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Making the Grade: UFC 273: Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie edition

UFC 273: Burns v Chimaev Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

There were a lot of storylines set to play out at UFC 273, and the card did not disappoint where high drama was concerned.

Despite two title fights headlining the event, Khamzat Chimaev ended up getting the most attention as the undefeated welterweight faced serious competition for the first time in his career as he took on one-time title challenger Gilbert Burns. This was a fight that would ultimately determine if Chimaev was a serious contender or perhaps a lacking pretender after he laid waste to every single opponent he had faced prior to Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Alexander Volkanovski was the actual headliner at UFC 273 and he faced a daunting challenge from fan favorite fighter Chan Sung Jung, who readily admitted prior to the event that this would probably be the last time he’d compete for gold in his career.

Of course there was also the long-awaited rematch between Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan after their first fight ended in controversy following an illegal knee that led to a disqualification. Yan spent the better part of the past year calling Sterling a fraud after he claimed the title when he couldn’t continue following the illegal strike so the New York native had plenty to prove.

There’s a lot to talk about from the event so let’s find out what passed and what failed on Saturday night. This is Making the Grade for UFC 273: Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie.


Revenge is Sweet

Aljamain Sterling didn’t really get to celebrate becoming UFC bantamweight champion after winning the title because of the circumstances surrounding his win. To make matters worse, Sterling’s friends and family took photos of him holding the belt he claimed after Petr Yan was disqualified, causing him to look like the bad guy because he dared to call himself champion even though it was his opponent who deserved the blame afterwards.

Fast forward almost exactly one year later and Sterling undoubtedly had a lot of pent up aggression to let loose in the rematch with Yan.

He was facing all sorts of criticism and Yan claiming an interim bantamweight title with a thrilling performance over Cory Sandhagen only added to his growing legend ahead of UFC 273.

But Sterling was ready to answer everything Yan could throw at him and he got his revenge in the cage by earning the victory over five, hard fought rounds. Nothing came easy for Sterling but he definitely had the most dominant moments in the fight, especially in the second and third rounds where he suffocated Yan on the ground.

Yan’s ability to win the last two rounds helped him make it a close fight — probably a lot closer than Sterling wanted considering the abhorrent judging that haunts this sport so often. In the end, Sterling got the victory, he got redemption and now he can hold his head high as the undisputed UFC bantamweight champion.

Since winning, Sterling has enjoyed jabbing back at everyone who doubted him, which included a rather hilarious “apology” form that he sent out on social media. Sterling has absolutely earned this moment in the sun because the past 12 months has rarely presented any silver lining in the dark cloud that hung over his title reign.

Sterling may run into Yan again one day again in the future and perhaps the ugly cycle will begin again but for now he deserves this victory lap along with dunking on everybody who ever tried to call him a fake champion.

The Real Deal

Hype can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to combat sports but Khamzat Chimaev made the most of his opportunity at UFC 273 with an impressive win over Gilbert Burns.

Despite a blistering start to his career — 10 fights, 10 wins and 10 finishes — Chimaev had never faced top notch, proven competition that would vault him from prospect to contender. Sure, he laid waste to solid fighters in the past, particularly with his wins over Li Jingliang and Gerald Meerschaert, but neither of those fighters have ever really been highly ranked.

That’s why Chimaev had to back up everything he’s ever said with his win over Burns on Saturday night but what actually resulted was arguably even better for his path forward in the UFC.

Not only did Chimaev get tested for the first time but he was pushed to the breaking point by Burns, who had him stunned, hurt and wobbled several times over three rounds. Burns blasted Chimaev with punches that likely would have floored most welterweights yet “Borz” just kept coming back for more while delivering plenty of his own punishment during the 15-minute slugfest.

Sure, Chimaev’s aura of invincibility has been shattered because he didn’t just walkover Burns as many expected him to do but there’s a million reasons why the way he won at UFC 273 was even more important to his future. Chimaev had to endure some really bad moments, especially in the second round, before eventually coming back to win the third and claim the victory.

That’s invaluable time in the cage with a legit savage like Burns, which will better prepare Chimaev for the fights that are surely awaiting him now that he’ll sit near the top of the UFC welterweight rankings.

Sometimes When You Lose You Really Win

Gloria Clemente tried to impart those words of wisdom to Billy Hoyle once upon a time and it turns out she was rather prophetic — at least when it came to the slugfest between Chimaev and Burns at UFC 273.

On paper, Burns had nothing to really gain from a fight like this.

He was much higher ranked than Chimaev, and if he won, Burns would surely hear critics say that he just exposed an unproven prospect. If he lost, Burns would seemingly suffer under the weight of the hype surrounding Chimaev that’s been crushing just about every other welterweight lately.

Thankfully even in defeat, Burns somehow walks away looking even better than he did heading into UFC 273.

Burns gave Chimaev everything he could handle — he landed a whopping 119 significant strikes against the Chechen mauler when his past four opponents in the UFC had only connected with two. Read that again — Chimaev had absorbed two significant strikes through four fights until Burns lit him up with 119 on Saturday night.

Burns’ performance was so outstanding that UFC president Dana White even committed to giving him both his show and win money (which should have happened anyway but that’s a conversation for a different day) and he also leaves with an extra $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night.

Yes, Burns lost and that never helps when it comes to his future aspirations to fight for the title again but at the same time, he also likely became one of the scariest contenders for anybody else looking to leapfrog him in the division. Plus, Burns set himself up for a potential mega payday down the road assuming he gets the chance to face Chimaev again, perhaps this time in a five round fight and maybe even with a UFC title on the line.

Burns will certainly look back at the fight and recognize the mistakes he made that kept him from winning rather than losing but he has no reason whatsoever to actually feel defeated.


Something Must Change

UFC 273 featured plenty of memorable moments but judging still fell short, even if the officials scoring the fights didn’t egregiously rob anyone who deserved a victory.

The complaint at this event really comes down to one round in particular in the co-main event where Sterling defeated Yan to claim the undisputed bantamweight title.

In the second, Sterling took the fight to the ground and dominated Yan for the better part of five minutes while constantly seeking submissions while also unloading some devastating punches from the back position. His control time was off the charts as Sterling just suffocated Yan with his superior grappling and there were a few dicey moments where it appeared he could be on the verge of finishing the fight.

To his credit, Yan survived but Sterling clearly won a lopsided round yet not a single judge actually scoring the fight gave him a 10-8 on the cards.

What gets lost so often when scoring fights is the actual criteria laid out for judges, especially what constitutes a 10-8 round. In the old days, fighters would only earn a 10-8 round if they very nearly finished an opponent — we’re talking total obliteration to the point where a stoppage could have been justified.

That’s not the case any longer. Here’s some of the verbiage directly from the scoring criteria for judges:

“A score of 10 – 8 does not require a fighter to dominate their opponent for 5 minutes of a round. The score of 10 – 8 is utilized by the judge when the judge sees verifiable actions on the part of either fighter. Judges shall ALWAYS give a score of 10 – 8 when the judge has established that one fighter has dominated the action of the round, had duration of the domination and also impacted their opponent with either effective strikes or effective grappling maneuvers that have diminished the abilities of their opponent. Judges must CONSIDER giving the score of 10 – 8 when a fighter shows dominance in the round even though no impactful scoring against the opponent was achieved. MMA is an offensive based sport. No scoring is given for defensive maneuvers.”

Based upon those factors, Sterling deserved a 10-8 score in round two across the board yet all three judges failed to do so. The final call was a split decision and imagine if the win went the other way to Yan — at worse Sterling would have been looking at a draw with a 10-8 second round yet the judges managed to rob him of that.

Judges have to normalize handing out 10-8 rounds where it’s warranted and Sterling’s second round against Yan is quite possibly the best example of how officials keep getting it wrong.


Enough is Enough

Speaking of normalizing things in MMA — a corner stoppage or just stopping a fight between rounds rarely ever happens but somebody should have rescued “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung on Saturday night at UFC 273.

Through the first three rounds, Jung absorbed 96 significant strikes as Volkanovski just teed off on him with a blistering offense that showcased the best of the reigning UFC featherweight champion. Jung got put down in the closing seconds of the third round yet managed to survive, largely because he was saved by the bell.

Jung laid on the canvas for a few seconds afterwards before dragging himself back up to the feet before then lumbering over to his corner. At that point, Jung was wearing a lot of damage on his face and hopes for a comeback were dwindled down to almost nothing.

But Jung being a warrior — the kind of fighter who earned a nickname like “The Korean Zombie” thanks to the unbelievable durability he’s shown throughout his career — never hesitated to go back out for the fourth round. That’s the kind of moment where either his coaches or the referee should have prevented him from taking any further damage.

Now corner stoppages — better known as throwing in the towel — have always been a controversial subject. Many fighters have spoken out against the practice while flat out saying they’ve instructed their coaches to never stop the fight under any circumstances. Of course, there are plenty of fighters who also argue that no stoppage should occur until they are completely wiped out and unconscious on the mat.

In both instances, it’s the job of the coaches and the referee to save the fighters from themselves.

After watching Jung get blasted with a few more punches at the start of the fourth round, Herb Dean mercifully stopped the fight before things got worse for “The Korean Zombie.” Dean deserves praise for doing a great job in that moment but it also wouldn’t have been the worse situation in the world for him to just stop the carnage before Jung took another punch after the third round.

The same goes for Jung’s coaches, who had to recognize that he was taking an inordinate amount of damage without offering much resistance to actually threaten Volkanovski during any point in the fight.

Yes, stranger things have happened where a fighter looks done only to get resurrected and pull off a miraculous comeback but those instances are few and far between. Jung should have been done on the stool when the third round ended and both his coaches and the referee failed to rescue him from further harm even if the fight only lasted another 45 seconds.

Overall Grade for UFC 273: B+

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