UFC Matchmaker – Men’s Featherweight division
The UFC‘s men’s featherweight division is undoubtedly amongst the strongest within the organisation. However, after Alexander Volkanovski handily dethroned ex-champion Max Holloway, matchmaking has never been tougher in the division in which Conor McGregor rose to fame. It is important to note that inaugural featherweight champion Jose Aldo will not be considered in this article due to his intention in challenging for the bantamweight strap. With a new wave of young, hungry challengers challenging the established old guard, here are four fights to make in the men’s featherweight division.
Alexander Volkanovski vs Chang Sung Jung
Alexander Volanovski (21-1) has had one of the most impressive runs in recent UFC history. Volkanovski burst into superstardom after knocking out veteran Chad Mendes at UFC 232. Since then, the Aussie has beaten two of the greatest fighters in the division’s history, namely Jose Aldo and Max Holloway.
The hardest challenge in this UFC matchmaker was to identify the most worthy challenger to Alexander Volkanovski’s throne. Although Zabit Magomedsharipov‘s flashy style and impressive technique may make him seem like an ideal opponent, his lack of five-round experience combined with his evident cardio issues would mean that Volanovski would likely de-rail a hype-train before Zabit had fully mastered his skillset.
After missing most of his prime-years due to a series of injuries and military service, Chan Sung Jung (16-5) is back with a vengeance. Since his return to activity in 2017, all four of ‘The Korean Zombie’s’ bouts have ended in spectacular style. Considering he lost recently to Yair Rodriguez, some may call for the Mexican to have a title shot before Jung. However, considering Jung was dominating the bout for five rounds before being knocked out by an astonishing elbow, there is absolutely no reason for that fight of the year candidate to count against his title dreams.
Jung recently flatlined Frankie Edgar in brutal fashion, knocking the American veteran down multiple times before Marc Goddard mercifully called a stop to the contest. Zombie is violence personified, utilising merciless pressure and wild combinations to overwhelm his opponents. In addition to this, Jung’s iron chin and slick ground game have made him a fan-favourite.
And Still, Or And New?
Volkanovski was almost flawless in his fight with Max Holloway. Utilising an exceptional game plan, Volkanovski tore up the lead led of Holloway – largely nullifying the Hawaiians movement heavy attack. With an impressive array of striking, and what seems to be strong wrestling in his UFC tenure so far, Volkanovski will certainly be hard to beat. Jung represents an important challenge for Volanovski, a well-rounded fighter who’s power ensures that he poses a threat for all five rounds. If this fight did occur, it would almost certainly be a barnburner. Volkanovski would likely edge the contest, with his quick counters and cardio being the deciding factor.
Prediction – Alexander Volkanovski via decision
Max Holloway vs Yair Rodriguez
Until his bout with Dustin Poirier, Max Holloway (21-5) looked untouchable. Holloway had amassed a 13-fight win streak and had looked breathtaking in nearly every single performance. ‘Blessed’ had become infamous for the variety in his shots to both the head and the body, with distance control to go with it.
The Poirier bout likely, and unfortunately, signified the end of Holloway’s peak. Poirier tagged Hollway numerous times, and considering the bout was at lightweight, it was probably the hardest Holloway had been hit for a long, long time. There is absolutely no doubt that Holloway is still a world-class fighter, however, the Volkanovski fight demonstrated that his excellent speed and accuracy had both declined and that there was a very worthy heir to his throne.
This all being said, it is easy to forget that Holloway is only 28. Many comments of him being past his prime are due to some interviews where Holloway’s speech was clearly impeded, and the fact that he has taken a lot of damage throughout his career. If Holloway takes an appropriate amount of time off and refinds the form that led to his phenomenal win streak, there is absolutely no doubt that he will deserve a rematch with Volkanovski.
The question for any UFC matchmaker is who, in a division where all have succumbed to Holloway’s prowess, is worthy of being his next opponent? Yair Rodriguez ticks all the boxes to be this man.
Hands or feet?
Yair Rodriguez (13-2) is one of the most exciting strikers in the division. ‘El Pantera’s’ flashy kicks certainly demand attention and would make for a fascinating matchup against Holloway’s boxing. Rodriguez’s weakness undoubtedly lies in his ground game, as exposed when he was dominated by Frankie Edgar at UFC 211. However, Holloway will be happy to keep the fight standing making for a very fun fight.
Both fighters have fairly good chins, so a knockout is fairly unlikely. Holloway’s relentless pressure could nullify Rodriguez’s kicks by closing the distance quickly. If Holloway is able to manage the distance effectively, has he has done so many times in his UFC tenure, he should be able to return to winning ways against Rodriguez.
Prediction – Max Holloway via Decision
Brian Ortega vs Zabit Magomedsharipov
Brian Ortega (14-1) against Zabit Magomedsharipov (18-1) would be an enthralling matchup. Both fighters are incredibly well rounded yet have very distinct skill sets, making this an easy matchup for any UFC matchmaker.
Until he fought Max Holloway, Brian Ortega looked like he could truly be the one to dethrone the once-untouchable Hawaiin. However, Holloway inflicted a beating for the ages on Ortega, resulting in a doctors stoppage at the end of the fourth round. Ortega has taken a length spell on the sidelines since this loss, and there are certainly question marks over how he shall look on his return.
Putting this to one side, Brian Ortega is a fantastic fighter. A highlight-reel uppercut knockout of Frankie Edgar demonstrated that the Californian carries genuine knockout power, something which will certainly alarm Magomedsharipov. However, it is clear that Ortega’s prowess lies in his Jiu-Jitsu, with 50% of his wins coming by way of submission.
Magomedsharipov is one of the most aesthetically interesting fighters on the UFC roster. He has a diverse arsenal of strikes at his disposal, but his wrestling and submission game is what is most fascinating about him. Magomedsharipov utilises trips as well as any other fighter in the division, and his stunning Suloev-stretch knee-bar of Brandon Davis is just one of the many examples of his excellent submission game.
East or West?
Considering both fighters are adept on their feet and on the mat, it is hard to call who would win this bout. In his last contest, Magomedsharipov looked to be tiring rapidly against Calvin Kattar, and this was only in a three-round bout. Magomedsharipov has obvious cardio issues, and if Ortega is able to learn from his loss to Holloway he could easily exploit this. Ortega’s power could overwhelm Magomedsharipov in the later rounds, allowing ‘T-City’ to sink in one of his famous guillotine chokes.
Prediction – Brian Ortega via Submission
Ryan Hall vs Frankie Edgar
The wildcard inclusion in this UFC matchmaker is undoubtedly Ryan Hall. However, it would be an insult to the Jiu-Jitsu ace’s skillset to overlook him in this piece. Ryan Hall (8-1) is one of the most avoided fighters on the roster. This isn’t because he looks unbeatable and that there is no obvious gameplan to beat him, but because he is so God-damn good at what he does.
It is hard to argue that there is a more fearsome submission artist in the featherweight division than Ryan Hall. Hall is well known for literally flopping to his back whenever he feels pressured on the feet because he is so confident in his grappling ability. However, he has developed a mean spinning-kick, meaning that opponents have to stay sharp on their feet. Hall has a magnificent heel-hook and any fighters who lose concentration for even a second will be in marked danger against him.
So which ranked fighter would take on an opponent who possesses such little star power, but so much danger? The UFC matchmaker has struggled to find an answer to this, but Frankie Edgar (23-8) could be ‘the answer’ (ba dum tss) the company is looking for. Edgar has been viscously knocked out in two of his last four fights, and a matchup against someone without a striking background would likely be an attractive option for him.
To Wrestle, Or Not To Wrestle?
Because of Hall’s submissions off his back, it is unlikely that Edgar would look to utilise his wrestling. In his last bout, Edgar’s chin looked incredibly vulnerable against ‘The Korean Zombie’, so Hall will be confident that his spin kick could cause his opponent considerable concern. It is likely that due to his four-inch height advantage, Hall will be able to make Edgar uncomfortable enough on the feet to force Edgar into a takedown. If Edgar overlooks Hall’s ability in any way and leaves himself vulnerable to a submission, it is possible that Hall could pull off an upset against the former UFC lightweight champion.
Prediction – Ryan Hall via Submission
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