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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.
For much more on UFC St. Louis click here.
Bellator 192: ‘Old school’ Rampage Jackson is not terribly excited to fight wrestling-minded Chael Sonnen
Bellator 192: “Lima vs. MacDonald” comes to The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. on Jan. 20, 2018. The first Bellator show of the year is a “tent pole” event for Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) that will see Welterweight champion Douglas Lima defend his title against Rory MacDonald in the main event of the evening.
That fantastic match up will also be joined by the first bout of the Heavyweight Grand Prix, featuring two brash former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) stars, Quinton Jackson and Chael Sonnen. The good news for both “Rampage” and “The American Gangster” is that neither man has to watch his weight or his mouth for the big fight.
Jackson and Sonnen recently participated in a conference call to promote their fight and the upcoming event. And given their mutual propensity for verbal tirades, the discourse was surprisingly non-combative.
The call opened with talk of a viral video where Jackson said he’d pay Sonnen $ 10,000 each time he was taken down, with Sonnen claiming he’d get nine takedowns and pocket $ 90,000 in response. Jackson was asked if he’ll get the same money in return.
“That wasn’t part of the deal for me to take him down to get my $ 10,000. Chael’s supposed to come back with something for me to bet so I can benefit from it, but he said he had to check with his WIIIIIFE.”
Jackson was asked for his prediction on how the bout is going to go on fight night.
“It ain’t no secret. Chael’s gonna definitely try to take me down. You know, I’m gonna try my best to stay on my feet and throw them hands. It’s no secret, it’s no secret. Everybody knows what type of fight it’s going to be.”
Sonnen was asked to further explain this proposed bet between the two of them.
“Yeah, people think that’s a joke, man. I didn’t know how to take it, either. Rampage is a man of honor, we shook, I think we’ve got a bet here so … you know, I told him I can’t pay him anything. He said, ‘I want $ 500 for every jab that I land.’ I said ‘Rampage, I’m married, I’m a married man, I can’t go around making $ 500 bets.’ Now I can’t make a bet, I’ve got to go get clearance. As a man of honor I am not involved with that (bet). I am not part of that. Chael P. is purely here to collect.”
Sonnen then gave his prediction of what the style of their fight would be.
“I’ll tell you I do agree with Rampage, I’ve got to take him down, he’s got to stand up. I’ve got one way to win, that’s to be on top of him and annoy him for 15 minutes. He’s got one way to win that’s to put me to sleep. I’ve taken a lot of people down, he’s put a lot of people to sleep. This one isn’t rocket science.”
Sonnen was asked what his ideal weight would be for the Heavyweight Grand Prix.
“I’d like to be 214. I was 221 this morning. I was 224 a week ago so I’m headed in the right direction, but I have a goal of getting to 214. It’s always been tough. You know it’s been tough. I’ve never had to lose weight at any point in my life, I’ve never tried to diet for weight loss, aside from having to make a weight contractually. So that was always the force of discipline that I had in place and I don’t have that this time. It’s taken an extra element which I have found some struggles with. It’s very hard when you’re hungry and laying in bed at night to not eat something when you can, but to answer your question … 214.”
Jackson is asked what his ideal weight for the fight with Sonnen would be.
“I want to weigh 210, but that’s not going to happen! (laughter)”
Jackson was then asked what kind of fights he wants to have going forward.
“I don’t care who I fight, but I’d like to fight guys who don’t mind standing up and fighting. I just fought a wrestler my last fight. I’d like to fight guys who like to fight. You just heard Chael say he’s got to hold me down for 15 minutes. Why would I be excited about a guy who’s going to hold me down for 15? Honestly, I don’t care — it’s a tournament you got to fight everybody. If I’m going to be excited it’s going to be somebody who makes it an exciting fight. I’m old school. I’m one of a dying breed.”
Jackson was asked if he has any animosity with Sonnen.
“I don’t have any problem with Chael right now. Only problem that I got is that he’s in my way and I’m trying to get that Heavyweight belt. Nothing personal.”
Sonnen was asked if he can fight Jackson without beef between them.
“In fighting we’ve found that we need a little animosity. This is different, it’s a tournament. This is the way the Olympics does it, the NFL does it, the NCAA does it. It’s a straight line bracket like every other sport out there.”
Sonnen was asked if he would stay to defend the title if he wins the Grand Prix.
“I definitely would not go anywhere else or use that as a negotiating tool, I’m completely loyal to Bellator, but I really believe that you’ve got to defend it. I don’t think anybody should go out on top. Aside (from GSP) and Lennox Lewis I can’t think of anybody who goes out on top. I don’t want to leave anything on the table. If I’ve got one more good bad or indifferent, I’m going to take it.”
Sonnen claimed that Jackson is underrated when it comes to his verbal skills.
“I’ve seen all of Rampage’s matches. People always ask me who’s the better talker — you or Conor? I always say they’re leaving one name out — Rampage.”
Sonnen was asked if it bothers him to play second fiddle to Rory MacDonald.
“I love it. My ego is greatly affected any time I’m not the main event, and co-main event is exactly where I belong on this card. GSP doesn’t hand out compliments and he says Rory MacDonald if not being the best Welterweight in the world is the second best to him. You can go on and on about this guy, and with that said he’s not our champion — Douglas Lima is! He’s got incredible hands, he’s huge, he should be a Middleweight, but he’s a man of honor he honors the contract. If anything comes of this night it should be that if Lima gets over Rory we should finally give him his due.”
Sonnen was asked if he can remember an incident with Jackson that Michael Bisping broke up.
“It’s just heat that goes back a long time and I really can’t remember and Rampage was such a gentleman two weeks ago we had to start this over. Dana offered us coaching spots on The Ultimate Fighter and it just never came around. I don’t remember the history. I was in Chicago and we were socializing and I got into it with some guy and it turned out to be Rampage’s brother and things just escalated and ultimately Bisping had to get in and break the whole thing up. I’m jumping around on the story, but I’ve got you 90 percent there.”
Sonnen was asked if he’d talk trash just to get something started between them.
“I got out to L.A. about 10-12 days ago and Rampage was such a nice guy I don’t know what to say. If I don’t see it, I won’t say it. I won’t make something up to sell a fight. Fortunately, we’re in a bracketed format where animosity has nothing to do with it. I’ll leave it where it lies.”
Finally, Sonnen was asked if he sees a path to victory through the tournament.
“I play the bracket through 10 times a day every single day. I like to be distracted, I like to have something else to look forward to, but looking past Rampage is a risky game. I’m interested in Mir and Fedor, I feel that could go both ways, I’m not one of those guys that writes Fedor off. I don’t want to fight Mo because we go back to college days and I’d rather not fight him, but he does his best work against those bigger guys, so I think he’s a likely guy to advance. I think Mitrione is the real No. 1 guy if there wasn’t a tournament, he’s also the Vegas favorite, but I think Rampage and I got lucky in that we’re first. It’s about who can hold up. That’s why they have to have alternates. I can promise we’ll walk out there no matter how we feel, but I can’t say that for sure about the other guys. If nothing else we have the most time to recover.”
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