There are few sporting rivalries as tight as that between featherweights Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway. Writ large, Volkanovski is up 2-0, beating Holloway for the belt the first time then defending it against him the next. A closer look shows both matches ended on decision wins, the first was unanimous, the second was split and, in terms of strikes thrown, across the combined 10 rounds, they are separated only by Volk attempting four more.
This means it is one of the rare feuds that demands a trilogy even when the third bout wouldn’t change the balance; many in MMA media and in online fan communities have half-joked, half-been very serious saying that if Max wins the third fight against Volk, the UFC will have to make it a best of five series.
However, as featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski has an entire division to contend with, not just one man. At UFC 266 on September 25, 2021, Volk defended his belt against The Ultimate Fighter series rival Brian Ortega and, after weathering Ortega’s trademark of tight choke holds, beat the title contender so badly that he was left a bloody mess and still hasn’t booked a comeback fight seven months later.
It was such a dominant win that it felt like, actually, maybe Volkanovski didn’t have to deal with the rest of the division and instead should only fight Holloway. Their third bout was booked for UFC 272 on March 5 this year, but a day later, Max declared himself injured and had to pull out. To find an opponent, UFC had to go down the rankings to fourth place fan favorite Chan Sung Jung, better known as The Korean Zombie.
Going into the bout at UFC 273, Chan had a record of 17-6 but is revered by fans and considered dangerous by foes because of his apt nickname. In his debut for the now defunct WEC organization, Chan lost to Leonard Garcia by split decision; Garcia hit Chan with everything he had but couldn’t put him away and the Korean fighter’s ability to take punishment and keep pushing forwards if what earned him the nickname of “Zombie.”
Even with this preternatural relentlessness and toughness, it was going to be a big step up for Chan going up against the defending champion Volkanovski. But until the bell rang, nobody knew just how big that step would be.
From the very beginning, this was not competitive. Volkanovski’s Thai boxing style, which he refers to as brain-scrambling due to the amount of feints, looks, angles and sheer volume was far too advanced for The Korean Zombie. The champ cracked Chan with a hard left punch – the kind of punch that typically comes after range finding pitter-patter shots – with the very first strike that connected. After immediately establishing his power, Volk chipped away at Chan with fall away jabs, a high level technique where the punch is thrown while circling away rather than towards the opponent.
At the end of the first round, Volkanovski took Chan down without effort and it looked like this was going to be another five round masterclass. Since TKOing Chad Mendes in 2018, Volkanovski hadn’t finished anyone and, around the fight with Ortega, this had become a talking point. Volk himself said in the pre-fight interview that he believes he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he beats guys over three and five rounds instead of getting highlight finishes.
Halfway through the second round, Volkanovski must have felt one of those highlights was on the horizon. He went from outclassing Chan to punishing him; no longer content with jabbing from weird positions, Volk was putting all his strength into his combinations without diminishing any of the variety. At the end of the round, Chan wasn’t simply losing, he looked lost and went and sat on the floor instead of on his stool.
In the third, Chan’s face was a mess while Volkanovski looked fresh, like he was sparring rather than defending the featherweight championship of the world. Volk got a knockdown with 20 seconds remaining and The Korean Zombie lived up to his name by weathering it and lasting until the end.
Commentator Paul Felder said it best “he’s too tough for his own good” and throughout the 60 second rest period, he and fellow commentators Joe Rogan and Jon Anik discussed how his team should throw in the towel and stop the fight. They didn’t – Volk finished it for them 45 seconds into the fourth round. Referee Herb Dean called it off when Chan took a four hit combination flush to the face without responding.
Post-fight, Volkanovski clearly felt vindicated to get the stoppage and, though he didn’t mention Max Holloway by name, it’s obvious they need to finish their feud. As for The Korean Zombie, he said he was considering retirement and collapsed in tears immediately after being interviewed by Joe Rogan; later, native Korean speakers posted on social media saying his translator specifically didn’t translate Chan saying he knew he would never be champion.