The UFC featherweight division is currently in a position where it’s at it’s healthiest in years when it comes to contenders.
Alexander Volkanovski is the champion and he is scheduled to take on Brian Ortega in the fall following the conclusion of their Ultimate Fighter season. Beyond them, Max Holloway is still seen by many as the best in the world and he’ll take on Yair Rodriguez in July with many rating the Mexican as one of the best around over the last few years too.
You then have Zabit Magomedsharipov and Calvin Kattar lurking at the top, as well as the two men main eventing UFC Vegas 29 this weekend – ‘Korean Zombie’ Chang Sung Jung and Dan ’50K’ Ige.
When you step outside of the very elite of the division, the two first fighters you pull up out of that weight class are Jung and Ige.
Both intelligent, powerful strikers with a sense of going for the finish and better than the rest around them. But when they get the chance against the best of the best, they seem to fall short.
Korean Zombie’s previous title fight saw him lose via TKO to Jose Aldo when he dislocated his shoulder in the fourth round, before a four-year hiatus due to military service. He returned with a win but then got knocked out in the final second by a reverse elbow from Rodriguez in a five-round war that he was winning up to that point.
He followed that up with two first-round wins, before a devastating and dominant defeat to Ortega in his last fight.
Ige’s career hasn’t had as many moments, but the pattern is similar. His record says he earned a victory of Edson Barboza via split decision but anyone that watched that bout knows he lost it. His next fight earned him a main event against Kattar, where he got beaten up for 25 minutes on the feet.
He bounced back with a 22 second win over Gavin Tucker to set this one up, but it’s very intriguing to see how this goes.
Both guys prefer to stand, but have an underrated ground game and will look to set the pace early on. But the most important thing for the winner is that they’ll show they can hang with top guys and they’re not a ‘nearly man’ anymore. It could be seen as a way to overcome that obstacle in their career so far and push them towards another crack at the elite of the elite.
It’s what they need to do if they want to get in the title conversation going forward and with the top of the 145lbs weight class so tight, a spectacular performance could be exactly what separates them from the pack.