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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits St. Louis, Missouri, this Sunday evening (Jan. 14, 2018), bringing with it a clash of featherweight knockout punchers in the main event.
In addition to Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi, the card will feature mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Vitor Belfort against fellow highlight machine Uriah Hall, Paige VanZant’s flyweight debut against Jessica Rose-Clark, and a clash of welterweight prospects between Kamaru Usman and Emil Meek.
Back? Good. We’ve got work to do.
145 lbs.: Jeremy Stephens (26-14) vs. Doo Ho Choi (14-2)
Do you know what’s kind of fascinating? Jeremy Stephens, regarded as one of the scariest punchers in the UFC, has not stopped an opponent with punches since January 1st, 2011. He has just two finishes in his last seven wins, one by head kick and one by knee. It’s unquestionable that he has bricks in his hands, but his accuracy is seriously lacking.
Choi, on the other hand, is laser-accurate and the scariest puncher Stephens has faced in years.
The two real questions of this fight are whether Stephens can get his leg kicks going and whether Choi’s war with Cub Swanson has any lasting mental or physical repercussions. As Stephens showed against Gilbert Melendez, he can cripple opponents in a hurry, which could be devastating considering Choi’s boxing-centric style. Further, if Choi has lost confidence or his chin, it could be an extremely short night.
Even with these caveats, though, I’m leaning towards Choi. The Swanson fight wasn’t his first slugfest and Stephens has a bad habit of getting in his own way, prioritizing haymakers over patient technique. He’s going to struggle to land clean on Choi and his overeagerness will expose him to his foes monstrous power.
“Lil’ Heathen” runs face-first into what might be the division’s best right cross after a few competitive minutes.
Prediction: Choi by first-round knockout
185 lbs.: Uriah Hall (13-8) vs. Vitor Belfort (26-13)
This is a fight in which absolutely nothing would surprise me. This pair’s mental implosions are the stuff of legends.
Vitor is always good for some out-of-nowhere sparking, but there is nothing going his way here. Hall is younger and has almost half a foot of reach on him. Unless Vitor has some slight echo of TRTtor lurking in his veins, it’s hard to envision him winning this matchup with any consistency.
Belfort has been knocked out in four of his last six fights. He looked like garbage against Nate Marquardt and turns 41 in a couple months. Even the mutual fight IQ issues are in Hall’s favor; he might be a disaster of a fighter, but unlike Belfort, he can actually come back from adversity. He did so brilliantly against Krzysztof Jotko last time out, after all.
Make no mistake, Hall can absolutely throw this fight away and isn’t the sort of wrestler the Vitor generally has the most issues with. Still, I say he rocks and stops Belfort sometime in the second.
Prediction: Hall by second-round TKO
125 lbs.: Paige VanZant (7-4) vs. Jessica-Rose Clark (8-4)
Paige VanZant’s fall has been precipitous. It became very clear very quickly that she cannot handle opponents that she can’t physically overpower on the inside. She’s yet to improve her clinch entries and was getting chewed up on the feet by Bec Rawlings before pulling off a head kick out of nowhere.
Basically, she’s very good at what she does (smashing people in the clinch and from top position), but very poor at imposing her ideal fight. I’m not sure how much of that can be explained by her draining herself to make 115, but for her sake, it had better be a lot.
Clark is the sharper striker by a fair margin and has both the wrestling and scrambling to steer clear of VanZant’s suffocating ground game. As a former bantamweight, she should also hold her own when they tie up. She picks VanZant apart for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Clark by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Kamaru Usman (11-1) vs. Emil Meek (9-2)
From what I’ve read, a massive chunk of the UFC’s welterweight roster turned down a fight with Usman. I definitely can blame them, since ducking is weaksauce, but I understand where they’re coming from. He’s an absolute tank of a man, enormously strong and skilled with his wrestling on top of being an increasingly effective striker. While his sparking of Sergio Moraes was his first UFC TKO, he’s laid down beatings on very solid fighters.
Meek simply does not have the tools to stop him. He’s got solid power, sure, but Usman can hold his own in the striking and put him on his back basically whenever he wants. “Valhalla” will need another miracle like he pulled off against Rousimar Palhares; unfortunately, Usman’s fight IQ is exponentially higher than Palhares’ and he actually has some standup skills to disguise his takedowns.
To me, this would be every bit as big an upset as Darren Elkins over Mirsad Bektic if Meek pulled it off. He won’t. Usman batters him on the feet and the mat until the ref moves in for the rescue.
Prediction: Usman by second-round TKO
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and the FS1 main card at 10 p.m. ET.
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