There was a point in the latter half of round one when Josh Emmett was feeling pretty good about himself. After all, the Team Alpha Male product — who catapulted into the No. 4 slot in the official featherweight rankings by melting Ricardo Lamas — had already put Jeremy Stephens on his ass in the UFC on FOX 28 main event.
Shortly thereafter, Emmett pointed to the ground when “Lil’ Heathen” scrambled back to his feet, perhaps calling his shot inside Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., in a 145-pound headliner scheduled for five, five-minute rounds.
It never saw a third.
Emmett crumpled under the blitzkrieg of his resurgent opponent, who shook off the cobwebs and came back angrier. And one thing mixed martial arts (MMA) fans have learned after more than 10-plus years of watching the bearded brawler, is that Stephens is the opposite of Bruce Banner.
We do like him when he’s angry.
In 28 fights for the world’s preeminent combat sports promotion, Stephens (28-14) has 15 wins, eight of which have come by way of devastating knockout. His biggest issue to date has been consistency, resulting in a lukewarm reception to his inclusion in the UFC Fight Night 124 headliner opposite Doo Ho Choi back in January.
It also didn’t help that Conor McGregor, the most famous UFC fighter in the world, publicly mocked Stephens for competing in obscurity over the past decade, while “Notorious” punched his way into the mainstream in just a couple of years.
The question, as I’m sure you know by now, was “Who da fook is that guy?”
He’s the guy who will take pictures with your mom!
He’s also the guy who will put your head into the fifth row, which will no doubt have the MMA media rethink its hasty decision to drop Emmett in the No. 4 spot based on a single one-hitter quitter against a former title contender, especially considering he was unranked heading into UFC on FOX 26.
By trashing Emmett in the UFC Orlando main event, Stephens proved that not only is he a featherweight work horse capable of taking out anyone willing to stand and bang, he’s also worthy of headlining major events on network television.
Stephens topped four events in his UFC career (so far) and three of them have returned performance bonuses, which include two “Fight of the Night” honors against Cub Swanson and the aforementioned Choi.
Hard to believe “Lil’ Heathen” is just 31.
That’s great news for both Stephens — now the winner of three straight — and the fans who support him. There’s still plenty of time to make a run at the division strap, currently held by Max Holloway, and it may not be as far away as it sounds. Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega eliminates one top contender at UFC 222 and sends the other into a “Blessed” title fight.
Elsewhere in the division, Swanson and Lamas are both coming off recent losses and Emmett just got wasted, so that leaves us with Chan Sung Jung. Unfortunately, “The Korean Zombie” has been sidelined until further notice as a result of a devastating knee injury.
It’s hard to say where Stephens fits into all of this but I would expect him to land in the top five after UFC on FOX 28. He may not be popular enough to generate this level of mass hysteria, but one thing he can generate is some serious knockout power.
I hear UFC on FOX 30 needs a main event.
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