The career of UFC Fight Night Boston co-headliner Jeremy Stephens, Is that of a storied one. The Iowa native has spent twelve of his fourteen year professional career under the promotion’s banner, but so far, has yet to achieve title challenger status.
The 33-year-old made an impressive blitz to the top of the featherweight rankings over the last year, but consecutive losses to former champion Jose Aldo followed by a decision defeat to Zabit Magomedsharipov, has seen him slide down the rankings. This Saturday, Stephens stands opposite Yair ‘El Pantera’ Rodriguez, once again after their UFC Fight Night Mexico City debacle, with an opportunity to re-cement his stake for 145 pound prominence.
A true knockout artist during both his days at lightweight and featherweight, on any given night, the Des Moines striker has the ability to leave an opponent staring at the bright lights of the Octagon from their back. With a new found focus on footwork, under the guidance and advice of lightweight contender Tony Ferguson at the title hopefuls Big Bear facility, Stephens looks to add to his already dangerous standup arsenal.
Stephens, who seeks to score a remarkable twentieth career knockout this weekend, has dropped numerous decision defeats throughout his time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but his success rate is not something to be balked at. With knockout triumphs of Dennis Bermudez, Doo Ho Choi, Josh Emmet, Rafael dos Anjos and Rony Jason to name a few, Stephens poses a legitimate threat to the returning Rodriguez this weekend.
In his rather one sided unanimous decision victory over former Strikeforce lightweight best Gilbert Melendez, Stephens displayed a polished calf kick attack early and often, knocking ‘El Nino’ off his feet on countless occasions. Against the kicking orientated Rodriguez, the utilization of said calf kick may pay dividends, and would certainly cancel out some front leg offensive techniques from the Chihuahua favourite.
Against the aforementioned Aldo, Stephens was stopped with a vicious body hook despite hurting the Brazilian early, suffering just the second knockout defeat of his forty-four fight career. Against dynamic strikers and in particular, opponents with superior lateral movement and footwork, Stephens has come unstuck. Against Rodriguez, Stephens can’t afford to stay at kicking range, and must close the distance and fight somewhat in the pocket.
When pitted with Magomedsharipov, Stephens struggled with front kicks to the body early and more notably, the kicking range Zabit utilized. In the later rounds, Magomedsharipov secured a couple of hugely important takedowns, zapping Stephens’ energy. In my opinion, Stephens’ most likely route to success lies within the opening seven or so minutes, with his explosive and heavy hitting style and perhaps a new found ability to close distance against a consensus superior controller of the Octagon.
The pair’s ‘initial’ clash in Mexico City last month was lacklustre to say the least. A volley of bottles, beers and other items were hurled into the Octagon by the Rodriguez favourite crowd, after Herb Dean called a halt to proceedings just fifteen seconds into the opening round. A rake of Stephens’ eye from Rodriguez caused a corneal abrasion and some bruising, leaving the veteran unable to continue. In my Fallout feature the morning after the fracas, I laid it out that the only logical step forward for both men was an immediate rematch, this Friday in Boston, they square off once more.