Everyone is happy to recognize signs that the world is starting to get back to normal following two years of uncertainty, challenges, and change as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
For some, it’s mask mandates being rolled back and the ability to return to watching live events in person, like the record-setting numbers that turned up in Columbus last weekend. For others, it’s heading back into the office or traveling or any number of things.
For me, it’s writing this series again, as this edition of The 10 is the first I’ve been able to sit down and put together since March 2020, and I missed it.
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Putting together this series has always been a teaser trailer for what’s on deck in the coming month, with the Fight-By-Fight Preview serving as the full trailer, and the event itself being the actual movie, to keep the analogy going. And I like taking this wide-angle look at the action headed towards the Octagon in the next thirty-odd days because noticing that Darren Elkins is fighting Tristan Connelly at the end of April makes me smile and get excited because that is guaranteed to be a banger, because all fights involving “The Damage” are bangers.
And so here we are, for the first time in roughly 760 days, looking ahead to the matchups set to take place inside the UFC cage next month.
Welcome back to The 10.
For a hot second, Volkanovski was set to face former champ Max Holloway in a third bout at UFC 272, but “Blessed” revealed he was injured and the lineup got shuffled, with “The Korean Zombie” stepping in to challenge for featherweight gold for a second time and the bout shifted to the main event of this month’s pay-per-view.
Volkanovski is in the midst of an insane run, having won 20 consecutive fights, including all 10 of his UFC appearances, three straight title fights, and each of his first two title defenses, obviously. During that time, he’s 3-0 against former UFC champions and posted a pair of dominant wins over top contenders Chad Mendes and Brian Ortega as well, exhibiting one of the most complete skill sets and sharpest Fight IQs in the business.
He very well could be the best fighter on the planet right now, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Jung fought for the featherweight title the first time back in 2013, when Anthony Pettis was forced to withdraw from his scheduled clash with Aldo. The 35-year-old divisional stalwart is 7-3 inside the Octagon and 3-1 over his last four starts, coming into this one off a unanimous decision win over Dan Ige last summer.
This is a bit of a “right place, right time” opportunity for the South Korean veteran and he’s more than capable of making the most of it on April 9 in Jacksonville.
Exactly 400 days after their first encounter, Sterling and Yan will share the Octagon for a second time with the UFC bantamweight title hanging in the balance.
Their first meeting came last year at UFC 259, with Sterling starting hot and sprinting out to a lead on Yan, who entered as the champion. But as the challenger began to slow, Yan started getting into rhythm and working his way back into the fight, only for the bout to be halted with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth round after the champion blasted Sterling with a knee to the head while he was downed.
Yan was disqualified, the title changed hands, and the combatants have been bickering with one another on social media ever since.
A rematch was expected to take place last October at UFC 267, but Sterling, who had neck surgery following their initial bout, wasn’t cleared to return, resulting in Yan besting Cory Sandhagen in a battle for the interim bantamweight title.
Sterling is adamant that he is the better man and eager to prove it conclusively now that he’s at full health, while Yan looks to begin a second reign as the undisputed top talent in the 135-pound weight class by dispatching his chief rival emphatically.
Their clash at UFC 259 was captivating from start to finish and the sequel should be more of the same.
Well, I guess we’re going to find out exactly where Chimaev fits in the welterweight hierarchy now…
Burns rebounded from his title fight setback against his former teammate Kamaru Usman last February with a one-sided decision win over Stephen Thompson in the summer, pushing his record to 5-1 since moving to the 170-pound weight class, and 7-1 over his last eight fights. The Brazilian has developed into a well-rounded, powerful force in every facet of the sport, and boasts the kind of poise, experience, and finishing abilities to make him the most dangerous fighter Chimaev has faced to date.
After bursting onto the scene with two wins in 10 days on Fight Island in the summer of 2020, the 27-year-old Chimaev has added a pair of one-sided victories over Gerald Meerschaert and Li Jingliang to his resume, pushing his record to 10-0 overall. He’s made good on his promise to smash everyone thus far, but takes another step up in competition here, while everyone looks on, waiting to see if he can continue his unbeaten, unbothered march towards the top of the division.
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This is outstanding matchmaking and, honestly, the most compelling bout of the month, without question, because there is still some uncertainty about where Chimaev’s ceiling rests. I will be on the edge of my seat from the time these two start making their way to the Octagon in Jacksonville and cannot wait to see how this one plays out.
Some people are going to object to this selection, and I get it, but hear me out.
Garry debuted in the UFC with a ton of hype at UFC 268 in New York City, taking on Jordan Williams, and for the first four minutes and change, it didn’t look great. The young, Irish welterweight ate some shots, leaked some claret, and struggled to find his range and timing, but in the waning seconds of the round, he cracked the Dana White Contender Series graduate with a clean right hand that put him on the deck.
Fight over. Debut won. And the crowd goes wild.
Now he’s back for his sophomore appearance against Weeks, who gave Bryan Barberena all he could handle in his short notice debut last December and is surely excited about the opportunity to steal the momentum of the 24-year-old prospect that will be standing across the cage from him in Jacksonville.
This is a competitive matchup between a highly regarded emerging fighter and an unheralded competitor that showed he could hang with a grimy veteran without much of a training camp, and no matter how it shakes out, people will be talking about the outcome over breakfast on Sunday, April 10.
I don’t know what to say other than this is a dynamite lightweight matchup between two older dudes (who are still both younger than me) looking to break into the Top 15.
Pichel is the best-kept secret in the lightweight division, though I’m sure the TUF Live alum would happily trade that title for a place in the rankings. The 39-year-old has a tremendous mustache along with a three-fight winning streak, a 7-2 record in the Octagon, and a 14-2 mark overall. He’s an absolute powerhouse with a noticeable mean streak once he steps into the cage, all of which makes him must-see TV whenever he competes.
A bronze medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2016 Olympics, Madsen has gone 9-0 since making the full-time transition to mixed martial arts, pushing his record to 11-0 overall. He’s earned three straight wins in the UFC, most recently edging out veteran fan favorite Clay Guida by split decision back in August.
Whoever wins this one could very well find themselves sharing the cage with a ranked competitor or one of the unranked rising stars of the 155-pound weight class in the second half of the year, plus, it should be a scramble-filled battle early in the night in Jacksonville that sets the tone for the rest of the evening.
More than six years and a combined 24 appearances after their first meeting, Luque and Muhammad will run it back as Top 5 welterweights looking to deliver the kind of performance that earns them a championship opportunity.
Luque, who won the first meeting at UFC 205 by first-round knockout, enters on a four-fight winning streak and having won 10 of his last 12 fights, with all but one of those wins coming inside the distance. The Brazilian is one of the most dangerous and durable fighters in the game, with a deft ability to lace up chokes in a flash and the toughness and grit to navigate his way through dicey moments and still get the job done.
Muhammad has lost just once in his dozen fights since falling to Luque at Madison Square Garden and hits this headlining assignment having earned back-to-back victories and brandishing a seven-fight unbeaten streak. The charismatic Chicagoland native uses his pace and pressure as weapons while deploying a suffocating, takedown-heavy approach inside the Octagon.
There isn’t currently a clear No. 1 contender in the welterweight division, but the outcome of this one should help clarify things for when champion Kamaru Usman is ready to return to action.
Banger Alert! Sound the alarms — this is a Banger Alert!
Last year was a breakthrough campaign for the 34-year-old Lemos, who entered 2021 with an 8-1-1 record, but little fanfare, and heads into her 2022 debut stationed at No. 10 in the rankings (at the time this was written) after adding three more victories to her resume. The 34-year-old Brazilian lit up and laid out Livinha Souza and Montserrat Conejo in her first two appearances of last year before earning a narrow split decision win over divisional fixture Angela Hill in December.
Andrade returns to the strawweight division following a three-fight departure for flyweight, where she earned first-round stoppage wins over Katlyn Chookagian and Cynthia Calvillo on either side of a second-round stoppage loss to champion Valentina Shevchenko. Now the former strawweight titleholder returns to the 115-pound ranks in search of her first win since her title victory over current champ Rose Namajunas.
There is a queue of contenders building in the strawweight division at the moment, with Namajunas penciled in to defend her title against former champ Carla Esparza next month, and Marina Rodriguez seemingly already next in line. The winner of this one will certainly claim a place near the front of the line, especially if they can win with style points.
Tell me just reading that these two lunatics — and I mean that in the absolute best way possible and with the utmost respect — are going to share the Octagon together doesn’t put a smile on your face?
Following years of entertaining fights and inconsistent results as a lightweight, Vannata made the move down to featherweight last year and emerged with a split decision win over Mike Grundy at UFC 262 in his debut. It shouldn’t have been a split decision; Vannata outlanded the British wrestler by a solid margin in all three rounds and never spent more than 94 seconds on the canvas in any frame.
Jourdain bet on himself and fought out his contract in December, delivering a dominant effort capped by a scream and a “Sparta kick” in his win over Andre Ewell. With a fresh new deal and wins in two of his last three outings, the 26-year-old French-Canadian looks to keep things moving forward with a big win over a fellow all-action fighter here.
There is no way this will be boring. None. Neither man is capable of being in that kind of fight individually and putting them together isn’t going to change that. Settle in before this one gets started and enjoy the beautiful chaos this two combine to create.
The flyweight division has grabbed a little corner of the spotlight in recent weeks and this one should help ensure that corner gets a little bigger going forward.
Sumudaerji has won three straight since suffering a second-round submission loss in his promotional debut, with the last two victories coming since returning to flyweight. The 26-year-old “Tibetan Eagle” has good length and power for the division and has continued showing improvements each time out, making him one of the more intriguing up-and-coming fighters on the roster.
Kape arrived in the UFC amidst much fanfare, only to land on the wrong side of the scorecards in each of his first two fights. He bounced back with a first-round stoppage win over Ode’ Osbourne at UFC 265, and closed out the year with a second consecutive first-round triumph in December against Zhalgas Zhumagulov.
These two have earned finishes in 30 of their combined 33 career victories, so this should be an action-packed affair for as long as it lasts… which probably won’t be the full 15 minutes.
Bantamweight might be the most deep and competitive division going at the moment, and this one supports that argument, as Font and Vera clash in a battle of Top 10 talents looking to improve their standing in the talent-rich weight class.
Font makes his third straight main event appearance after dropping a unanimous decision to Jose Aldo last December. The New England Cartel member had won four straight prior to running into “The King of Rio,” stopping Marlon Moraes at the end of 2020 and defeating former champ Cody Garbrandt last spring.
Vera has rebounded from his own loss to Aldo with consecutive victories to crack the Top 10 for the first time. After out-hustling game Brit Davey Grant in June, “Chito” turned in a breakout performance against Frankie Edgar in November, knocking out the former lightweight champ with a front kick to the face at UFC 268.
This should be a high-output, fast-paced affair between two hungry fighters that want to kick off their year with an impressive, important victory, with the winner likely to land another marquee assignment towards the end of the third quarter or start of the fourth quarter of 2022.
UFC 273: Volkanovski vs The Korean Zombie took place on Saturday, April 9, 2022, live from a sold out VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!
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