UFC Fight Night 154 Predictions: Renato Moicano vs. The Korean Zombie
Off a losing effort against the greatest fighter of all time, Renato Carneiro (better known as “Moicano”) takes a big step back in Greenville to recoup some of the momentum that he lost in February. A definite title-track prospect who turned into a real contender in 2018, Moicano’s charge towards a title shot (with excellent wins over Calvin Kattar and Cub Swanson) was stunted by a knockout at the hands of Jose Aldo, but a win over Chan Sung Jung would get him right back into the talks as a real force at featherweight.
While Moicano’s situation is fairly routine for a top fighter off a loss, Jung’s position in South Carolina is more bizarre; despite a knockout loss to action-fighter Yair Rodriguez in November, “The Korean Zombie” gets a step up to face a true contender. Given the nature of that fight (Jung winning most of the rounds before getting finished in the final second), perhaps the matchmakers have decided to treat “TKZ” as if he’d made it that final second, or perhaps this is just an expression of gratitude for taking Rodriguez on short notice when he was originally slated to face Frankie Edgar; regardless, a win is the best of Jung’s career.
A somewhat interesting prospect at a division full of them, Renato Carneiro’s first crack at the top 10 was a unique one; undefeated but without a particularly good opponent on his record, the Brazilian got a crack at no.5 Jeremy Stephens off Stephens’ loss to the great Frankie Edgar, and it had all the makings of an intended tune-up for the veteran. Instead, UFC on Fox 24’s main-card opener became the first of a three-fight series that proved Moicano a purist’s dream; while he largely didn’t bring the moment-to-moment knockout power that would have gotten him early attention, Moicano’s technical depth combined with his discipline and adaptiveness came together to create a top-5 featherweight with a real chance to fight for a belt.
As a striker, Moicano is strongest as an outside kicker, most often directed at his opponent’s legs; with Jose Aldo’s transformation into a boxer in his later days, Moicano has a strong case to having the best kicking offense in the division. Against Stephens, it was mostly the inside leg kick: as Stephens pushed forward, the kick would break his stance and buy time for Moicano to circle away (or enter the pocket at an advantage, as he did to land the first decent punch of the fight). Against Calvin Kattar, his kicking was implemented far more aggressively; Moicano would wait on the jab of the boxer to counter with the leg kick, and as Kattar’s edge in the pocket waned, Moicano would push forward with combinations just to kick Kattar’s leg out on the exit.
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Moicano is also a fairly strong boxer for the weight class, and his boxing works both in isolation (to an extent) and as a way to set his kicks up. The strongest aspect of that is his jab; Moicano possesses a varied and versatile lead hand, and the jab is used extremely well. Against Stephens, Moicano used the jab to intercept entries, but also to draw counters; Moicano could circle off after the jab so Stephens would keep swinging after him, but could also stay in the pocket and counter the counter (for example, proactively dipping off his own jab to avoid Stephens’ counter and land a clean overhand). Against Swanson, the jab was used as a power-shot to get the knockdown, where against Kattar, the jab was used more to keep Kattar reactive (where Kattar’s best leveraging his own jab) and set up his own kicking game with his feints. Moicano is reasonably strong on the counter, which is mostly how he fought Ortega; while he ultimately lost that fight, Moicano’s check hook found the mark as Ortega entered and he was able to land counter combinations (often ending in kicks to the body) as Ortega threw to his head.
Moicano has shown to be fairly strong offensively in the pocket, especially when it happens on his own terms, but he’s defensively not great if his opponent can close him down. For his part, Moicano does a very good job keeping that from being relevant most of the time; Moicano is laterally very active and has a good pivot to get out of tight spots, and his counters are generally strong enough to keep an opponent from entering recklessly. However, when Stephens was able to push him back on occasion and he didn’t have the space to get out, Moicano defaulted to a high-guard until the flurry was over (and eventually Stephens tried to draw the guard and hit the body, it was just too little too late), and that tendency made the body-work of Ortega the most consequential of the fight. Despite his few flaws, Moicano is a fundamentally well-constructed and intelligent fighter; even in a fight that isn’t stylistically favorable on its face, Moicano can be trusted to approach it well and get some work done.
The Korean Zombie
Chan Sung Jung has consistently shown to be one of the more entertaining fighters at 145, which makes his activity issues even more disappointing; between injuries and mandatory military service, “Korean Zombie” has fought just twice since his 2013 loss to Jose Aldo. With the explosion of talent during his time off (including the rise of the champion Max Holloway and his opponent Renato Moicano), Jung’s position among the division isn’t clear; he had fine performances against fine fighters in Bermudez and Rodriguez, but neither means much in terms of the title scene. A win over Moicano would be far more meaningful for Jung, as it would likely be the best win of his career and propel him back into the top-5.
Jung’s nickname is fairly apt, as the hallmark of his career in the UFC has been the sort of war where he takes some punishment but gives out more. His return against Dennis Bermudez was the almost a microcosm of that; Bermudez scored a few clean right hands as Jung’s best defense was to back off, but Jung eventually found an uppercut as Bermudez tried to dip off his jab. A longer example would be his heralded fight against Dustin Poirier; Poirier didn’t really fail to find counters, but Jung would come forward all the same, backing him up with flurries of uppercuts and straights into clinch-combinations and the odd flying knee as he hit the fence. Jung isn’t a great boxer, especially defensively, but he’s aggressive and heavy-handed, and he’s enough of a counterpunch threat that trying to back him off with strikes could go fairly badly (for example, Mark Hominick looked to crack Jung early with a left hook, only for Jung to step back and knock him out with a straight-right seconds into the fight). Jung’s strongest moments tend to come on the front foot, and while he isn’t especially noteworthy as a pressurer, he did good work in his last fight taking on that role; Jung won rounds off Yair Rodriguez essentially by just running towards him and crowding him with combinations.
Jung is also a very good grappler, which was mostly seen in the Poirier fight; not only did he bring an extremely aggressive guard to put Poirier in trouble even as he managed to get on top, he also showed a wicked D’Arce as a hurt Poirier shot to get a break. Jung isn’t the most polished threat, but he has a skillset that’s dangerous everywhere the fight goes.
Conclusions and Capping
Moicano seems a fairly bad matchup for Jung. While he isn’t strong in the pocket (defensively, at least), Moicano is extremely difficult to crowd; simply running forward runs the risk of getting check-hooked or leg-kicked on the entry (the way Kattar was, and Kattar is a more thoughtful and skilled boxer than Jung by any metric), or of Moicano just circling out. Jung probably finds the most success if he can force the exchange, but Moicano brings a good skillset to avoid that against all but the most skilled pressure-fighters. Given the jab of Moicano, it seems fairly likely that any exchanges will be on Moicano’s terms, the way they were against Stephens (off leg kicks to break stance, or jabs to draw counters, where Moicano starts with an edge).
On the outside, Moicano is well-equipped to chip away at Jung; Rodriguez had success landing naked leg kicks on Jung when he hung around the outside (where Moicano is a better and smarter kicker), and Jung is generally hittable most of the time. Unless Moicano gets too comfortable in the pocket and gets bombed, it’s unlikely he loses this one, and fairly likely that the attrition catches up to Jung late.
Prediction: Moicano via TKO5. This writer caps Moicano at -250.