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While UFC Fight Night 165 on Saturday in South Korea figures to be overshadowed by the happenings at UFC 245 the previous week, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will nevertheless close out its 2019 schedule with what appears to be an entertaining event on paper.
The promotion could have easily thrown together whichever Korean fighters were available and called it a day, but there are some intriguing pairings at light heavyweight and flyweight that figure to provide some important results, even if they do not feature hometown combatants. This is an ideal late-night offering with enough there to keep hardcore fans entertained for six hours and enough there to even make it worth catching up on in the morning.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Edgar vs. The Korean Zombie” preview:
FeatherweightsNo. 5 FW | Frankie Edgar (23-7-1) vs. No. 7 FW | Chan Sung Jung (15-5)
ODDS: Jung (-170), Edgar (+150)
When the UFC announced its return to Korea, Jung was an obvious choice to headline the event. He is the most prominent Korean on the active roster, and having missed the UFC’s first trip to the country, this would be his first chance to fight at home since 2008. The ensuing 11 years have been a strange run, the magic of which cannot quite be captured when looking at Jung’s resume on paper. That starts with Jung’s stateside debut in the featured prelim of World Extreme Cagefighting’s lone pay-per-view. On an excellent card, Jung’s debut stood out as a highlight, as he seemingly emerged out of nowhere as a fully formed star, thanks to natural charisma and one of the best nicknames in the sport; and he definitely lived up to “The Korean Zombie” moniker, eating a ton of abuse in an absolute war against Leonard Garcia that remains on the shortlist of best fights of all-time. The funny part is that Jung lost a split decision, and even if it is a fight he probably should have won, it is still demonstrative of Jung's career as a whole, as the memorable performances mean a whole lot more than the actual results. That is also true of Jung’s run towards a title shot at Jose Aldo in 2013. Wins over eroding versions of Garcia and Mark Hominick and a nascent Dustin Poirier have not aged amazingly well, but given that the Poirier bout was also a historically entertaining affair, Jung had built up enough notoriety and goodwill that he was still the best man for the spot. After losing to Aldo, Jung missed three and a half years due to a combination of injuries and mandatory military service, which raised some concern that his championship window could be closed for good. To the contrary, Jung’s recent run has seen him string together some of the most impressive performances of his career. Upon his return in 2017, Jung sparked Dennis Bermudez, and after another injury layoff, Jung looked poised to beat Yair Rodriguez in yet another “Fight of the Year” contender—until Rodriguez uncorked a back elbow in the literal last second of their bout and scored one of the unlikeliest finishes in mixed martial arts history. In June, Jung quickly dispatched yet another fringe contender in Renato Carneiro, setting the stage for a fight in Busan that could put him back in title contention. At first, Jung was slated to take on Brian Ortega in a corker of a fight, but with the latter injured, the UFC found a more than suitable replacement in Edgar.
Edgar stepping in against Jung makes for an excellent fight, but it us an odd move in the greater scheme of things, especially given where the American’s career stands at the moment. After losing to Max Holloway in a featherweight title in July, Edgar announced his intent to cut down to bantamweight and in fact still has a fight on the books at 135 pounds next month. Win or lose, it is difficult to say what this fight does for Edgar; a loss is obviously hugely damaging, but even with a win, it does not appear to be building to anything at featherweight. Looking backwards rather than forwards, Edgar’s career is still humming along at a high level, even if the 38-year old is obviously slowing down from his peak. Edgar memorably reigned over the lightweight division, even as a decent contingent of fans proclaimed him too small for the division, and after dropping to 145 pounds, he quickly established himself as the second-best featherweight in the world. Even if Edgar could never quite crack the Aldo—he was in fact sometimes outclassed while attempting to do so—“The Answer” wrecked shop against fellow contenders like Rodriguez, Chad Mendes and Jeremy Stephens, leaving no doubt that everyone else was playing for third place. That has changed recently. Ortega became the first man to stop the New Jersey native in 2018, doing so with a particularly brutal uppercut, and after rebounding with a win over Cub Swanson, Edgar clearly lost five rounds against Holloway. There is still plenty to love about Edgar’s game, but the direction of his career is a bit muddled at the moment, which makes this a hugely important fight.
This is a hard fight to call, if only because Jung’s recent resume does not help much in analyzing this matchup. In the last six years, his efforts consist of two quick knockout wins and five rounds against Rodriguez, who offers few parallels to Edgar. The latter’s style revolves around drilled-in fundamentals and slowly building out things based off the reactions of his opponents. Edgar will go through his mental Rolodex, throw or fake certain takedowns and combinations and eventually figure out what works by the time the championship rounds come around. That is as true as ever, but Edgar’s recent resume does leave some open-ended questions about his effectiveness at an elite level. Holloway and Ortega had the combination of youth, athleticism, size and feel to overcome Edgar’s adjustments or just plain stop him right out of the gate, and his 2018 victory over Swanson was an oddly flat rematch in which Swanson was apparently content to simply avoid takedowns and not get dominated like he did in their first bout. Where along that spectrum of opponents does Jung fall? Edgar’s wrestling game obviously looms large over this one, though Jung’s ground game somehow remains underrated despite the presence of a rare twister submission on his resume. The Korean’s takedown defense has not been tested much recently outside of a few attempts from Bermudez, who is not quite on Edgar’s level. If this stays on the feet, Jung obviously has the power and explosiveness advantages, but he is not a giant featherweight in comparison to Holloway and Ortega, so Edgar’s well-practiced fundamentals may just need some reach parity to look as sharp as ever. This is basically an even fight that will answer a ton of questions about where each man stands at in this point in his career, but it is worth taking the flier on Jung. The Ortega knockout still looms over Edgar, and the combination of Jung’s quick starts and the former champion’s willingness to feel out things seems like a poor recipe for the American unless he decides to sell out on wrestling early. Plus, Edgar’s plan to fight down a weight class just five weeks later is an obvious affront to the mixed martial arts gods. The pick is Jung via second-round knockout.
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