The card is headlined by two of the bigger names in the UFC men’s featherweight division, Max Holloway and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung (ESPN+, main card at 8 a.m. ET, prelims at 5 a.m.). Their meeting is an important fight for two men deep into their careers, both trying to hang around at the top of the heap at 145 pounds.
In the co-main event, veteran Anthony Smith takes on the hard-hitting Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight rematch. Also on the card is a significant fight for the women’s flyweight division, a possible title eliminator between onetime challenger Taila Santos and top-prospect-turned-legit-contender Erin Blanchfield.
Here’s a look at the top storylines to keep an eye on this weekend.
Holloway is among the best featherweight fighters of all time, a former champion who continues to beat up top contenders. The problem is that Holloway cannot get by current champion Alexander Volkanovski, who has beaten him three times, the most recent in dominant fashion. Holloway has defeated just about everyone else at featherweight, though. If he beats Jung — he’s an 8-1 betting favorite to do so — one of the most beloved fighters of his generation will have a tough decision to make.
There are few people out there who don’t think Holloway is the second-best featherweight in the world. And while Holloway badly wants another crack at Volkanovski, it doesn’t seem realistic after going 0-3 against the stout Aussie. It would be a shame for Holloway, who is just 31 years old, to be stuck in the role of gatekeeper to the top of the division. But that’s what he has been the past two-plus years, beating Arnold Allen, Yair Rodriguez and Calvin Kattar. It’s not good business for the UFC to have potentially marketable title contenders lose to Holloway, one after another, if the winner of those bouts, Holloway, is not going to go on to fight Volkanovski again.
Now, there could be a different conversation surrounding Holloway if Volkanovski drops the title in his next fight. The champ wants to fight before the end of the year, which doesn’t seem likely. But it appears that Ilia Topuria, the rising hotshot from Spain, is in line for an opportunity at the belt, perhaps early in 2024. Holloway probably won’t decide about his future until after that fight because a Topuria win would open the door for him again. Another possible future for Holloway: a full-fledged run at lightweight, which would be interesting to see, provided he gets by “The Korean Zombie.”
Alexander Volkanovski dominates Chan Sung Jung to defend featherweight title
Alexander Volkanovski keeps Chan Sung Jung guessing throughout their fight and wins the bout via technical knockout.
Could we hear The Cranberries’ song “Zombie” for the final time in a UFC entrance this weekend? It’s certainly possible. Jung said after his loss to Volkanovski in a UFC title fight last year that he might retire, before changing his mind. The UFC planned for him to fight in his home country of South Korea earlier this year, but it fell through. That would have been a lovely send-off for the popular action fighter. Singapore might be on the same continent as Seoul, but it surely doesn’t have the same meaning to Jung.
This all could be moot if Jung wins on Saturday. A victory over Holloway is significant and would instantly make “The Korean Zombie” a contender again. But as with Holloway, there wouldn’t be much of an appetite for a title fight between Jung and Volkanovski, who won in one-sided fashion when they met at UFC 273 in April 2022. What a win over Holloway could potentially do for Jung is get him a big fight next year in South Korea. That could give him the career closure he might be seeking.
If Jung loses to Holloway and decides to leave his gloves in the Octagon, he will have nothing to be ashamed of. He’s been fighting top fighters in the UFC for over a decade and has compiled an incredible highlight reel, beginning with two heart-stopping fights against Leonard Garcia (the first in WEC) that earned Jung his nickname. Zombie might never win a UFC championship, but he’ll always be remembered for his one-punch knockouts, his comebacks and that twister finish of Garcia in 2011, the first such submission in UFC history.
Women’s flyweight title eliminator?
Erin Blanchfield brushes shoulders after tapping out Molly McCann
Erin Blanchfield stuns the Madison Square Garden crowd by forcing Molly McCann to tap out.
The fight with the most championship stakes at UFC Singapore might be Blanchfield vs. Santos. The UFC has them ranked third and fourth, respectively, in its official women’s flyweight contender rankings. The winner could be in line to fight next for the title, following champion Alexa Grasso‘s title defense Sept. 16 against Valentina Shevchenko, the woman Grasso dethroned in March.
Blanchfield, a jiu-jitsu specialist from New Jersey, is one of the most promising young fighters in all of the UFC at 24 years old. She figures to be the future of the division. Santos will help determine how quickly that future comes. The Brazilian fought Shevchenko to a close decision loss last year in a fight in Singapore that many thought Santos won. Some even felt she should have gotten an immediate rematch against Shevchenko due to a clash of heads that changed the momentum of the fight.
In any case, in Santos’ return to Singapore, she could make things right to an extent. If she beats Blanchfield, the title shot should be hers for the taking, regardless of who wins between Grasso and Shevchenko. The only flyweights who could throw a monkey wrench in this being a No. 1 contender fight are Manon Fiorot and Rose Namajunas, who fight next week at UFC Paris. Fiorot is ranked No. 2 in the UFC’s rankings, and Namajunas is a popular former two-time UFC strawweight champion. There will be lots of clarity at the top of the division before Grasso and Shevchenko clash at Noche UFC.
Put up or shut up for 205-pounders
Anthony Smith displays power early on vs. Ryan Spann
Anthony Smith unleashes a fury of strong punches that wobbles Ryan Spann in the first round.
There’s no way around it: Smith and Spann both badly need a win in the UFC Singapore co-main event.
Smith has already been at the top of the light heavyweight division, in a 2019 pay-per-view headliner against then-champ Jon Jones. But Smith, a pro fighter for 15 years, has lost two straight. This is a pivotal fight. A victory puts him back in the conversation, and he’s a trusted veteran the UFC can insert into any major fight. Few have anything bad to say about Smith, a UFC television analyst and a terrific ambassador for the sport.
Meanwhile, Spann is searching for consistency. No one doubts his potential. He has heavy hands and an underrated submission game. The guy can finish anyone in the division if he’s right on a particular night. The problem is he has been prone to lapses like missing weight and uneven performances. Spann is only 31 years old, which is young for the heavier weight classes. There’s definitely time for him to find himself and become a major force at 205 pounds. But losing two in a row and falling for the second time against Smith, would put him in a hole.
When Smith and Spann fought in September 2021, Smith made it look pretty easy, submitting Spann in the first round. Has Spann made the necessary improvements and adjustments? Is he ready to realize that potential? Or can the wily veteran prevail again? It’s a fascinating fight.