Khamzat Chimaev and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 273

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Khamzat Chimaev and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 273
Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzTwitter LogoFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2022

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Fifty weeks later, it was time for another vacation.

    The UFC returned to Florida for a third straight spring—exactly 350 days after the last—and took over the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville for a 12-bout card with a pay-per-view topper.

    Champions Alexander Volkanovski and Aljamain Sterling were in town to defend their featherweight and bantamweight belts against Chan Sung Jung and Petr Yan, respectively, while ranked welterweights Gilbert Burns and Khamzat Chimaev locked up in an eagerly anticipated crossroads bout at 170 pounds.

    The venue hosted a two-title UFC 261 card in April 2021 and another show, UFC 249, in May 2020.

    The 2020 event was the UFC’s first after a COVID-prompted hiatus that spring and took place in an empty arena. The 2021 show, meanwhile, was its first with fans in the U.S. during the pandemic.

    The high-profile team of Jon Anik, Paul Felder and Joe Rogan worked the announce table for the ESPN broadcast that began at 6 p.m., while Megan Olivi worked the room for features and breaking news and celebrated trainer Din Thomas chimed in intermittently with technical analysis.

    B/R’s combat team was in position, too, and put together a definitive list of the show’s winners and losers. Click through to see what we came up with, and leave a viewpoint of your own in the comments.

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    It was referendum time at last for Khamzat Chimaev.

    The Russian-born and Swedish-based welterweight was unbeaten as a pro and untouched in the UFC as he climbed into the Octagon to face second-ranked contender and recent title challenger Gilbert Burns.

    So if you wanted to see him challenged, hurt and bloodied, you did.

    But if you wanted to see him defeated, sorry. You’ll have to wait a while longer.

    The unapologetically menacing slugger was cut, dropped and stretched to the limit across a magnificent 15 minutes and emerged with a narrow but fair unanimous decision, with three scores of 29-28.

    “For those wondering if Khamzat Chimaev had the ticker to take on that kind of challenge, you have your answer,” Felder said. “He’s got talent, power and more than enough heart, too.”

    He’d never been threatened across 10 pro fights, had never been past seven minutes in any of them and had only a handful of blows touch him in four UFC appearances before the scrap with Burns. Chimaev was struck 141 times—including 119 significant strikes—and had to fend off five takedown tries.

    Chimaev landed 108 significant strikes, 124 overall, and was successful on two of three takedowns.

    And in the aftermath of the instant classic, he acknowledged the severity of the struggle.

    “That was a f–king tough one. I didn’t know he was so tough,” Chimaev said or Burns. “All respect to him. I knew he’d be strong in the beginning. But he made me f–king work hard for it.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    In reality, it was a spirited, one-sided gym workout.

    The fact that it came in a pay-per-view main event was just a bonus for Alexander Volkanovski.

    The proud Australian champion seemed on top of every facet of his game while defending his featherweight belt for the third time against “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.

    Volkanovski was faster, sharper and simply better, winning nearly every moment of every round before registering a fourth-round stoppage.

    The win upped Volkanovski to 24-1 as a pro, boosted him to 11-0 in the UFC and pushed an overall win streak to 21 straight since his lone career loss in May 2013.

    “The footwork and the movement and the speed. They’re all better than we’ve ever seen from him,” Rogan said. “It’s sort of hard to find anything resembling a weakness in his five-tool game.

    “It was just a seminar.”

    Jung was dropped and punished with ground strikes at the end of Round 3. He seemed on the verge of being stopped when referee Herb Dean and a physician stepped in to look at him between rounds.

    They allowed it to continue despite abrasions and smears of blood across Jung’s face, but another hard left-right prompted Dean to immediately step in to wave it off just 45 seconds into the fourth.

    “He took a lot more than I wanted him to,” Volkanovski said. “But for me, it’s just drive. Drive to be better. I have that drive and motivation and just the will to get better every day.”

    Jung is now 0-2 in title fights after having lost to Jose Aldo in 2013. He was noncommittal when asked afterward if he planned to continue his career at age 35.

    “It felt like I hit a wall that I could not get over,” he said. “After every loss, I think about leaving the MMA game. I will have to think on that.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Winning is better the second time around.

    Don’t think so? Ask Aljamain Sterling.

    He became a bantamweight champion by disqualification after his first duel with Petr Yan when they met 13 months ago in Las Vegas, but the reigning king got a proper coronation in Saturday’s co-main when he defeated his rival by split decision in a compellingly competitive rematch across 25 minutes.

    Two judges gave Sterling a 48-47 verdict to override a third who saw it 48-47 for Yan.

    The B/R combat team’s card went with the dissenter and saw a victory for the challenger.

    But that was OK with Sterling, who’d been on the wrong end of an illegal knee to end the first fight but backed up his pre-fight chatter this time and got the fight to the ground in the second and third rounds while consistently attacking Yan with choke attempts.

    The Russian managed to fend off the attempts and re-take the initiative in the final two rounds, which meant the decisive session was the first—in which Sterling out-landed Yan 19-13 and missed two takedowns.

    “People wrote me off, but that [first fight] was a big hiccup,” Sterling said.

    “He beat my ass in that fourth and fifth round, but the first three were enough.”

    Needless to say, Yan disagreed with the result, pointing to a 139-91 edge in overall strikes and a 63-62 margin in significant strikes. Sterling had the fight’s lone two takedowns in 22 attempts and racked up 8:31 in control time compared to 5:52 for Yan.

    “I think I won this fight,” Yan said, “and I got robbed.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Nearly every fighter not announced as a native of the United States was quickly met with a torrent of boos alongside a recurring “USA” chant.

    But Mark O. Madsen did his best to turn them in his favor.

    Though the decorated Danish Olympian in wrestling got the same Jacksonville treatment as his international colleagues had during his PPV-opening fight with Colorado veteran Vinc Pichel, he emerged from the unanimous decision victory in the mood to make some friends.

    Madsen won 30-27 scores on two cards and 29-28 on the third, improving to 12-0 in his pro career and 4-0 in the UFC.

    “I just decided to move to the USA,” he said, drawing cheers. “I’m not just here to fight, I’m here to win. I’m fighting for my family.”

    Then, the 2016 silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling went for the flag-waving throat.

    “I’m fighting for the American dream,” he said, promoting thunderous approval. “We’re here to win the whole f–king thing.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    OK, let us explain that headline.

    Brash Irishman Ian Garry went 15 competitive minutes with veteran Darian Weeks in Saturday’s preliminary card finale and emerged with a well-deserved unanimous decision.

    Two judges gave him all three rounds. The third judge gave him two of three.

    And no one in a jam-packed arena seemed to disagree.

    But he wasn’t exactly Conor McGregor.

    Garry, 24, made his UFC debut last fall in New York City and made Notorious-ish promises of domination, but he walked them back following a rugged go-round with Weeks that saw him go the distance for just the third time in a nine-fight run that began in 2019.

    “It was good. But he was big. He was strong. His hand movement was awkward,” Garry said. “It’s experience. No one walks into this cage perfect. It’s work, work, work.”

    Indeed, Garry had to work while running up a 74-40 edge in significant strikes while coming out on the short end of a 1-0 count in takedowns and a 2:52-0:39 margin in control time.

    Once the victory sank in, though, he got himself back into character, leading the Jacksonville crowd in a soccer-style chant before promising menace to the 170-pound ranks.

    “Line them up, I’ll knock them out,” he said. “And by the time I’m done, everyone in this division is going to be calling me daddy.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Here’s some free advice: Don’t tangle with a guy who calls himself “The Boa Constrictor,” even if he’s 44 years old with a gray beard.

    Ukrainian-born submission ace Aleksei Oleinik entered the fray for the 77th time since debuting as a pro in the mid-1990s and emerged a winner for the 60th time after seizing Jared Vanderaa in a neck crank and prompting a surrender after just 3:39 of the first round.

    It came after a scrambling exchange of submission attempts that began when Vanderaa got the fight to the mat midway through the round. Oleinik seized the advantage, however, and got his foe to his back while snaking his right arm behind his neck. 

    He isolated Vanderaa’s right arm within the crank and rendered him unable to breathe properly, forcing a rescue by referee Mike Beltran. The 29-year-old was vomiting in his corner after the fight was waved off. Meanwhile, Oleinik chatted up Rogan and suggested he’d be around the Octagon “not too much longer. Maybe five or 10 years.”

    Felder was impressed.

    “He’s so powerful from that spot that he just crushes the life out of you,” he said. “It’s crazy man. He’s an animal.”

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Mike Malott was up against it.

    The UFC newbie was being pursued and punished by an aggressive Mickey Gall. Malott was leaking heavily from the nose, thanks to shots from Gall, and he was doing so while being rejected by a Florida crowd chanting “USA, USA.”

    But none of it mattered.

    The Canadian-born welterweight turned the tables with a single hard left hand, clipping a charging Gall directly on the chin and sending him face-first to the mat to end matters after just 3:41 of Round 1. 

    It was Gall’s fifth loss in 11 UFC fights since 2016.

    For Malott, meanwhile, it was the culmination of a dream he’d first had as a young teen.

    “I’ve been waiting for this moment since 2005,” he said. “I was just some kid in Ontario with a stubborn dream, and here I am. I’ve stayed focused, and I’m just so happy.

    “I remember being jealous of Mickey when he got signed. I remember thinking, ‘Why can’t that be me?'”

    The 30-year-old’s win was one of two among the four fighters making company debuts on Saturday, following Daniel Santos’ loss to Julio Arce in the night’s first bout and Piera Rodriguez’s decision over Kay Hansen in fight No. 2. Two fights after Malott beat Gall, late sub/newcomer Josh Fremd put up a gutsy effort but dropped a unanimous decision to Anthony Hernandez.

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Successfully betting on a high-profile commodity is no great accomplishment.

    But if you can turn a profit on a series of prelim fighters, you might have something.

    Wagering pros are often separated from the joes during the pre-pay-per-view bouts, where prudent outlays across the board—based on results—can frequently yield a hefty profit.

    Not Saturday night, though.

    Favorites won all seven of the early encounters, with each returning $100 profit on a variety of outlays.

    Garry was the biggest chalk pick, going in as a -365 proposition, while Oleinik was a narrow -110 favorite and Rodriguez was an only slightly wide -120 pick.

    Bantamweight Aspen Ladd came the closest to cashing an underdog ticket when she lost by three matching 29-28 scorecards against -170 favorite Raquel Pennington.

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Main Card

    Alexander Volkanovski def, Chan Sung Jung by TKO (punches), 0:45, Round 4

    Aljamain Sterling def. Petr Yan by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)

    Khamzat Chimaev def. Gilbert Burns by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Mackenzie Dern def. Tecia Torres by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

    Mark O. Madsen def. Vinc Pichel by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

    Prelims

    Ian Garry def. Darian Weeks by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

    Anthony Hernandez def. Josh Fremd by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

    Raquel Pennington def. Aspen Ladd by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Mike Malott def. Mickey Gall by KO (punch), 3:41, Round 1

    Early Prelims

    Aleksei Oleinik def. Jared Vanderaa by submission (neck crank), 3:39, Round 1

    Piera Rodriguez def. Kay Hansen by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Julio Arce def. Daniel Santos by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

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