This card marks the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 25th anniversary, and while it is not a blowout pay-per-view, this is still a strong lineup coming out of Denver, where the UFC debuted in 1993. The top four fights feature an array of fun contenders who are worthy of a high-level Fox Sports 1 card, and while the undercard is low on name value, there are enough exciting prospects that have come in through various reality shows to make this a compelling show from start to finish.
Now for the breakdown of UFC Fight Night 139, set for Saturday at the Pepsi Center:
FeatherweightsChan Sung Jung (14-4) vs. Yair Rodriguez (10-2)
ODDS: Jung (-155), Rodriguez (+135)
Bring on the violence. In retrospect, it is amusing that Dong Hyun Kim was the first South Korean fighter to have success in the Octagon, as his conservative, judo-based style was false advertising when it came to the approach of his countrymen. As such, it was up to Jung -- better known as “The Korean Zombie” -- to bring their country’s particular brand of violence to the mainstream. Jung’s stateside debut against Leonard Garcia, the featured prelim on World Extreme Cagefighting’s lone pay-per-view, was an instant classic, but with two losses in two WEC bouts, it looked like Jung was going to be more of an elite action fighter than any sort of contender. However, once the WEC folded into the UFC, Jung immediately sprinted up the ladder to a title shot. First came revenge against Garcia in the form of the UFC’s lone twister submission finish, followed by a seven-second knockout of former title contender Mark Hominick. Jung finally planted his flag in earnest with the consensus 2012 “Fight of the Year” -- an insane back-and-forth affair with Dustin Poirier that eventually saw Jung net a fourth-round submission victory. That earned Jung a title shot at Jose Aldo in 2013, and after a disappointing performance, albeit against an all-time great featherweight at the peak of his powers, “The Korean Zombie” vanished. Injuries forced him out of action for a bit, followed mandatory service in the South Korean military. In the end, three and a half years passed before Jung’s return engagement inside the Octagon. On the plus side, it was a quick starching of Dennis Bermudez; on the negative side, Jung was soon back on the shelf with a major knee injury, resulting in a 21-month layoff before this fight. If he was anyone else, Jung’s career would be left without any momentum, but he has built up his all-action reputation to where he can step right back in and have people excited for whatever is next. It does not hurt that he figures to have a willing dance partner in Rodriguez.
Mexico’s Rodriguez steps in for an injured Frankie Edgar and does so while coming off of his own layoff due to a combination of injuries and contractual issues with the UFC. Rodriguez was mildly interesting over the course of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America,” but he did not stand out much among his fellow raw prospects on the cast, even after winning the featherweight bracket; remember, most people figured Charles Rosa was too big of a step up for Rodriguez’s first post-“Ultimate Fighter” appearance. However, Rodriguez improved much quicker than anyone expected. Within a year, Rodriguez was a promising dynamo with a penchant for diverse and unorthodox combination striking. Sensing the potential of having a true homegrown Mexican star, the UFC made Rodriguez a pet project, culminating in two main event assignments. First came a fight against Alex Caceres, which was basically a kung fu movie come to life. Rodriguez then depressingly had to annihilate a past-his-prime B.J. Penn. Rodriguez was getting some hype as an elite young talent, so naturally, the UFC rushed him into a fight with Edgar, which mostly saw “The Answer” grind Rodriguez into paste before the fight was stopped between rounds. Everyone waited with bated breath to see how Rodriguez would rebound from such a one-sided loss, but surprisingly, the UFC announced in May that it was releasing Rodriguez for turning down too many fights. It was an odd move, but -- as many broad UFC proclamations are -- it was a toothless one, so Rodriguez was back in the fold shortly thereafter, even if injuries continued to keep him out of action. He finally returns here and has a huge opportunity in front of him.
It is difficult to know what to make of this one, given that Jung has less than three minutes of fight time in the last five years, but it should be fun at the very least. Jung looked good against Bermudez, starching him with an early counter, but that still left a ton of questions about how he fares in deeper water nowadays. Jung’s grappling game has always been the strongest part of Jung’s repertoire, and it would have been nice to see it against Bermudez. Jung should be willing to indulge Rodriguez in an all-offense, no-defense war, and frankly, I am concerned about how “The Korean Zombie” holds up in such a fight. Unlike Bermudez, Rodriguez seems capable of taking a ton of abuse and should be able to make up any gaps in skill with his high-level athleticism. Jung may have more to work with and the more coherent game, but if this is the all-out barnburner that it looks like on paper, I favor Rodriguez’s youth and durability to see him through a sprint. The pick is Rodriguez via late second-round stoppage.
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