Big punchers shine as UFC packs Jacksonville arena again

Dana White on return in 2023: All they have to do is ask

Alexander Volkanovski of Australia punches Chan Sung Jung of South Korea in the featherweight title bout during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) (James Gilbert, 2022 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The UFC made another stop in Jacksonville and delivered another blockbuster night.

The promotion’s third trip to town (and second with a sold-out house of fans) packed the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night and into Sunday morning and closed with a fury.

Two title fights and a contender for fight of the year wound things down at UFC 273, which wrapped up after 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The arena was sold out again, packing in 14,605 and earning a record gate of $3.55 million, said UFC president Dana White.

“Jacksonville means a lot to me. That’s why I’ve come back here as many times as I have. I told them that I would [be back]. Your mayor here, incredible. Governor [Ron DeSantis] came here tonight for the event. He’s been incredible. I love this town. ...”

It featured highlight reel KOs — Mike Mallott crumpled Mickey Gall on the undercard — and a few duds. But as it did last year, the main card delivered enough energy to keep fans on their feet.

Unlike the last two stops in town — the fanless 2020 event and a sold-out UFC 261 last May — this one came under no cloud of pandemic restrictions.

White has made Jacksonville a recurring stop on the promotion’s main circuit and doesn’t plan to ease up anytime soon. White said after UFC 261 that he planned to bring numerous events back to the Sunshine State because of how proactive Florida was in trying to return to normalcy during the pandemic.

Alexander Volkanovski pounded the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung-Jung, in the finale to defend his bantamweight championship and close down a long and eventful night in the arena. Volkanovski landed a crushing blow to Sung-Jung in the center of the ring that prompted Herb Dean to jump in and stop it in the fourth round for the exclamation point on UFC 273.

Rising star Khamzat Chimaev and Gilbert Burns put on an epic brawl in a welterweight battle and fight of the year contender that had fans on their feet in the most electric bout of the night.

Chimaev, the unbeaten contender who has drawn comparisons to Khabib Nurmagomedov, edged Burns in a unanimous decision that was booed lustily by the crowd. Chimaev and Burns traded huge shots most the fight with both men on the verge of being finished more than once.

Chimaev rocked Burns at the end of the first round and sent him down, but Burns survived the strikes and hung on. He roared back in the second and rocked Chimaev several times and had another strong sequence in the third where he landed three shots in succession that rattled Chimaev.

Aljamain Sterling won the undisputed bantamweight championship with a disputed split decision over Petr Yan in a rematch of their first fight. Sterling won 48-47 on two judges’ cards and Yan won 48-47 on the third.

Sterling won that by disqualification when Yan landed an illegal knee to the head when he was down.

Will the UFC return next year for a fourth consecutive year?

“Probably,” White said. “If they call me I will. All they’ve got to do is call and I’m in.”

Fans came from all over for this one.

Randy Jeon and a group of friends that he said numbered 30, traveled from Korea to attend the event. They were there to cheer on the Korean Zombie.

“So, I’m here for Zombie. I fly 19 hours from Korea,” Jeon said.

Jeon and his entourage draped themselves in the Korean flag and proudly unfurled banners of the Zombie. Several feet away from Jeon’s crowd was a congregation of fans from Australia and Zombie’s opponent, Alexander Volkanovski.

Cheering just a few feet away from Jeon’s crew was Eugene Routhan and a group of friend from Australia. They made the trip to see Volkanovski face Jung Chan-Sung. That led to a bit of good natured trash talk between the Australian and Korean fans.

“I actually ran into Alex the Great at Sydney Airport and I told him I was coming to watch him fight,” Routhan said. “And then I ran into him on Thursday night and he saw me he invited me on to his bus, and he was completely shocked but then I was actually here.”

UFC 273 main card results

Lightweight: Mark Madsen d. Vinc Pichel by unanimous decision.

Strawweight: Mackenzie Dern d. Tecia Torres by split decision

Welterweight: Khamzat Chimaev d. Gilbert Burns by unanimous decision.

Bantamweight championship: Aljamain Sterling d. Petr Yan by split decision.

Featherweight championship: Alexander Volkanovski TKO 4 Chan Sung-Jung.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.