Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Is Brian Ortega vs. “The Korean Zombie” the greatest non-title featherweight bout in UFC history?
Consider what these two beasts bring to the table. Quick-strike knockout power. Creative submission games. Inhuman endurance. Sheer hunger.
That last aspect is important. It’s been almost 700 days since Ortega last fought and 10 months for Chan Sung Jung. Yet during that time, their names have justifiably remained near the top of the UFC’s 145-pound rankings and at the forefront of the minds of fans. The UFC knows what these two are capable of and even as new contenders (and a new champion) emerged it was always clear that Ortega and Zombie were destined to fight.
Flying somewhat under the radar is the co-main event that could also determine a title challenger. Former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade makes the move up to 125 pounds after previously competing at both 115 and 135 and she’s been given a tall task right out of the gate in No. 1-ranked contender Katlyn Chookagian.
Andrade may be one of the UFC’s fiercest fight finishers, but Chookagian has proven to be a difficult out in her division and she’ll be happy to shut the door to Valentina Shevchenko in Andrade’s face while she works her way back to another crack at UFC gold.
In other main card action, young light heavyweights Jimmy Crute and Modestas Bukauskas face off, James Krause once again steps in on short-notice to fight Claudio Silva in a welterweight bout, and Thomas Almeida returns from a 1,001-day layoff to take on Jonathan Martinez in a bantamweight bout.
What: UFC Fight Island 6
Where: Yas Island in Abu Dhabi
When: Saturday, Oct. 17. The entire event airs on ESPN+, beginning with a six-fight preliminary card at 4 p.m. ET, followed by a five-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET.
Call me a sucker for a good comeback story.
When I spoke to Brian Ortega recently, he said all the right things about taking the last 22 months to refocus, reevaluate, and flat-out reset his approach to fighting while cutting out external distractions. Ortega was a comet tearing through the featherweight division before he ran into prime Max Holloway and he definitely learned a thing or two after being on the receiving end of a one-sided beatdown. Call it cliche, but the best learn more from their losses than their victories and I’m a believer that Ortega is a great fighter who was simply beaten by a better one that day.
How he implements new tactics and philosophies against Chan Sung Jung will be an important aspect to watch. His unbridled aggression may have cost him against the more technical Holloway, but it’s that same attitude that brought him to the dance. If he changes too much, he might end up worse off than he was before.
Jung doesn’t care what approach Ortega brings to the octagon. The Korean Zombie is a pace-setter of the highest order and if Ortega shows any signs of hesitation or ring rust, Jung will walk him down and put him away in the first round. The concept of mercy is alien to him.
These two are perfectly matched, with Jung likely having the advantage on the feet and Ortega being the superior grappler. But it’s completely within the realm of possibility that Ortega lands a KO blow out of a wild exchange or that Jung hurts Ortega before getting a tap-out on the mat. Somehow, as familiar as we all are with both fighters’ styles at this point in their careers, this bout still seems like it could go in 50 different directions.
One way I’m fairly confident it won’t go is to the judges. These two will deliver the action we’re all hoping for in the first few rounds and then I foresee Ortega getting a choke and not letting go until the Zombie is at rest.
Ortega by technical submission.
Since this matchup was made, my gut has been telling me ,“Andrade. Andrade. Andrade.” But my brain won’t let me make that pick.
Katlyn Chookagian fits the mold of the fighters who have given Andrade trouble in the past. She’s eight inches taller than Andrade, has a six-inch reach advantage, and knows how to stay busy on the feet to win over the judges. Even if her strikes don’t have quite the potency of a Joanna Jedrzejczyk or a Rose Namajunas, Chookagian presents Andrade with a lot of similar problems.
She’s hard to take down and she rarely gets caught with a clean shot, so Andrade’s sheer strength and athleticism won’t be as much of a factor as it has been against other opponents. Andrade’s fundamentals are underrated, but that size disparity is just too big to ignore. The former UFC champ has to be on-point for 15 minutes to have a chance of clipping Chookagian with something hard; Chookagian just has to stick to her usual game plan and she can outwork Andrade en route to a decision.
Chookagian isn’t letting another contender take her spot just yet.
The matchmakers have given Modestas Bukauskas a stiff test in his second UFC outing, which is understandable given the success Bukauskas had prior to joining the UFC and the strong showing he had against Andreas Michailidis in his debut. He did show some defensive deficiencies though, which Jimmy Crute should be able to exploit.
Both fighters are tall 205ers with good reach that are comfortable fighting at a distance. Crute utilizes a more straightforward approach while Bukauskas can take advantage of having the speed and agility of a welterweight. This should be a chess match in the early going as Crute hunts for an opening to land his right hand and Bukauskas waits to counter.
Though Bukauskas has some grappling talent, he’s too unproven there for me to rate his all-around game as highly as Crute’s. The standup sequences should be fun, but Crute has the ability to take this fight to areas outside of Bukauskas’ comfort zone and I think he’ll do that in round two to set up a submission win.
How can you not appreciate “The James Krause?” Not only is he currently coaching a solid stable of fighters, he’s also ready to pick up the phone whenever the UFC calls and accept a fight without thinking twice about it. He signed on for this fight on less than two weeks’ notice as a replacement for Muslim Salikhov, which is a full camp compared to the less than 24 hours he gave himself to prepare for a middleweight fight with Trevin Giles in February.
There’s nothing fancy about Krause’s approach to fighting. He’s well-rounded with a knack for submissions and he has cardio for days. Even on short-notice, he’ll happily push the pace against Claudio Silva. There could be some highly entertaining scrambles should this one go to the ground as Silva has outstanding jiu-jitsu.
Silva probably doesn’t want to duel Krause on the feet, though he’s comfortable in the standup and will take risks to land power shots without fear of being taken down. He doesn’t have Krause’s technical acumen though. On the ground, he favors submission attempts over control, which should give Krause opportunities to escape if he stays calm and composed.
These guys both bring a ton of skill to the cage, so I’ll go with Krause’s experience as the difference maker. He’ll keep this one standing and win enough of the exchanges to earn a convincing decision.
There were questions surrounding Almeida’s viability as a contender before an eye injury cost him large chunk of nearly three years of his prime. He looked like the next big thing at 135 pounds, taking out respected veterans like Brad Pickett and Yves Jabouin before hitting a wall. We know “Thominhas” has the striking ability to blow away lower tier competition. Has he matured into an actual threat to challenge for a title?
It wasn’t the original plan, but Jonathan Martinez is a better matchup for Almeida at this stage of his career than Alejandro Perez, who Almeida was supposed to fight on Oct. 11 before Perez tested positive for COVID-19. It may be a big step back in terms of name recognition, but if Almeida is to rebuild a path back to the top-10 it starts with a scrapper like Martinez.
Martinez regrettably missed weight in his last appearance, something neither fighter had to worry about heading into this featherweight encounter. Martinez went on to knock out Frankie Saenz and would likely be on a four-fight win streak were it not for a controversial split decision loss to Andre Ewell. He has a smart standup style and fast hands to counter Almeida coming in.
Almeida is so springy on his feet, which is a big reason that he’s able to generate so much power in a flash. When he’s at his best he’s laser accurate as well, so how quickly he can regain his rhythm is a key factor in how this matchup unfolds. I’m still a believer in Almeida’s potential and I see him capping off an entertaining back-and-forth fight with a knockout late in round two or early in round three.