FRANKIE EDGAR VS. CHAN SUNG JUNG
These veteran featherweight contenders were slated to meet last November in Denver, Colorado, but Edgar was forced out with a bicep injury and the fight world was sad. But Yair Rodriguez stepped in, he and Jung went to war, resulting in one of the best fights and craziest knockouts of the year and fight fans rejoiced.
Now, a handful of days before Christmas, we’ll finally see Edgar and “The Korean Zombie” locked in the Octagon together.
While it comes as a result of Brian Ortega suffering a knee injury — and puts Edgar’s bantamweight debut in January against Cory Sandhagen in jeopardy — this remains a tremendous fight that carries tremendous significance, even if “The Answer” is set to depart the division in the new year.
Jung is coming off a first-round knockout win over Renato Moicano that solidified his place in the Top 10 and with a victory over Edgar, the South Korean veteran would vault right back into the title conversation in the 145-pound weight class. As for Edgar, this bout gives him the opportunity to depart for bantamweight after a victory over a Top 10 fixture and show everyone that he still has plenty left in the tank as he embarks on this latest adventure.
There are significant risks for both men given where they’re at in their respective careers and the way things are shaping up in the ultra-tough featherweight division, but this one should be a spirited affair from start to finish and position the winner for big things once 2020 begins.
VOLKAN OEZDEMIR VS. ALEKSANDAR RAKIC
With the light heavyweight title on the line in early February, the battle to secure position in the championship queue continues on to close out the year as former title challenger Oezdemir squares off with the streaking Rakic in the Top 10 clash the Austrian has long wanted.
Oezdemir’s UFC career has been filled with bouts against ranked opponents, and through his first six outings, the results were symmetrical — three wins, followed by three losses, with observers putting more stock in the setbacks, rather than the triumphs. But Oezdemir got back in the win column in June with a stoppage win over Ilir Latifi and now the 30-year-old Swiss standout is looking to build on that victory by turning back the top young talents in the division.
While fans and media have focused in on emerging talents like Dominick Reyes and Johnny Walker over the course of the last couple years, Rakic has gone about his business without much fanfare, racking up four straight victories in the Octagon to push his overall winning streak to an even dozen. The 27-year-old from Vienna closed out 2018 with a first-round stoppage win over Devin Clark in a wild back-and-forth battle that lasted just over four minutes and followed it up with a 42-second knockout win over veteran Jimi Manuwa on that same June card in Stockholm where Oezdemir stopped Latifi.
This is Rakic’s toughest test to date and a sharp challenge for Oezdemir as he looks to reclaim a place in the upper echelon of the 205-pound weight class, and it should be a tremendous matchup to help close out the 2019 campaign inside the Octagon.
DOOHO CHOI VS. CHARLES JOURDAIN
Bringing a fight card to Busan gives the UFC an opportunity to get one of its most exciting featherweights back in the cage as “The Korean Superboy” returns to action for the first time since January 2018 in a clash with French-Canadian prospect Jourdain in what should be an absolute barnburner.
Choi is competing at home in South Korea for the second time since signing with the UFC, after sparking Sam Sicilia in the first round of their November 2015 clash. Though he’s currently riding a two-fight losing streak, both contests garnered Fight of the Night honors and showcased the toughness and heart of the baby-faced featherweight, who had collected 12 straight victories before his memorable encounters with Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens.
A two-division champion under the TKO banner in Quebec, Jourdain made his UFC debut in May, landing on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict opposite Desmond Green at lightweight. Now back down in his more natural weight class, the promising 24-year-old will look to recapture the form that carried him to eight victories in nine starts after the iconic French-Canadian promotion re-launched several years ago.
Choi is allergic to boring fights and packs considerable pop for a featherweight, and Jourdain was a proven finisher on the regional circuit, so this one could be all kinds of fireworks for as long as it lasts.
DA-UN JUNG VS. MIKE RODRIGUEZ
After earning a third-round stoppage win in his promotional debut, Jung looks to make it two straight inside the Octagon as he takes a step up in competition against Rodriguez, a Contender Series alum looking to find some consistency inside the UFC cage heading into next year.
The 25-year-old Jung carried a 10-fight winning streak into his August debut in Shenzhen, where he squared off with fellow newcomer Khadis Ibragimov in what turned into an entertaining back-and-forth affair. After more than 10 minutes of give and take, Jung clamped onto a standing guillotine choke to secure the finish.
“Slo Mike” secured a contract on the first season of the Contender Series, but has been unable to find a rhythm since matriculating to the UFC, sandwiching a victory over Adam Milstead between a loss and a no contest thus far. The 31-year-old Massachusetts native showed dynamic finishing abilities on the regional circuit and if he can tap into it with greater frequency going forward, he could start making some headway in the 205-pound weight class.
JUNYONG PARK VS. MARC-ANDRE BARRIAULT
A middleweight battle between fighters still searching for their first UFC victories is next on the docket as Park makes his second start of the year, facing off with Barriault, who makes the walk to the cage for the third time in 2019.
Park had his seven-fight winning streak snapped when he took on Anthony Hernandez at the end of August. It was a considerable step up in competition for the Korean Top Team member, who has only been competing in the 185-pound ranks for his last three bouts, so with the Octagon jitters out of the way and an opponent in a comparable situation, perhaps “The Iron Turtle” can bounce back and secure a victory.
Like Jourdain, Barriault was a two-division champion under the TKO banner before getting called up to the UFC, collecting the middleweight and light heavyweight straps while putting together a six-fight winning streak within the promotion and an eight-fight run of success overall. Unfortunately for the 29-year-old French-Canadian, he’s been unable to carry over that form, coming away on the wrong side of the results in each of his first two Octagon appearances.
Which one of these 2019 new arrivals will end the year collecting their first win and who will head into 2020 with their back against the wall?
KYUNG HO KANG VS. LIU PINGYUAN
The main card kicks off in the bantamweight division with an intriguing clash between South Korea’s Kang taking on China’s Liu.
Nicknamed “Mr. Perfect,” the 32-year-old Kang has been that thus far in 2019, registering two wins in as many starts, giving him three wins in four starts following his return from mandatory military service. Tough to put away and always down for a scrap, the veteran should get a hero’s welcome as he fights in Busan for the first time.
Liu began his UFC run by extending his overall winning streak to double digits with wins over Damian Stasiak and Martin Day, but that run was halted when he caught a nasty knee to the dome from Jonathan Martinez back in July. Just 26, the Chinese bantamweight has gained invaluable experience over his last three outings and if he can earn a quality win over a cagey competitor like Kang, he’ll end this year on a high note.
RAONI BARCELOS VS. SAID NURMAGOMEDOV
This is one of those fights that just slips under the radar, but actually carries some divisional significance going forward as Barcelos and Nurmagomedov have both shown considerable potential to become players in the bantamweight division.
A standout under the RFA banner, Barcelos has maintained his strong form since graduating to the UFC, posting three straight finishes to enter this one on a seven-fight winning streak. He’s older than most emerging talents at 32, but has just 15 professional appearances under his belt to this point, so he should have plenty left in the tank. Barcelos beat quality competition on his way to the UFC and has been lights out since arriving, so a win here should elevate him to a new tax bracket in the 135-pound hierarchy.
Nurmagomedov eked past Justin Scoggins by split decision in his promotional debut, but a move to bantamweight in his sophomore showing produced a first-round finish of Brazilian prospect Ricardo Ramos and got people buzzing. The 27-year-old has only lost once in his career and carries a three-year, seven-fight unbeaten streak into Saturday’s crucial clash.
CIRYL GANE VS. TANNER BOSER
The big fellas go to battle in the middle of the prelims with the surging French prospect Gane looking for his third win in five months as he faces off with Bonnyville, Alberta’s Boser.
Gane is the best prospect to hit the heavyweight division since fellow MMA Factory product Francis Ngannou and he’s getting the Ngannou Treatment — fighting frequently and getting a chance to build momentum and confidence before taking a considerable step up in competition. The former TKO heavyweight champ earned submission wins in each of his first two UFC appearances and has racked up five wins in as many starts since turning pro in August 2018.
Though he’s a year younger than Gane, the Canadian “Bulldozer” has considerably more experience, entering Saturday’s clash with a 17-5-1 record and five wins in his last seven starts. After missing out on the opportunity to make his promotional debut in his home province this summer when his opponent was scratched at the 11th hour, Boser made the walk to the Octagon for the first time in Boston, registering a unanimous decision win over Daniel Spitz.
This will be a good test for the highly touted, tremendously impressive Gane, who has looked like a legitimate future contender thus far. Boser is as tough as they come and been in there with a host of experienced opponents, so he should, in theory, force Gane to work hard if he wants a sixth straight win.
SEUNGWOO CHOI VS. SUMAN MOKHTARIAN
Featherweights looking for their first UFC victories meet here as Choi looks to halt a two-fight slide against the former TUF contestant Mokhtarian.
Though he’s been on the wrong side of the results in each of his previous two Octagon appearances this year, Choi has been in tough, losing to elite Russian prospect Movsar Evloev and returning Newfoundlander Gavin Tucker. He won seven of eight on the regional circuit to garner this UFC opportunity, and with a couple disappointing outings behind him, don’t be surprised if we see his best on Saturday night.
A member of Team Miocic on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, Mokhtarian lost his lone appearance on the show to Ricky Steele and then found himself in the unenviable position of facing Sodiq Yusuff in the rising featherweight contender’s promotional debut. He’s been out of action since and hasn’t registered a victory in a little over two years, so you best believe he’s champing at the bit to get back in the cage and get his hand raised in this one.
DONG HYUN MA VS. OMAR MORALES
This is a really intriguing preliminary card clash in the lightweight division as the Contender Series grad Morales makes his first walk to the Octagon against Ma, a seasoned South Korean veteran.
The Venezuelan-born, South Florida-based Morales actually started his career in 2011, but has fought sparingly over the years, experiencing long stretches on the sidelines multiple times. After nearly a full year off, he ventured to Las Vegas this summer and lit up the UFC Apex and Harvey Park, putting away the LFA fixture with a swift right cross just 66 seconds into the second round to run his record to 8-0.
Ma, who is 3-4 in the UFC and 16-10-3 overall, has been on the wrong side of things in each of his two starts thus far in 2019, getting beaten by Devonte Smith in February and lumped up by Scott Holtzman six months later. The 31-year-old “Maestro” is easily the most experienced, most accomplished fighter Morales has faced to date and it will be interesting to see if he can turn those advantages into a victory this weekend.
ALEXANDRE PANTOJA VS. MATT SCHNELL
Flyweights on the cusp of contention meet in this one as Pantoja looks to get back into the win column by halting Schnell’s four-fight winning streak.
The top seed in the tournament to produce a flyweight title challenger on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, Pantoja beat both Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France to advance to the semis, where he was upset by Hiromasa Ogikubo. “The Cannibal” has gone 5-2 since then, but enters off a unanimous decision loss to Deiveson Figueiredo in July that stalled his climb up the rankings.
Schnell was also a member of the TUF 24 cast, losing to eventual tournament winner Tim Elliott in the quarterfinals. After starting his UFC tenure with two straight first-round stoppage losses, “Danger” has rattled off four straight victories, including consecutive first-round submission wins by triangle choke heading into this one.
Things are wide open in the 125-pound weight class at the moment and a win for either man will put them in the thick of the title chase to begin 2020.
ALATENGHEILI VS. RYAN BENOIT
This is a very interesting bantamweight clash stationed early on the fight card as Alatengheili looks for his second UFC victory in as many appearances against the returning Benoit.
Hailing from Inner Mongolia, Alantengheili picked up a unanimous decision win over Danaa Batgerel at the end of August in Shenzhen, extending his winning streak to three in the process. After beginning his career with a subpar 4-6 mark, the 26-year-old has gone 9-1-1 over his last 11 and has a chance to earn the biggest win of his career on Saturday.
Fighting for the first time since November 2017, Benoit went 3-3 in six UFC appearances at flyweight prior to being sidelined with injuries, including a stoppage win over Sergio Pettis at UFC 185. The 30-year-old “Baby Face” has been getting work in with the Renzo Gracie BJJ crew for the last couple years, so expect to see some slick grappling from the Dallas, Texas native should this one hit the canvas.
MIRANDA GRANGER VS. AMANDA LEMOS
Strawweights hoping to end 2019 with a victory meet in this one as Granger picks up another short-notice opportunity, venturing to Busan to square off with Lemos.
The former CFFC titleholder faced Hannah Goldy in a “Battle of Unbeaten Newcomers” at UFC on ESPN 5 in August, handing the Contender Series alum the first loss of her career while collecting her seventh straight victory. She faced tough competition on the regional circuit and hasn’t missed a beat since moving up to the UFC and should be considered someone to watch going forward.
Lemos went 6-0-1 to begin her career and earn an opportunity to compete in the UFC, but it’s been a rough road since. After losing her promotional debut to Leslie Smith in July 2017, the 32-year-old Brazilian was hit with a two-year suspension as a result of an anti-doping violation. Finally cleared to return, it will be interesting to see how the time off impacted her and what she can do in her sophomore appearance inside the Octagon.