MMA Labology Breakdown: Volkanovski vs. Korean Zombie


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Alexander Volkanovski vs. The Korean Zombie

I must admit that I am a bit torn on the main event for UFC 273. The fight is intriguing on multiple levels, for the mere fact that there are no hidden doors or question marks around either of these fighters. We know where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are, and we have seen them both in extremely volatile situations. When you have established combatants with historical patterns, the water tends to be less murky, and a little clearer when making your choice. So let us dive in a bit and see what we can extract from this matchup.


Alexander Volkanovski

Volkanovski comes into this fight with a 23-1 record, but to be honest, the Maxx Holloway rematch was highly questionable. In any event, it was a good fight, and he did — on paper at least — stand toe to toe with Holloway for 10 rounds and win both times. There is something to be said about that in itself. The one thing I never like to do (that many analysts will) is go too deep into a fighter’s resume. I tend to stay within a reasonable time frame, because fighters evolve (and age) from fight to fight. I also tend to search the trends on the stylistic matchups and strength of schedule.

For example, if a fighter has an almost flawless record, but has fought all strikers, you still have those question marks looming. Questions like “What if he is put on his back by a wrestler or grappler?” With that said, Volk has fought a litany of styles, has been put in numerous bad spots and has emerged victorious in all but one. The tipping point for me was in his last fight against Brian Ortega.

Ortega, who is highly recognized as being one of the most well-versed, prolific and dangerous submission specialists in the game, looked like he had Volk dead to rights with a few extremely deep knitted chokes in their outing. Even I thought the fight was over in a few spots. All the signs and symptoms were there that a finish was on the horizon. He even began to gargle at one point, which would indicate that the windpipe’s functionality was extremely compromised.

However, the one thing I do look for in these situations is how they react off expression. Volk was caught in a few very serious chokes, and both times there was no panic, which many fighters will do. The genetic code in humans has a fight-or-flight response system wired into us, and depending on how we react, is more than likely how this outcome will end up. The “Flight” part of your brain will send an auto-response to pull away and retreat at all costs, trying to move farther away from the choke, which will make the choke in some instances deeper, making matters much worse. The “Fight” section of our brain will accept the situation and fight for a strategic path out.

Now, if you know Ortega, once a choke is set in, the chances of you escaping once are rare, the chances of you escaping multiple times are highly unlikely. If you watch the top-position guillotine that was set, Volk was taken by surprise at first, but eventually, he settled in, set his left hand in between the clasp, and used his right hand to push off on the opposite hip for airspace and leverage in order to strip the grip. Eventually, the grip was released, and Volk escaped. Another situation was Ortega’s high-percentage move, which was the triangle choke. Volk was extremely calm in this situation and if you watch it closely, he knew that the last thing that he can allow to happen is for Ortega to transition or advance into a more advantageous position like a seated triangle or transition off to an armbar of sorts. He had his eyes wide open, scanning and reading the situation. He also had his body primed and ready for an immediate rollout once there was any sort of airspace, and that is exactly what happened.

Situations like this are what make a fighter. It is easy to win when the chips are rolling in your direction, but the brass of a fighter isn’t known until you are in a compromised situation, and how you will respond to them. It was in that fight that I was completely sold on Volk as a very good fighter. He has also fought a wide array of styles and has beat them all. Ortega (high-level submission specialist), Holloway and Aldo (high-level strikers), and obviously Mendes and Elkins (high-level wrestlers). He has nothing left to prove from a fighter’s standpoint. He checks all the boxes in my book. 

Korean Zombie

What can we say about Zombie? Well, it is quite obvious that seeing him in a boring fight is quite rare, even as his career starts to tick down. At 35 years of age, Zombie has been in some memorable wars against some very high-level competition. After an extensive break from 2013 to 2017, Zombie has been averaging about a fight a year since that time.

Since his return, Zombie is 4-2 and actually looked as good as I have seen him in quite some time in his last fight against Dan Ige. The black belt in four different disciplines (Judo, BJJ, Hapkido and Taekwondo) has assembled quite the team to alter and advance his fighting prowess for the recent time and age that he sits. With Eddie Cha as his striking coach, you know that there are not many stones unturned when it comes to strategic and effective game-planning for a dance. Also, his move over to Fight Ready really allowed him to get a more detailed approach in his wrestling with Henry Cejudo and company.

To say Zombie doesn’t have a monster star-studded cast behind him is an understatement, and knowing that this is possibly his last go at a title makes things very interesting here. Zombie has been riddled with shoulder issues in the past, and it has lingered throughout his career, but I am not of the mindset that this will compromise his performance in this spot. What makes Zombie special is his ability and want to literally jump in the fire with you. His durability and his willingness to make you work for every inch can be smothering, frustrating, and downright discouraging. These are all things that Volk has seen but maybe not on this desired of a level.

The matchup is extremely intriguing to me. and I think this line is extremely ludicrous, to say the least. Let’s take a look at how I see this fight going down.


Fight Breakdown

When you look at both fighters in this spot, you will notice that Zombie has a 1-inch reach and height advantage. When the fight is on the feet, you will notice that the movements of Volk will be more active and fluid. Zombie is exactly what his name is deemed to be. He moves forward with a very traditional style looking to land leather on you no matter the cost he receives in return.

The power advantage is in the favor of Zombie here, but the overall striking chart will show much more diversity in numbers for Volk. Zombie tends to bear weight on that lead leg because he is sold on his power generation, but in turn, you can expect Volk to counter that with leg attacks if he is smart, which I believe he is. Volk’s activity rate should be quite apparent here, but a super high work rate is never anything that zombie rested his hat on. The grappling is interesting to me because Zombie was never one really to search for takedowns since his return.

In the past, you saw that his submission rate overshadowed his KO rate, and he even landed a twister in UFC play. However, his last submission was in 2012. which would mark the last time before his most recent fight that he landed a takedown officially. He hasn’t had a takedown or submission since that time, which I find interesting. So why in his last fight did he go back to bare bones? Evolution due to Cejudo? Very possible. In any event, your roots are your roots, and when war ensues, you do tend to go back to your threads of the fight. I am not expecting a grappling heavy approach here from Zombie. I do see him taking this approach if Volk really starts to chew up that lead leg, then you may see him switch gears a bit. However, there is no doubt that he is going to test the waters on the feet for quite some time here. 

Volk on the flip side will tie things together in a fashion in order to keep Zombie guessing. He will champion together attacks on both levels hoping to freeze Zombie a bit, but I don’t think this approach will be successful and I see him having to just accept that this is going to be a scrap that he can’t shy away from. So you can expect this fight to hit the trenches, but Volk has proved to us that even in what seems to be a very dark hour, he is resilient enough to survive and overcome. The line indicates a wash here, and I am sorry, I don’t see it that way. You are in for a fun one, but the volume, diversity, and activity of Volk should edge him in the rounds he needs to win this in a competitive fight. 

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The Pick

Volkanovski by Decision

Vegas Bet

No bet (This line is absurd)

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