Duane Finley looks back at Tuesday’s card in Virginia
In this current phase of pop culture zombies, are all the rage. Whether it is conversation about a potential “Zombie Apocalypse” or AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead,” the attention has sent a bolt of resurgence into the classic horror genre.
On Tuesday night in Fairfax, Va., a “Korean Zombie” proved he may be the most dangerous of them all.
In a career-turning performance, Chan Sung Jung submitted rising star Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV: Korean Zombie vs. Poirier. It was Jung’s most impressive showing to date, as he used pressure and effective striking to keep Poirier on his heels for the duration of the bout. When Poirier wasn’t backing up, he was looking up as the Korean Zombie utilized slick takedowns to work his ground game. While the young “Fightville” star may have escaped multiple submission attempts, he was opened up by Jung’s elbows in the process.
The third round saw Poirier settle into a groove as he worked behind a jab to land the occasional cross or straight, but as the fight carried into the championship rounds, it was all Zombie. Shortly into the fourth round, Jung landed an uppercut that sent Poirier backpedaling into the fence. As Jung flew in for a flying knee, a wobbled Poirier dropped to the canvas and attempted to hold on for survival. Jung immediately locked on a D’Arce choke, and moments later the fight was over.
Following the victory, Jung took to the microphone to call out current champion Jose Aldo, and much to his surprise, his wish was granted. At the post-fight press conference it was announced that UFC president Dana White had made the call that the Korean Zombie would face the winner of Aldo vs. Erik Koch, which will take place at UFC 149 in July.
With the UFC’s featherweight division heating up, the stage was set for Poirier’s rising-star status to explode. Since the WEC/UFC merger, Poirier had strung together four impressive victories and positioned himself as a viable option for title contention. All he had to do was find a way to get past the Korean Zombie in Fairfax, and that proved to be a task the Louisiana native couldn’t quite accomplish.
From the onset of the fight, Poirier was put on the defensive. An early takedown by Jung caused Poirier to take damage throughout the majority of the first round. In the second frame, Poirier managed to score in patches – but it was another trip to the canvas that put him in danger. Jung made several submission attempts, and while Poirier was able to successfully defend, he lost the round in the process.
Things appeared to be shifting in Poirier’s favor in the third round as he settled down and found a home for his strikes. Despite looking to be the more battered of the two, he did appear to have more gas in the tank than his opponent. But a successful third wouldn’t matter much as shortly into the fourth, he was caught with a big shot and then submitted shortly after.
The loss is only the second of the 23-year-old’s career. With the weight class still lacking tremendous depth, it shouldn’t take long for Poirier to regain his status as a potential contender. I’d like to see the UFC schedule Poirier against Bart Palaszewski on a card this fall.
After suffering the type of loss he took at the hands of Nate Diaz in his last outing, it was anyone’s guess which version of Donald Cerrone would show up in Fairfax. Not only did a sharp, slick and accurate version of “Cowboy” show up to fight Jeremy Stephens, but it may have been the best Cerrone we’ve ever seen.
A notoriously self-described slow starter, Cerrone bucked the trend by getting down to business right away. By using his length and speed, he peppered Stephens at will with punch combinations punctuated by thunderous leg kicks. As the first round drew to a close, it was clear Cerrone was getting loose inside the cage.
The following 10 minutes showed just how loose, as Cerrone scored at will. At times throughout the fight, Cerrone appeared to be toying with Stephens as he landed combination after combination without Stephens ever able to find an answer. It was a near flawless performance from Cerrone and the judges’ score cards accurately reflected his night’s work.
Being a Colorado native, Cerrone has been pushing to fight in his home state for some time now. At the post-fight presser, he further campaigned to get a spot on the UFC 150 card in Denver, and with Cerrone’s penchant for staying active, it’s more than likely already a done deal. As for who he would be fighting in August, I would like to see Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis. With the UFC giving Diaz the next title shot once Ben Henderson and Frankie Edgar rematch, it makes a good deal of sense to schedule Pettis vs. Cerrone. The fight would be an easy sell, and with both having exciting striking styles and well-rounded ground games, the fans would win out.
When the UFC needs to put together an exciting fight, Stephens is on a short list of go-to guys. “Little Heathen” always brings the scrap, and his heavy hands have produced several highlight-reel knockouts over his career in the UFC. Where Stephens seems to struggle is when fights tend to have a potential impact on the lightweight divisional picture. He was coming off a split-decision loss to Pettis when he stepped in for an injured Yves Edwards to face Cerrone, and while fighting Cerrone is a task few would be excited to take, Stephens accepted the bout without question.
From the opening bell, it was clear Stephens was outmatched. Being the shorter fighter, in order for Stephens’ power to be a factor he was going to have to get inside – and this was simply not an option Cerrone was willing to allow. Stephens was constantly being walked down throughout the fight, and when he attempted to get off first, a Cerrone body kick stopped him dead in his tracks. Stephens had no answer for Cerrone’s attack and paid the price for 15 minutes.
While Stephens may struggle against the divisional elite, there is still a place for him in the highly competitive lightweight division. Depending on what role the UFC sees fit to place him in, I would like to see Stephens matched up with Jim Miller or be given a rematch with fellow bomber Melvin Guillard.
Igor Pokrajac and Fabio Maldonado
Croatian light heavyweight Pokrajac is quietly working his way up the ladder. While his overall UFC record is 4-3, three of those wins have come in consecutive fashion, including his victory Tuesday over Maldonado. When the action got underway, Pokrajac was the first to score as he landed a solid combination putting Maldonado into the fence. Shortly after, the bout turned into an exciting back-and-forth affair with both fighters having their moments. Despite several rocky moments where Pokrajac appeared to be in trouble, he was able to weather the storm and come out on top on the judges’ cards. The victory wasn’t his cleanest performance, but it was a gritty win that will keep his momentum alive.
Maldonado once again proved he is no easy night’s work in the cage. Despite a rough start, he was able to utilize his boxing skills to work Pokrajac with vicious shots to the body. Throughout the fight, Maldonado answered nearly everything Pokrajac threw his way. But when the final bell sounded, the ringside judges decided it wasn’t enough to best the Croatian.
With the majority of the fighters in the division currently booked for fights, I would like to see Pokrajac matched up with Cyrille Diabate. Both fighters like to get down to business, and I think it would be a solid fight that would push the winner up into the shark tank and the loser toward gatekeeper status.
Losing two fights in a row is never a good thing in the UFC, but I don’t believe the loss to Pokrajac will cost Maldonado his job. But it will certainly put him on the hot seat and I would like to see Maldonado vs. Vladimir Matyushenko or Aaron Rosa.
The Fuel TV format robbed us of his walkout, but his work inside the cage made up for it. Lawlor made short work of Jason MacDonald as he scored Knockout of the Night with his first-round stoppage of “The Athlete.” Known for his wrestling skills, it was Lawlor’s hands that made the difference as he landed a straight left that rocked MacDonald, followed by a right hook to the temple that put MacDonald face first on the canvas. The result was a huge victory for Lawlor at a crucial time. Coming into this fight, he was one out of his last four, and the KO victory secures Lawlor will live to fight another day. Since dropping to middleweight, Lawlor has been looking to find his groove and I believe an ideal matchup would come against fellow TUF alum Chris Camozzi.
Several other strong performances highlighted the card as Brad Tavares, Yves Joubin, Francisco Rivera and Rafael dos Anjos all looked impressive in victory. Cody McKenzie snatched victory with his trademark guillotine choke in a fight that was not going his way against Marcus LeVesseur.
All in all it was a solid night of fights in Fairfax. While a handful of fighters rose to the occasion, it was a Zombie who stole the show and title shot. If you had any doubt Zombies were real, there is a 145-pound Korean who would love to prove you wrong. That certainly was the case for this writer as Chan Sung Jung made me a believer.