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Featherweights will carry the Ultimate Fighting Championship torch back into South Korea, as Frankie Edgar collides with Chan Sung Jung in the UFC Fight Night 165 headliner on Saturday at Sajik Arena in Busan. Stakes are high on several fronts.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO GAIN?
Chan Sung Jung: When Jung’s original opponent, Brian Ortega, withdrew from the scheduled main event with a knee injury, many feared the UFC would be hard-pressed to find a fill-in for “The Korean Zombie”—until Edgar was pulled from an upcoming assignment and placed in a familiar headlining role. The fight may end up being a blessing in disguise for Jung. While Edgar is no slouch, he will be faced with significant size and reach disadvantages, not to mention the late-notice switch to a five-round bout. This replacement fight is a best-case scenario for Jung, and although he lost the opportunity to test his mettle against the No. 2-ranked fighter in the division, he gets a crack at a former champion and an established veteran who is still considered a name brand. A win here for Jung separates him further from the heartbreaking buzzer-beater defeat suffered at the hands of Yair Rodriguez and moves him closer to a second UFC title shot.
Aleksandar Rakic: Still riding the high from his first-round head kick knockout of Jimi Manuwa, the No. 10-ranked light-heavyweight looks to shake the dark horse label and become a full-blown contender with a fifth consecutive UFC victory. In Rakic’s path stands Volkan Oezdemir, one of the 205-pound division’s resident knockout artists and a man aiming to work his way back to a title shot. In a division largely devoid of up-and-coming contenders, this fight can be viewed as Rakic’s big break, and an impressive victory could thrust the American Top Team rep into a light heavyweight title eliminator in the first half of 2020. Rakic’s key to victory in his first UFC co-main event? Incorporate the same chopping leg kicks he has used to hobble multiple opponents throughout his undefeated run inside the Octagon.
Ciryl Gane: Just five fights into his professional career and two appearances into his UFC run, France’s Gane has already begun to make waves and set himself apart as a future contender in the talent-starved heavyweight division. Up next: a top-billed preliminary matchup opposite Tanner Bosser, an adversary with more than double Gane’s MMA experience. A win here would likely see Gane ascend to the Top 15, and despite his inexperience, the talent he possesses has been evident from the start. Furthermore, Gane has shown incremental improvements in grappling exchanges, taking home back-to-back submission victories despite being pigeonholed as a striking specialist. In order to keep pace with the lofty expectations being placed on him, Gane will need to show substantial improvements in all facets of his game. If he can put away Boser inside the distance, he can probably write his own ticket; however, if he struggles, he may find himself refining his skills in prelim-level bouts for the foreseeable future.
WHO HAS THE MOST TO LOSE?
Frankie Edgar: The former UFC lightweight champion steps up in a major way, as he returns to the featherweight division before he ever had the chance to leave it. This time, he takes on Jung in a five-round main event. The fight was certainly a dangerous one for Edgar to take, considering the he was in the middle of preparing for a three-round clash with Cory Sandhagen in what would have been his debut at 135 pounds. Against Jung, Edgar will give up significant size and reach to his opponent, not to mention valuable time typically needed to prepare for lengthier main event assignments. It seems safe to say that the odds are stacked against Edgar. “The Answer” will need to lean on his wrestling base in an effort to force grappling exchanges with an opponent who figures to be hunting for a knockout. While Edgar maintains he still plans to move down to bantamweight, this fight gives him a chance to leave the 145-pound weight class with a bang.
Volkan Oezdemir: After bouncing back from a career-worst three-fight skid with a knockout victory over Ilir Latifi, Oezdemir aims to work his way back into contention by snuffing out the flame of a bright up and comer in Rakic. This has the makings of a striker’s delight, pitting Oezdemir’s boxing attack against Rakic’s arsenal of dangerous kicks. In order for Oezdemir to continue on his quest back toward the title, he will need to stay mindful of Rakic’s leg kicks. If he can continuously check the kicking attack and work himself into boxing range, then a knockout just may materialize. Currently sitting at No. 8 in the light heavyweight rankings, a win for Oezdemir may see him rise into the Top 5 for the first time since 2017.
Doo Ho Choi: It does not seem like long ago that South Korea’s Choi was considered one of the brightest prospects in the featherweight division. Fast forward nearly three years. After suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in his career and enduring a string of unfortunate injuries, Choi is left to pick up the pieces in a quest to reestablish the promise many observers once saw in him. “The Korean Superboy” is a fast-twitch striker who reacts to his opponents’ combinations at lightning speeds and lands kill shots in the blink of an eye. The problem with this approach? Choi, 28, oftentimes spirals into a take-one-to-give-one approach that has ended badly for him. Expect to see a measured and more patient Choi in his first appearance since early 2018. A win here could spark a new run toward the featherweight Top 15, while a loss could just as likely see him bounced from the UFC roster.