UFC 273 Predictions: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Picks
UFC 273 goes down this Saturday in sunny Jacksonville, Florida. It'll be the Las Vegas-based MMA promotion's first pay-per-view bonanza in over a month, and from the looks of it, it'll be well worth the wait.
The card will be topped by a featherweight title fight between increasingly impressive champion Alexander Volkanovski of Australia and South Korean challenger The Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung, who stepped in when No. 1 contender Max Holloway was forced onto the sidelines by an injury. Volkanovski will be looking for his third title defense after a pair of decision wins over Holloway and Brian Ortega, while The Korean Zombie will be looking to make good on his second UFC title shot after failing to swipe the featherweight strap from Jose Aldo back in 2013.
The featherweight title will not be the only championship bauble up for grabs at UFC 273. The card will also feature a bantamweight title bout between undisputed champion Aljamain Sterling and interim champion Petr Yan. The fight will be the pair's second after Sterling beat Russia's Yan by disqualification after chowing down on an illegal knee in early 2021. Sterling hasn't fought since, whereas Yan got back on track by defeating Cory Sandhagen by decision to win the division's interim strap in October.
While it's these two title fights that will get top billing at UFC 273, it's arguable that no fight on the lineup is causing more buzz than the middle bout of the main card, which will pit former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns against undefeated contender Khamzat Chimaev, who is one of the most hyped fighters, well, ever.
Throw in a clash of ranked strawweight contenders as Tecia Torres takes on Mackenzie Dern, and an interesting lightweight style clash between Mark Madsen and Vinc Pichel, and we've got a fun-looking pay-per-view on our hands.
As always, the B/R combats sports scribes are prepared to stake their reputations on the outcomes of the five fights that comprise the UFC 273 main card. Keep scrolling to see who we're picking to leave the Octagon victorious this Saturday night.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Chan Sung Jung
Tom Taylor: It would be really cool to see "The Korean Zombie" get his hands on a UFC title in the twilight of such a long and entertaining career, but I just don't see it happening Saturday night. Volkanovski is a juggernaut. He's on a 20-fight win streak, including 10 triumphs in the UFC, and can seemingly do everything. He can wrestle, he can strike, and as he proved in his recent title defense against Brian Ortega, he can defend submissions too.
I just don't see Jung having any more success against the Aussie than greats like Jose Aldo and Max Holloway did. Throw in the fact that the South Korean is 35 years old—that's getting up there for a featherweight—and his chances look even slimmer. It's just the wrong matchup at the wrong time for him.
Volkanovski by unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I remember sparring when I was a kid, looking to my trainer for an assessment and hearing, "Well, you take a helluva shot." I knew right then I would not be a world champion.
Fast-forward to this weekend, and what it means to me is this: If your biggest attribute is that you take enormous amounts of punishment, there's a real good chance you won't win on the highest level. Volkanovski is the highest level. And he'll do pretty much anything he wants once the initial feeling-out process is complete.
Volkanovski by TKO, Rd. 3
Scott Harris: I think Lyle hit it on the head. Zombie is more well-rounded than people give him credit for, but if the essence of his success is eating more punishment than the other guy, Volkanovski is the chef at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The champ keeps opponents guessing with real-time decision trees designed to inflict maximum damage. The popular South Korean won't be able to tough his way out of it.
Volkanovski by TKO, Rd. 4
Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan II
Tom Taylor: I'm super excited for this fight, but that's mainly because it will finally allow the bantamweight division to move on, not because I'm expecting a particularly fun or competitive matchup.
I'm sure Aljamain Sterling has improved a lot since he was popped by an illegal knee in his first fight with Petr Yan, but I don't think he will have improved enough. As good as he is, he seemed to have nothing to offer Yan the first time out—not even in the grappling exchanges, where he was supposed to be at his best. I expect another lopsided fight this time around, as Yan batters and ultimately stops the undisputed champion to usurp the throne.
Yan by TKO, Rd. 3
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I went into the first fight thinking Sterling was more skilled and had enough tools in the toolbox to deal with a guy like Yan. Then I saw them fight. And the longer it went, the worse it looked for him.
To me, this isn't much more than a continuation of that bout. Sterling will be flashy and effective early on, but unless he gets Yan out of there early, it probably won't end well for him. Let's say it goes past 15 minutes but less than 25 before the old champ becomes the new champ again.
Yan by TKO, Rd. 4
Scott Harris: Part of me wants to call a DQ (eye poke) for Yan to set up the weirdest, least-desired trilogy title fight ever, not unlike the Buffalo Bills' fourth Super Bowl appearance. But I won't put that into the universe any farther than I just did.
This one should be closer than the first one. Sterling won't push the action as hard as he did in the original bout, saving himself strategically as well as physically for the long haul. That should help with his atrocious 1-of-17 takedown stat in the first bout, the lone successful attempt coming in the opening round. As good as Yan's defense is, the chances seem low that a solid college wrestler would come up that short twice against the same guy. He also won't let Yan decode his striking game that easily again either, preventing Yan from teeing off as cleanly and frequently as he did in the final two rounds of the original, when he landed 62 percent of his 86 significant strikes.
What the hell, I just talked myself into it. Sound the upset alarms. These are loud alarms this time, as the champ is a +360 (bet $100 to win $360) underdog, per DraftKings. Nevertheless, Sterling pushes forward early, but responsibly, and gets a stop before Yan has a chance to let the fight come to him.
Sterling by submission, Rd. 2
Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev
Tom Taylor: Anyone who reads B/R's pre-fight predictions knows that I've been a bit skeptical of Khamzat Chimaev—like I am of every prospect. My skepticism will persist until we know more about his chin and his gas tank, but I have to admit I'm coming around.
In his last fight, Chimaev beat Li Jingliang—who is nothing if not tough—with such ease that I can't possibly pick against him when he fights Burns this Saturday. Burns is a vastly superior fighter to Li, but he's also a former lightweight, whereas Chimaev has proved he can easily handle the hulks of the middleweight division. I don't know if Chimaev is a better fighter than Burns skill-for-skill, but I'm pretty sure he'll be too big, too strong and too fast for the Brazilian this weekend.
Chimaev by KO, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm an unapologetic, card-carrying member of the Chimaev Fan Club. I like the way he fights. I like the way he talks. And I don't think fans can help but be compelled to watch him every time out.
I want to see him in a title match with Kamaru Usman or a trash-talk palooza against the likes of Conor McGregor. But he doesn't get there unless he gets past Burns. I think he'll do it. And I think he'll do it impressively enough to make people crave more by Sunday morning.
Chimaev by KO, Rd. 1
Scott Harris: Chimaev has never faced anyone like Gilbert Burns: These are the facts. But you know what? Chimaev is so prodigiously talented that Burns and his world-class jiu-jitsu and sledgehammer right hand won't be enough for the well-rounded Chimaev, who brings flair and talent to every phase of the game.
The brash Chechen may well be the most hyped fighter in the sport's hardcore fan circles. That will reach new heights after another statement win. I concur with my fellow pickers.
Chimaev by TKO, Rd. 2
Tecia Torres vs. Mackenzie Dern
Tom Taylor: There was a time not that long ago when picking Mackenzie Dern over a proven commodity like Tecia Torres would have gotten you laughed out of town. That was back when Dern was constantly missing weight and seemingly had only the loosest commitment to her MMA career. But things have changed. Despite her recent loss to Marina Rodriguez, the BJJ whiz looks like she's finally found her groove at strawweight, bolstering her world-class submission game with decent striking. She might struggle with Torres' pace and movement early on, but I think she'll eventually drag the fight to the mat—even if her takedowns are a bit rough—and do what she does best.
Dern by submission, Rd. 2
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm not sold on Dern by any stretch. And it wouldn't shock me even a little bit to see her get outworked her on the way to losing on the scorecards.
But I respect my man Tom's opinion. And if someone as learned as he is thinks Dern has made a legitimate change to her career arc, I'll ride with it. I'll look to see Dern get things to her comfort zone and get Torres out of there before the final bell, but if Torres wins a decision, look for an "I told you so."
Dern by submission, Rd. 1
Scott Harris: This is a great matchup. Give me the slight underdog (+100 as of Wednesday) in Torres, who has the wrestling and athleticism to at least contain Dern's jiu-jitsu on the ground. I don't even think this will reach the ground, as Dern's takedown accuracy sits at a miserable 10 percent, including 1-of-8 in her last bout. Torres has enough standup to bloody Dern and send her to the ground the hard way. Sound the upset alarms.
Torres by TKO, Rd. 2
Mark Madsen vs. Vinc Pichel
Tom Taylor: I confess there are about three undercard fights I would have preferred to see on the UFC 273 main card over this one, but hey, that's why I'm sitting in my living room writing about fights and not promoting them from some glimmering office tower in Las Vegas.
Pichel is great fun to watch and a difficult guy to count out. Madsen, a former Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling for Denmark, is a prospect who is living up to the hype he entered the UFC with—but just barely. While the 37-year-old wrestler's three UFC wins have been fairly insipid, I think he has the chops to beat a veteran like Pichel, who was handled by the last great wrestler he fought in Gregor Gillespie. But let me be clear: I don't think it will be pretty.
Madsen by unanimous decision
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Neither guy is likely to be hoisting UFC gold anytime soon, but I must admit, this one has me at least somewhat compelled. Pichel is one of the nameless, faceless guys who fill up Fight Night and pay-per-view cards, but he's won enough against decent enough competition to be taken seriously. Madsen, meanwhile, is an Olympic medalist wrestler who's not been beaten since transitioning to mixed martial arts—including a 3-0 run in the UFC.
I typically favor strikers in these matchups, but I'm thinking Madsen has got what it takes to get matters to the floor, and once there he'll have things his own way.
Madsen by unanimous decision
Scott Harris: Pichel keeps chugging along, having won each of his last three over the past three years. We'll see if he can fight more than once a year moving forward. Madsen is undefeated, but his biggest win to date was over the husk of Clay Guida last summer. This is a striker-grappler affair, and here's guessing the striker (Pichel) keeps this upright long enough to impose his will.
Pichel by TKO, Rd. 1
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