Max Holloway and “The Korean Zombie” are experiencing a fight week that is as emotional as they come.
For Holloway, he meets Zombie a.k.a. Chan Sung Jung in the main event of UFC Singapore on Saturday with a heavy heart. His beloved Hawaii is hurting in the wake of the devastating Maui wildfires, and instead of being home to help with the healing, he’s a world away having to worry about a cagefight that is of minimal importance, relatively speaking.
For Jung, this could be the end of a glorious 16-year career that has seen him take part in some of the most memorable fights and finishes in MMA history. Few have fought a more impressive list of names than Jung, and though he never won the big one, victories over the likes of Frankie Edgar and Dustin Poirier are reminders that he was so much more than an also-ran with an all-time great nickname.
Blanchfield has lived up to the hype and then some after storming onto the scene as a grappling ace and a future champion at the age of 19. She has performed beyond her years and now looks to be next up to challenge for the 125-pound title if she can get past Santos.
The Brazilian has already had her shot at gold and came oh so close to becoming the woman to knock off Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 275 before Alexa Grasso managed the feat. We haven’t seen Santos since that razor-close fight with Shevchenko 14 months ago, but halting the Blanchfield hype train will put her right back at the front of fans’ minds.
What: UFC Singapore
Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Max Holloway (2) vs. The Korean Zombie (11)
Love that The Korean Zombie’s last fight could be against a living legend in Max Holloway, one of the few big-name featherweights left to cross off his list. However, like pretty much everyone, I’m not giving him much of a chance to win. Holloway either earns a lopsided decision win (think 50-43) or finishes him late. So that’s my pick.
Rather than shovel more dirt on Zombie’s grave, metaphorically speaking, allow me to wax poetic on the first time I saw him fight. Really, the first time most MMA fans saw him fight.
WEC 48, April 24, 2010, Sacramento. The first and only WEC pay-per-view, headlined by a monster featherweight title matchup between Jose Aldo and company golden boy Urijah Faber, and also featuring future UFC luminaries Anthony Pettis, Chad Mendes, and Demetrious Johnson (who lost to Brad Pickett on the undercard!). Zombie and UFC veteran Leonard Garcia were entrusted with the final televised prelim, which would whet the appetite for viewers on the fence about paying for the main card.
You better believe those two did everything in their power to get the casual fight fan reaching for their credit card information. One of my 10 favorite fights ever, Zombie announced himself to the world by living up to his name and walking through everything Garcia threw at him, while also showing off some pretty damn outstanding technique on the feet and in the grappling department. The wild Garcia eked out a split decision win as he was known to do from time to time, which only endeared Zombie to the fans more and made his later twister submission win over Garcia all the sweeter.
That’s the Zombie I choose to remember, no matter what happens against Holloway. The Zombie that won an instant classic over Dustin Poirier. The Zombie that gave it all he had against Aldo and Alexander Volkanovski. The Zombie that was one second away from beating Yair Rodriguez. The Zombie that needed only seven seconds to knock out my fellow Canadian Mark Hominick.
If this is the end, Zombie, you’ve earned your rest.
Anthony Smith (12) vs. Ryan Spann (13)
We know Jung is likely to retire with a loss, but is the writing on the wall for Anthony Smith too?
All the credit in the world to “Lionheart” for carving out one of the more unlikely late-career contender acts in recent memory, but time waits for no man and Smith has been in some wars during his second stint with the UFC. Judging by his past two losses, it feels like they may have finally caught up to him, though he’s fought his way out of slumps before. Having recently turned 35, can he do it again?
I know few were hollering at the UFC to run this fight back (Smith defeated Ryan Spann via first-round submission back in September 2021), but it’s a great gauge to see how much Smith has left because he was slightly favored the first time and is now a slight underdog for the rematch. Theoretically, not too much has changed, with Smith still being a threat to take advantage of the holes in Spann’s submission defense, and Spann being the younger and more explosive finisher.
Beating anyone in this crazy game is so difficult, especially once Father Time starts chiming in, so just using that logic I have to go with Spann for the win (keep in mind, I picked Spann the first time as well and look how that went). I’ve got “I Actually Train Now” Spann making sure not to get into a silly brawl again and scoring a knockout in the second or third round.
Frankly, if he goes 0-2 against Smith, it’s Spann who may want to consider where his career is heading.
Giga Chikadze (12) vs. Alex Caceres
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Giga Chikadze, once a surefire title contender now lost in the shuffle after having been out of action for almost 600 days. The matchmakers have found the right test for him in Alex Caceres, a true veteran in every sense of the word and a tough guy to put away.
I’m taking a glass half full approach to Chikadze’s layoff and assuming he’s spent this time not just recovering from his injuries, but refreshing his mind and body while also retooling in the lab. He’s a great striker who knows his way around the mat, so there’s no reason he can’t start climbing back up the rankings again.
Chikadze’s grappling defense that will be put to the test by Caceres. “Bruce Leeroy” could stand and strike with Chikadze, but he’d be best served working to get this one to the ground. If Chikadze can avoid the early pressure from Caceres, he’ll start to pull away in the second round.
This might not be the immediate contender statement that Chikadze fans are hoping for, but I see him winning a comfortable decision.
Rinya Nakamura vs. Fernie Garcia
The bantamweight division has another killer in its ranks.
Rinya Nakamura is as blue chip as blue chip gets. Following a fantastic amateur wrestling career, Nakamura fully committed to pro fighting in 2021 and the results have been predictably spectacular. The 28-year-old Japanese sensation made his Road to the UFC competition look like a joke, which included a 33-second knockout of Toshiomi Kazawa in the finals. With respect to Fernie Garcia, there’s a reason Nakamura is an even bigger betting favorite than Max Holloway.
Garcia is 0-2 since earning a contract on the Contender Series, so this has all the makings of a showcase fight for Nakamura and while we’ve seen plenty of highly touted prospects slip on a banana peel in these situations, that won’t be the case for Nakamura yet.
Nakamura by first-round knockout.
Erin Blanchfield (3) vs. Taila Santos (4)
OK, I’ll do it. I’ll be the jerk to say it. I think Taila Santos is getting a liiiiiiiitle too much credit for the Valentina Shevchenko fight.
Don’t get me wrong, Santos gave the then-champion a run for her money when they fought last year, and I wouldn’t have lost any sleep if the two of the three judges had decided that Santos’ grappling dominance was enough to win her the fight. But she didn’t win because she didn’t really do any damage and people need to accept that. We’ll see where Santos goes from here, because I worry that she might end up like Dominick Reyes, forever being credited for falling just short against a seemingly unbeatable champion even as their in-cage results begin to falter.
That downfall could start on Saturday against Blanchfield and through no fault of Santos’ own. Blanchfield is just that damn good. The 24-year-old has been learning on the fly after entering MMA with the reputation of a grappling prodigy and all aspects of her game continue to improve. Plus, she just has that attitude of someone who doesn’t play with her food, as we’ve seen in her past three submission wins over Jessica Andrade, Molly McCann and JJ Aldrich.
Even though Santos is a great grappler, if this ends up being a strength-for-strength duel, I’m going with Blanchfield. I’m always skeptical about hyping up young fighters too quickly, but Blanchfield has proven me wrong more than once already and until she loses again, I’m not picking against her.
Junior Tafa vs. Parker Porter
Getting knocked out in a little over a minute by someone and then being booked to fight their equally heavy-handed brother six months later is kind of messed up, right?
That’s what Parker Porter is dealing with in Singapore.
Calling Junior Tafa and Justin Tafa the same fighter is pretty lazy, but Junior shares his older brother’s prodigious knockout power and is the faster of the two even if his skills are understandably less advanced. Saturday marks Tafa’s fifth pro bout and he is coming off of a frustrating decision loss to Mohammed Usman. That’s the kind of setback that changes a young fighter, probably for the better so long as Tafa has focused on his takedown defense.
Porter is a grinder, but he’s not exactly a D-1 wrestler in there, so as long as Tafa keeps this one standing, Porter will be in constant danger. The only outcomes here are Porter decision or Tafa knockout and I’m leaning towards Tafa KO in Round 1.
Liang Na def. JJ Aldrich