The UFC isn’t lacking intriguing main events for its remaining 2020 schedule. One of those, however, the Kamaru Usman-Gilbert Burns welterweight title fight, was recently postponed, and the UFC 256 card on Dec. 12 needs a new main event.
Will the UFC turn to one of its most highly anticipated matchups — Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou for the heavyweight crown — to headline its last pay-per-view event of the year?
Miocic earned a convincing unanimous decision win over Ngannou in January 2018. But Ngannou, perhaps the UFC’s most intimidating fighter, has been on a roll with four straight first-round finishes.
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night features two fights with title implications. In the main event, Brian Ortega, who is ranked No. 3 in ESPN’s featherweight rankings, will take on Chan Sung Jung, better known as “The Korean Zombie.” Jung is ranked eighth and has stopped his past two foes in the first round. Meanwhile, former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade will move up to 125 pounds and take on the third-ranked Katlyn Chookagian.
UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs. Jung
• Saturday, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
• Main card: ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
• Prelims: ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET
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Speaking of potential fireworks, Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event should not lack for excitement, with top featherweight contenders Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung — better known as “The Korean Zombie” — squaring off.
There’s bad blood with this matchup, but there’s also a potential title shot on the line for the winner. Jung has won two straight, both first-round stoppages. Ortega, meanwhile, hasn’t fought in nearly two years since losing a featherweight championship bout to Max Holloway. Would beating Jung be enough for Ortega to earn another crack at the title?
Tony Ferguson would no doubt love a title shot. He nearly had one, but his scheduled lightweight title fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov fell through amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ferguson instead took on Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight championship and lost, snapping his 12-fight win streak.
Ferguson will turn 37 in February, although he looks far from being over the hill. But would a move to welterweight help him? He fought at 170 earlier in his career and a weight cut wouldn’t be so drastic.
ESPN MMA experts Ariel Helwani, Phil Murphy, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim take a look at what’s real and what’s not.
Real or not: With Kamaru Usman-Gilbert Burns off, the best replacement headlining fight for UFC 256 is Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou 2
A heavyweight title rematch between Stipe Miocic, left, and Francis Ngannou would certainly be an exciting way for the UFC to close out 2020 on pay-per-view. Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Helwani: It would certainly be a nice option, and it is one that the UFC has considered, though I’m told that date doesn’t work for the heavyweight champ, Miocic. Another option they’ve explored is Jorge Masvidal vs. Colby Covington, but they are far apart on that one.
Here’s what I would do: I would move the Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jennifer Maia women’s flyweight title fight, which is scheduled for UFC 255 on Nov. 21, to UFC 256 on Dec. 12. It’s just a few weeks later. Not a huge deal. As we know, Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson is already on the Dec. 12 card, and I really like the idea of the two best female fighters in the UFC — and, dare I say, the world — Nunes and Shevchenko, fighting on the same card. I’d then book Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier on the Nov. 21 card and keep the Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Alex Perez flyweight title bout on the 255 card. Make McGregor vs. Poirier the five-round main event, with the flyweights benefiting from being on the same card in the co-main. Et voila! Everyone wins.
The UFC is in a great spot. It’s had a really great pay-per-view run since the pandemic and has a ton of big-time fights in the oven (don’t forget about Israel Adesanya, who told me two weeks ago he’d love to fight in December), but I like this scenario best.
Anderson Silva discusses his fight vs. Uriah Hall and says it could be the final one of his storied career.
Wagenheim: Silva was once the greatest fighter in the world and the most intoxicating to watch. But he’s 45 years old now and has lost a step. He has also lost his past two fights — and six of his last eight. He is in the midst of a bleak, uninspiring run during which, since 2012, he has just one victory to show for his seven trips inside the Octagon.
And yet, I’m not ready to declare that Hall is too much for even this humdrum version of Silva to handle.
Silva already was over the hill and a step behind when he faced Michael Bisping in 2016, and later that year he didn’t belong in the cage with Daniel Cormier, who was light heavyweight champion at the time. Silva shouldn’t have been fed to Israel Adesanya, who was 14 years younger and in his prime, when they met last February. He was overmatched even in his most recent fight, a first-round TKO loss to Jared Cannonier in May 2019.
But Hall? He has won his past two fights and always has been bursting with potential — and he might very well realize that potential in a spectacularly violent way on Oct. 31. But in no way is he a mismatch for Silva. In fact, considering Hall’s flashy standup style, this could be the perfect pairing, one that might rekindle the old Silva sparkle one more time.
Dana White has said this will be the last time we see Silva in the Octagon, and as UFC president, he will have a say in the matter. But Silva deserves a swan-song showcase against a fellow legend of similar vintage. How about Mauricio Rua? “Shogun” is only 38, but he’s at the same place in his vaunted career as Silva is in his. As soon as the pandemic eases, here’s hoping the UFC treats its Brazilian fans to a clash of all-time greats.
Real or not: Brian Ortega is ready to get another crack at the title if he beats Chan Sung Jung
Brian Ortega describes the timeline of when he started to want more from his training camp and ulimately why he decided to make a change.
Okamoto: Real, which is pretty wild considering Ortega hasn’t won a fight in over two years, and the last time we saw him, he was thoroughly outclassed by then-champion Max Holloway. And what makes it even wilder is the 145-pound division is good. Really good. There are a lot of contenders here. So, how would Ortega be worthy of a title shot? In my opinion, as good as this division is, no one has set himself apart in the last year or so as a No. 1 contender. Zabit Magomedsharipov hasn’t been extremely active. Same with Yair Rodriguez. Calvin Kattar has been great, but he lost to Magomedsharipov last year. Josh Emmett is dealing with an injury. Ortega and Zombie are clearly the top contenders right now, outside of Holloway (who is in a weird spot coming off a controversial second loss to Alex Volkanovski), and they’re fighting in a five-round main event. I’m pretty confident the winner of this fight will face Volkanovski next, especially since he’s been pretty adamant he does not intend to fight Holloway again right away.
Real or not: Tony Ferguson should seriously consider moving to welterweight
Tony Ferguson speaks with Ariel Helwani about why he isn’t fighting at UFC 254 against Dustin Poirier or Michael Chandler.
Raimondi: The idea is definitely worth considering. One has to wonder how much the constant cutting to lightweight has taken a toll on Ferguson’s body over the years. He has never missed weight and surely he’s a pro at cutting. But there are only so many of those steep cuts you can make. Ferguson is 6 feet tall. He walks around well north of 155 pounds, of course. Ferguson has said at times he has touched 200 pounds outside of training camp. That’s not a small man by any stretch.
I don’t think it’s controversial to say Ferguson didn’t look like himself against Justin Gaethje in that May loss at UFC 249. It’s impossible to know if the weight cut played a factor, but Ferguson cut the weight twice in a three-week stretch. He wanted to show he could hit championship weight the day before what was originally scheduled to be a lightweight title fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov. That was ill-advised. Again, would it have mattered in the Gaethje fight if Ferguson hadn’t done that? It’s impossible to know.
But welterweight could be a realistic option. Imagine Ferguson against any of the top 170-pound fighters in the world. Most of those fights would surely be competitive. There are two guys who were middle-of-the-pack lightweights and then made moves up to welterweight over the past few years: Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns. I’d say they’ve done OK for themselves at the heavier weight. Ferguson could perform similarly — he had a much better lightweight run than either of those two.
Also, one last idea: How about Ferguson vs. Nate Diaz? That would be highly, highly entertaining.
Real or not: We will actually get to see Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cutelaba this month
As Ion Cutelaba is introduced, he walks over to Magomed Ankalaev, and the two need to be separated. For more UFC, sign up for ESPN+: http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Murphy: A law attributed to a distant relative of mine says, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Directly addressing whether the Magomed Ankalaev vs. Ion Cuțelaba rematch will finally happen feels like tempting the MMA gods. We’re officially 0-for-3 between UFC 249’s postponement and a pair of positive COVID-19 tests in August for Cuțelaba. There’s no reason — other than belief in the power of positive thinking — that UFC 254 will prove the one to work. The sensation of impending disaster only rises after last weekend’s card with the best collection of finishes I can remember. We’re due for bad news.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson is the gold standard for cursed fights with five swing-and-misses. In four attempted bookings of Ankalaev-Cuțelaba, by comparison, we’ve seen 38 more seconds of action, and that was interrupted by arguably the worst stoppage of the year. Even the original meeting landing on Leap Day for the first time in UFC history makes it more bizarre. I’ll believe Ankalaev and Cuțelaba will share the Octagon at UFC 254 for a proper uninterrupted fight when the door shuts behind them and Bruce Buffer steps out of the way. Until then, they should both avoid black cats, ladders and mirrors poorly secured. Remember the MMA gods’ creativity in interrupting Khabib-Tony?