Twin title bouts and Khamzat Chimaev's first major test: breaking down a stacked UFC 273

Number of intriguing storylines will play out in Jacksonville, Florida early Sunday UAE time

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The UFC’s latest marquee event takes place this weekend, with UFC 273 at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Here we look at some of the must-watch bouts early Sunday in the UAE.

Alexander Volkanovski (c) v Chan Sung Jung (featherweight)

The featherweight champion was initially slated for a third clash with No 1 contender Max Holloway, but the former belt-holder’s withdrawal through injury has provided “The Korean Zombie” a golden opportunity.

Volkanovski, though, has not been beaten in his past 20 professional fights (he has a solitary loss in 24 bouts as a pro) and starred in his last octagon appearance by defeating Brian Ortega via unanimous decision at UFC 266 in September. Highlighted by his remarkable escape from submission, it marked the Australian’s second successful title defence after coming through his rematch with Holloway in Abu Dhabi in 2020.

Chan, meanwhile, has been a little iffy of late, losing three of his past seven in the UFC, although he remains one of the division’s most exciting talents. However, Volkanovski is firmly on the fast track to greatest-of-all-time status at featherweight. Rest assured, this one will entertain.

Aljamain Sterling (c) v Petr Yan (bantamweight)

Finally, a rematch way too long in the making will actually play out. Bad blood has more than bubbled in the 13 months since the controversy of the first match-up, when Sterling captured Yan’s bantamweight crown at UFC 259 after the Russian was disqualified for an illegal knee.

It represented the first time a UFC champion had been crowned via a DQ. Since, Sterling has been sidelined through injury, while in the meantime Yan became interim champion - he scored a superb unanimous decision win against Cory Sandhagen last October in Abu Dhabi. Yan’s defeat to Sterling remains his only loss in his past 12 pro bouts, with many expecting him to exact revenge against the American this weekend in relatively straightforward fashion.

Sterling, though, is an extremely skilled grappler who has understandably been affronted by the criticism that’s come his way following the manner of his coronation in March last year. Still, Yan feels still the man to beat at 135lbs.

Petr Yan during his UFC interim championship bantamweight bout with Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Gilbert Burns v Khamzat Chimaev (welterweight)

Taking nothing away from the two championship bouts at UFC 273, this may well sit as the most eagerly anticipated contest of the entire event. And that's chiefly because Chimaev has quickly become one of the most popular athletes in mixed martial arts.

The Chechen-born Swede, unbeaten in 10 as a pro, has raced to four wins from four in the promotion since debuting at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi in July 2020, with each victory coming in emphatic fashion. His most recent, against China’s Li Jingliang in October in the UAE capital, helped hoist the Chimaev hype train to levels perhaps not seen since Conor McGregor made the sport his own.

That said, Burns is without doubt his greatest challenge to date. The Brazilian is currently ranked the No 2 challenger at welterweight and rebounded well from last year’s title defeat to champion Kamaru Usman by dominating Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson at UFC 264 in July. Has Chimaev at last met his match?

Khamzat Chimaev takes on Gilbert Burns in his biggest test so far in the UFC. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ian Garry v Darian Weeks (welterweight)

Speaking of McGregor and hugely touted prospects, McGarry looks set to take the next step on what he – rather publicly – considers his road to superstardom. The Irishman, who readily cites his lofty compatriot as a role model, delivered on his UFC bow at UFC 268 in November by knocking out Jordan Williams in the opening round. It lifted Garry’s pro record to a blemish-free eight wins from eight.

“The Future” certainly talks a good game, and thus far through a career highlighted by championship gold in UK promotion Cage Warriors, has more than backed up the bravado. Victory against Weeks in Jacksonville will hardly catapult him to the upper echelons of the welterweight division – the American lost on UFC debut in December - but one thing is for certain: Garry will be intent on stealing the headlines on a stacked pay-per-view bill. For many, his sophomore showing needs to be even more stylish than his big bow five months ago.

Updated: April 06, 2022, 8:19 AM