws 5’6” brawler Bec Rawlings in the increasingly-interesting strawweight division. Both are fresh off losses; the former dropped a close decision to Rose Namajunas in April and the latter ate one of the shapely legs of Paige VanZant in August. All the same this is a fun bout between two talented women.
Torres, especially, was a former title contender, and the loss against “Thug” Rose was the first of her career. She’s fast, well-rounded and thankfully fights long enough to offset a lot of her physical disadvantages. Here she’ll have the edge in movement, output and, presumably, top control, although whether she’s able to ground Rawlings is another story. The Australian has solid takedown defence and does some of her best work in the clinch.
Rawlings’ counter-punching and willingness to exchange could prove dangerous if Torres plays her game, but I don’t think she will. There’s no reason to abandon the outside stick-and-move game if it’s working, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t against the style of Rawlings. Torres impresses the judges.
Ricardo Ramos vs. Michinori Tanaka
Ricardo Ramos is the latest prospect from Dana White’s Looking for a Fight series, and as we’ve established on these pages before, the show is quite clearly cursed. I’m not a superstitious man by any means, but this is almost indisputable fact. They all end up losing. And despite being highly-touted, on paper Ramos has a very tough outing here.
Tanaka has an explosive in-and-out striking style of a kind Ramos simply has not seen before. And while Ramos is decent on his feet and has finishing power, Tanaka’s movement and pace will cause him problems. That having been said, Tanaka is susceptible to takedowns and doesn’t really threaten all that much from his back. That’s almost certainly Ramos’ path to victory. He has a strong takedown game and a good nose for submissions. The pundit in me really should back Ramos here, but I’d be a fool to overlook the blatant voodoo hovering over Dana’s YouTube offerings. Tanaka TKOs him.
Chas Skelly vs. Chris Gruetzemacher
Chris Gruetzemacher joins the long list of fighters whose names I write once and then copy-paste for the rest of the article. The tough mid-tier featherweight also draws a relentless wrestler in Chas Skelly, a talented grappler with far more promotional experience. It could be a long night for Gruetzemacher.
Both guys are aggressive and can do a little bit of everything, though, which should make this an enjoyable contest either way. Gruetzemacher likely lacks the skills to put Skelly away convincingly, but his willingness to get after it and exchange could at least make him work for the victory. Look for Skelly to vent some of the pressure with well-timed takedowns and make this a grappling contest on the way to a nod from the judges.
Adam Milstead vs. Curtis Blaydes
Despite sounding like the hero of a self-published action novel, Curtis Blaydes is one to watch in the heavyweight division. He was a junior college national champion wrestler, and brings a versatile takedown game with his imposing 6’4” frame. On the feet he’s not afraid to exchange, and hides his singles and doubles behind a heavy, pumping jab and powerful low kicks. He’s still primarily a grappler, but he’s evolving quickly, and at only 25-years-old in the heavyweight division he’s practically a baby.
Milstead is, similarly, a great athlete, but while his hands are vicious he has some lapses in defensive wrestling which could prove to be his undoing here. He has the power and technique to do the business, but he likely won’t have an answer for the grappling of Blaydes. A late TKO due to ground strikes is the likeliest outcome here.
Jessica Andrade vs. Angela Hill
For a woman standing at only 5’2”, Jessica Andrade is fucking terrifying. Since dropping to 115lbs she has finished both of her opponents in devastating fashion, and few women in the world can put together such lengthy and powerful flurries – especially against the cage, which is where she does her best work. The Brazilian’s game revolves around corralling her opponent into traps and then unloading consistently until they find a way out or drop; not entirely dissimilar to John Lineker’s style, actually, although Andrade puts together better sequences. She’ll mix head and body shots with knees and elbows, finding openings rather than swinging blindly.
Andrade is also a powerful wrestler, both offensively and defensively. She uses her diminutive stature to get under strikes and score deep takedowns, while her low centre of gravity makes it difficult for opponents to find her hips. What she lacks in leverage she makes up for in sheer physical power, and from the top position she’s able to drop bombs while still maintaining control. Scrambling opponents also open themselves up to her guillotine.
Angela Hill isn’t quite as spectacular, but she’s only lost to Tecia Torres, Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas (two of those via standing rear-naked choke, oddly). In her time away from the UFC she has made tremendous improvements to her game under the Invicta banner, capturing the belt and then defending it in two five-rounders, so she’s had a lot of cage time. Her striking is diverse and awkward, all of her shots carry power, and she has evidently paid attention to the areas where she was weakest. Her footwork and output allow her to maintain a pacey stick-and-move style, and her leverage in the clinch is top-notch.
Despite this, it’s still Andrade’s fight to lose. Hill doesn’t exactly have bulletproof takedown defence, and her guard is active without being threatening. Even her footwork, while much improved, may still crumble under the stalking pressure of Andrade, and the threat of a relentless string of strikes is never far away. At some point, the referee is going to have to pull Andrade off.
Anthony Hamilton vs. Marcel Fortuna
At the opposite end of the spectrum from high-level strawweights we have low-level heavyweights squaring off, as the veteran Anthony Hamilton takes on debuting Marcel Fortuna – last seen losing his fight to get into the Ultimate Fighter 23 house. Hamilton is a well-rounded and experienced fighter who has seen it all and can do most of it, but he doesn’t stand out in any particular way aside from having above-average wrestling. Fortuna, meanwhile, is an impressive jiu-jitsu player with a second-degree black belt and a solid understanding of how to get the fight where he wants it, but despite having pop in his shots and decent timing on his level changes he’s not an especially imposing striker or wrestler.
The probable difference-maker here is size. Fortuna is 6’1” and light, whereas Hamilton is a solidly-built 6’5” who couldn’t fight in another division even if he wanted to. That lends Hamilton all kinds of advantages in every phase of the fight, and unless he gasses horrendously, his natural weight and power should allow him to dictate where the fight takes place. Look for him to score on the feet, find the takedown and finish with ground-and-pound.
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Volkan Oezdemir
After losing two in a row (one of them an emphatic knockout at the hands of Jimi Manuwa) it’s easy to forget that Ovince Saint Preux was only recently an interim title contender who went five full rounds with the greatest of all time and a broken arm. That says a lot about the style of Saint Preux, which typically relies on his innate gifts of toughness, strength and athleticism. At 6’3” the former football player is a huge light-heavyweight, and he has a great sense of timing and angles. He’s reluctant to throw with any kind of volume because of his questionable conditioning (especially when being forced to wrestle) but everything he does decide to throw has knockout written all over it.
On the subject of wrestling, Saint Preux can do that too, just in moderation. He has a powerful double-leg shot and, because of his size, he can control his opponent from top position while landing heavy strikes. He’s far from a submission grappler, but you still don’t want him on top of you. It’s defensively that problems begin to emerge. He can stave off a sloppy takedown attempt, but he’s far from immune to being taken down. Once he’s on his back his strength gives him a little leeway, but he’s uneconomical with his energy in most positions; getting back to his feet is a particular weakness, and he tends to do it through brute force rather than technique.
That lack of technique (and how little it has developed throughout his career) is Saint Preux’s Achilles’ Heel, and a crisp, technical fighter can exploit it. To Oezdemir’s credit, he has the capacity to be that kind of striker. He strings together hard punch-kick combinations, and while he maintains discipline he’s very dangerous. Unfortunately for him, he has a tendency to get wild and sloppy. When he does, Saint Preux will likely catch him with a hard counter and put him away.
James Vick vs. Abel Trujillo
From one fighter who relies on their physical attributes to another – this time in the lightweight division. Abel Trujillo enters the cage on Saturday riding a three-fight win streak, and the talented 155er has made a career out of maximising his innate power and physicality. He’s an explosive striker with a fast in-and-out style, and he can land solid counters while moving backwards. He lends the same explosiveness to his takedowns, and when he secures top position he’s able to maintain it while landing heavy shots from dominant positions. He’s far from a submission grappler, but he has a dangerous front headlock too.
You can guess some of Trujillo’s issues. Because he carries a lot of muscle and is prone to springing in and out, he tends to gas early. And when he gets taken down, he can be broken. Khabib Nurmagomedov did it, because of course he did, but Trujillo has a tendency to be a little desperate in his scrambles, leading him to frequently offer his back to an opponent. Luckily for him, James Vick, while a decent grappler, isn’t really the type to engage on the ground with Trujillo. What he’d rather do is stay at range and utilize his 6’3” frame to pepper Trujillo with jabs and kicks. He likes to work the legs and body with a lot of volume, and across three rounds he can maintain a pace that Trujillo can’t match (not consistently, anyway). That’s the game he needs to play here; scoring and biding time until the latter half of the fight, when Trujillo begins to slow and Vick can take over.
Getting there, though, will be the problem. Opponents who can get inside his reach will find Vick to be very hittable, and if Trujillo is able to land clean in the pocket then Vick is in big trouble. Likewise with the wrestling. Vick is decent enough defensively and has some grappling tricks in his bag, but a deep, explosive double-leg is still going to put him on his back.
With all that, this is an interesting fight that presents a lot of interesting outcomes. A decision either way is perfectly viable; it depends when Vick is able to take over the fight. It could be in the final round, but it could just as easily be halfway through the second. It might be right from the opening bell. What I’m leaning more towards is a TKO in favour of Trujillo. He has the speed to get inside and the power to do some damage. Let’s go with that.
Felice Herrig vs. Alexa Grasso
You can tell there’s a prospect in the strawweight division when the UFC calls on talented journeywoman Felice Herrig. They wheeled her out to face Paige VanZant, whom she underestimated and lost to, and more recently Kailin Curran, whom she beat rather handily. And really, it’s no surprise. Herrig has been around a long time. She’s shared the cage with some of the best fighters in the division, and never rolled over for anyone. Her depth of skill is problematic, especially for newcomers, and if she can consistently ground a fight and be allowed positional control, she’s a nightmare from the top.
Her standup, however, leaves a fair amount to be desired, and that’s where she’s going to run into problems with Alexa Grasso. The Mexican is a significantly better striker who throws an absurd amount of volume with superlative technical acumen. She isn’t especially powerful, but her output is so high that she doesn’t need to be. Nobody she has yet encountered has had an answer for Grasso’s footwork and angles. She’s constantly moving; her feet, her head, her hands. The odd kick keeps an opponent guessing, and when she sits down on a combination she can put a girl’s lights out.
The clinch isn’t Grasso’s preferred working environment, but she’s nasty there too, and able to generate a surprising amount of force in tight spaces. Her knees to the body are especially nasty from this position, and they dissuade her opponent from continuing to engage at that range. Herrig likes to operate here. Exactly how long that preference persists on Saturday remains to be seen, but I’d imagine it won’t be very long.
The outcome of this fight largely depends on whether Herrig is able to get Grasso to the ground. I think that’s unlikely. Grasso’s clinch work is nasty enough to make every attempt at a tie-up seem like a bad idea, and at distance she has a distinct striking advantage. The UFC would clearly like the marketable Grasso to fulfil a specific role in the Mexican market alongside Yair Rodriguez, and there’s a strong chance of that happening. Judging by how capably Grasso beat the brakes off Heather Jo Clark in her last outing, I see a similar outcome here.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Chan Sung Jung
He’s back! And not from the dead, as his nickname would suggest, but in MMA terms three years (one for injury; two in the South Korean military) is almost the same thing. Quite how the Korean Zombie will look after all that time away is the biggest question hovering over this fight, the outcome of which will cement either fighter in the upper echelons of the 145lbs division.
Before his extended absence, Jung’s only loss under the UFC banner was due to an unfortunate mid-fight shoulder separation during a title shot against Jose Aldo. He was arguably winning that fight, and before it he was smoking competition, knocking out Mark Hominick in 7 seconds and tapping Leonard Garcia with his trademark twister submission. He might have made his reputation by engaging in wild slugfests and marching forward through punishment, but the Zombie was a developing fighter in every sense of the word, learning how to temper his aggression and durability with real technique and strategy. The counter he dropped Hominick with was a thing of beauty, and a Chan Sung Jung who fights that way is a serious threat to anyone in the division.
On the ground, he’s just as much of a nightmare. His submission game is aggressive and active from all positions, and he has a great instinct in scrambles, frequently catching opponents with his front headlock or finding a way to the back. He can finish a fight from anywhere and at any time. The question remains, though, whether he’ll be able to do that after so much time away.
And Dennis Bermudez is far from a pushover. Despite a turbulent couple of years, he’s still one of the better talents in the division, and oddly his style is more or less the exact opposite of what you’d imagine based on his physique. He doesn’t carry much power, but he sets a remarkably quick pace and can maintain it for the duration. He has a well-developed ability to cover distance, land and zip back out of range, which is mandatory given his size (only 5’6”), and he punctuates punch sequences with thunderous low kicks. His wrestling is no joke either. He has an explosive double-leg and single-leg lift, and in recent fights he has taken to a more conservative approach on the ground; focusing on maintaining position and controlling his opponent, rather than welcoming scrambles and stand-ups.
My pick here is tentative, but it kind of has to be given the number of unknowns surrounding the fight. If Jung has developed since his absence, he’ll be able to land hard counters almost at will, and his dangerous transitional game should keep him from being controlled on the ground. It is worth remembering, though, that Bermudez has fought seven times while Jung has been out of action. That’s a serious amount of cage-time, and even on purely physical merits Bermudez presents problems. Still: the Zombie earns a TKO.
Fight Pass Prelims
Khalil Rountree via KO
Niko Price via submission
Tecia Torres via unanimous decision
Michinori Tanaka via TKO
Chas Skelly via unanimous decision
Curtis Blaydes via TKO
Jessica Andrade via TKO
Anthony Hamilton via KO
Ovince Saint Preux via KO
Abel Trujillo via TKO
Alexa Grasso via unanimous decision
Chan Sung Jung via TKO