By E. Spencer Kyte | Posted 2 years ago

UFC 273 is going to end up being the most entertaining and most impactful Pay-Per-View event of 2022; that’s my prediction.


There are going to be cards with bigger names and more buzz, but when December rolls around and everyone is looking back on the top events of the year, figuring out which ones had the greatest impact on how things played out, I believe this will be the one we all point to as the best of the year.


Not only are their two massive championship fights in divisions where contenders and potential challengers are constantly emerging and jockeying for position in the rankings on a weekly basis, but Saturday’s event at Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena also features two of the best prospects on the UFC roster stepping into the Octagon.


Mix in critical matchups for once-promising contenders Mackenzie Dern and Aspen Ladd, a fantastic lightweight fight between Vinc Pichel and Mark O. Madsen, and a couple other low-key scraps that should be scintillating, and you have the makings of an A+ card that impacts how the rest of the year shakes out.


These are the fighters and fights you should be paying close attention to this weekend.




Nine years and three days after Conor McGregor made the walk to the Octagon for the first time, Garry looks to continue following in his countryman’s shoes as he steps in for his second UFC appearance. The 24-year-old welterweight is unbeaten in eight professional fights and claimed a first-round stoppage win in his promotional debut in November at Madison Square Garden, showing that like “The Notorious” one, he too has a flare for the dramatic.


Garry has said and done all the right things in the 10 months he’s been signed to the UFC roster, having moved to South Florida to train at Sanford MMA, one of the best gyms in the sport, preached a willingness to take things slowly as he continues to develop as a fighter, and proven himself to be an engaging, media-savvy prospect with promising skills inside the cage.


Comparing him to McGregor is unfair because no one has the magnetism and panache the former two-weight world champion carried in his early years on the roster, plus his skills don’t quite measure up, but the undefeated welterweight has a tremendous frame for the division, clear skills inside the cage, and a great team of people around him to help him maximize the opportunities in front of him and take things as far as they could possibly go.


Will that result in a championship reign somewhere down the line? Only time will tell, but I can assure you of this: watching Garry attempt to work his way there is going to be a lot of fun because he radiates charisma and doesn’t mind a scrap.




Chimaev might be the best prospect in UFC history.


Statistically, what he’s done through his first four UFC appearances is preposterous, as he’s out-landed opponents 112-1 in a shade under eight minutes of cage time, earning four straight stoppage wins. Did I mention he’s done it will competing in two different weight classes?


Yeah, he’s been a monster, but this weekend, Chimaev faces his toughest test to date in the form of former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns.


This is the kind of fight we’ve all been waiting to see from Chimaev, whose most recent win came over Li Jingliang, a Chinese veteran who has hung around the lower-third of the Top 15 for the last couple years, but has never faced real top-flight competition.


Smashing fools on the way up the divisional hierarchy is one thing, but doing the same to an established, outstanding talent like Burns is something entirely different, and how this weekend’s fight plays out is going to tell us a great deal about where the 27-year-old rising star stands in the division right now and how much further he might climb in the next couple years.


It’s not out of the question that another blistering effort could land Chimaev a championship opportunity later this year — welterweight champ Kamaru Usman is still recovering from hand surgery and a date with top contender Leon Edwards has yet to be booked, which leaves the door open for the UFC to either try to book the two contenders against one another yet again (they’ve been scheduled to fight three times, but it’s yet to come together) or to simply move Chimaev to the head of the line.


Of course, this could also be the fight where we find out the untested wrecking machine isn’t quite ready for prime time.


Saturday can’t get here fast enough.




Sterling and Yan do not like each other, and while combatants don’t have to have bad blood in order for a fight to be exciting — and having bad blood doesn’t always make them exciting either — this one should be outstanding at least in part because of the animosity and tension between the two bantamweight standouts.


This is a rematch from UFC 259, where Yan entered as the undisputed bantamweight champion and Sterling the challenger.


After a fast start, Sterling started to fade in the third and the fight was trending in Yan’s favor in the fourth, when the Russian champion blasted the challenger with an illegal knee. Sterling couldn’t continue, the fight was waved off, Yan was disqualified, and a new champion was crowned.


That’s when the bickering and bad blood started, and it’s persisted this whole time, ramping up last October when Sterling wasn’t medically cleared to compete, which led to Yan winning an interim title fight against Cory Sandhagen.


Sterling has maintained he’s the better fighter of the two since the first meeting and is bent on proving it this weekend. Yan wants to make him pay for all the trash talk and for deigning to suggest he’s the superior talent.


The winner walks away as the undisputed champion, but there is a real possibility this isn’t the end of the rivalry, as they’re both too skilled, too talented to not potentially cross paths again somewhere down the line.


I can’t see any way this isn’t an exhilarating fight that immediately sets the course for the division in the second half of the year.




Volkanovski might be the best fighter on the planet.


At the least, the featherweight champion is on the short list of names to be considered for such a distinction, as he’s 10-0 in the UFC, 23-1 overall, and enters this meeting with “The Korean Zombie” on a preposterous 20-fight winning streak.


And I say “preposterous” because winning 20 consecutive fights is absurdly difficult, and when half of them have come in the Octagon, and the last seven have come against an increasingly skilled and experienced array of fighters, it makes the fact that Volkanovski isn’t more beloved, more respected, more praised ridiculous to me.


Volkanovski is a technically sound, tactically sharp, well-rounded fighter who has repeatedly shown that he’s one of the best in the sport today, and this weekend’s bout with the South Korean fan favorite feels like another chance for him to prove it.


Jung is dangerous, brandishing good power, incalculable toughness, and a ton of experience against strong competition, but the former rugby man, who turned in a masterful performance against Brian Ortega in September, is on an incredible run and in outstanding form right now, and I get the sense that he’ll use this weekend’s contest as an opportunity to make a statement.

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