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VERSUS: A UFC 273 breakdown

“Can’t-miss prospect” is a term rarely used when talking about up-and-coming mixed martial artists. MMA is a grueling sport where anything can happen in a matter of seconds. The unpredictable nature of the sport steers people away from putting that pressure on new prospects entering the spotlight. Tonight at UFC 273 in Jacksonville, the world will get a glimpse of maybe the most hyped prospect in the sport’s history, one who has been labeled “can’t miss” since before his UFC debut.

In 2017, former UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) Brian Stann warned of a welterweight (170 lbs.) prospect in Sweden that would make “real waves.” Nearly five years later, Khamzat Chimaev has arrived. 

A relatively unknown Chimaev made his UFC debut on July 16, 2020, taking a fight on short notice against middleweight John Phillips. After a dominant second-round submission win, Chimaev waited only 10 days before hopping back into the cage. On July 26, 2020, Chimaev opened a lot of eyes after his one-round smashing of welterweight Rhys McKee. Chimaev set a UFC record with that win, becoming the only fighter to win two fights within 10 days. 

Fast forward to Saturday night, “Borz” — the nickname that stuck with Chimaev — is now 10-0 (4-0 UFC) and ready to take on his biggest challenge to date. He faces No. 2-ranked welterweight Gilbert Burns. Burns, who has won seven of his last eight fights, is no small task for the rising Swede. An all-world BJJ black belt, Burns will be the toughest test yet for Chimaev, and I cannot wait. Burns’ only loss in his last eight fights was to champion and pound-for-pound king Kamaru Usman. Burns has looked fantastic of late and even had the champ hurt in the opening round of their title fight back in February of 2021. 

If Chimaev runs through Burns like he has the rest of his opponents, it stands to reason that his next fight will more than likely be for the title. Borz’s recent run has been something we haven’t seen since the rise of Ronda Rousey. All 10 of Chimaev’s wins have come in some form of a finish, and all have been within two rounds. Even more impressive, in Chimaev’s four UFC wins, he has had only one significant strike landed against him, total. If you don’t follow the sport, trust me — that stat is utterly insane. 

On a card with two title fights, Chimaev vs. Burns is clearly the people’s main event of the weekend. Can Burns derail the hype train of Chimaev and get his second shot at the title? Can Burns even make Khamzat look human and take him into deep waters, something we’ve yet to see with Chimaev? Remember, he’s never been out of the second round. Or will Chimaev continue his dominance and use a big win over Burns to propel him to the title and his self-proclaimed king status? 

Without further ado, let’s get to the night’s picks. 

Volkanovski vs. Zombie (featherweight title)

  • The Korean Zombie is exceptionally well-rounded with big time power in his hands. He is as game as they come and finishes almost everyone. Volkanovski has come into his own as a fighter. His championship heart and experience, along with his balanced skill set makes him one of the toughest outs in the featherweight division. Although the smaller fighter, I see Volkanovski’s wrestling and kickboxing being enough to grind out the win. Volkanovski by decision.
  • Sterling vs. Yan (bantamweight title)  

A rematch in which the prior fight ended with an illegal blow, Sterling now gets the opportunity to show the fans why he is the champ of the 135-pound division. Sterling was losing on two of the three judges’ cards before an illegal knee from Yan awarded him the bantamweight title. Sterling has not fought since the first matchup. Yan has fought since then, winning an interim title fight back in March of 2021. Sterling claims to be in the best shape of his life and will need that — and his wrestling — to have a chance in this fight. I think Yan reminds everyone how good he is and reclaims the title he never lost. Yan by TKO.

  • Burns vs. Chimaev                                        

The biggest fight of the night in my opinion, as explained above. With his BJJ credentials and power in both hands, on paper, Burns is clearly the toughest opponent Chimaev has faced. For Chimaev, it could be dangerous to play the grappling game with Burns. I believe his physical strength, wrestling ability and overall meanness will overwhelm Burns and show how special he is. A win puts Chimaev in the title picture for years to come. Chimaev by submission.

  • Dern vs Torres.                                         

An interesting matchup with big-time title implications in the 115-pound women’s division. Dern, who is the former No. 1-ranked BJJ woman in the world, is coming off her only loss in her last five fights. Torres has won three straight, and her last loss was to the same woman who just defeated Dern. 

Dern is the more skilled fighter, especially considering her BJJ expertise, but she has shown that grappling for submissions is basically her only path to victory in her fights. Torres, although the smaller fighter, is incredibly durable and has never been finished in any fight. If Dern can catch Torres in a submission, she would be the first woman to do so in Torres’s 18-fight career. I think Torres is the better fighter on the feet and has the better footwork of the two. Even though she would be overmatched on the ground, I don’t see Dern being able to get Torres down. Torres by decision. 

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Hanson Crafton grew up in Franklin, Kentucky and graduated from Lindsey Wilson College. Currently employed as an insurance adjuster in Louisville, he contributes sports commentary for The County Line through his "Versus" column.