The UFC welcomes in 2018 this Sunday night with an extremely fun four-fight main card.
Emanating from St. Louis for the first time in UFC history, UFC Fight Night 124 sees veteran take on prospect in the main event as the heavy hitting Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi meet in the featherweight division.
While Vitor Belfort vs Uriah Hall has fallen to the wayside due to the hospitalisation of the latter in a failed weight cut, the main card has received the boost of Darren Elkins vs Michael Johnson being bumped up from the preliminary card.
Jeremy Stephens (26-14) vs Doo Ho Choi (14-2)
This has all the makings of a great fight.
In his last outing, Jeremy Stephens cut a calculated and measured figure against Gilbert Melendez as the ‘Lil Heathen’ chopped away at Melendez’s legs throughout the bout and left the former Strikeforce champion hobbled.
Choi in his last outing however, wasn’t quite as composed. ‘The Korean Superboy’ threw caution to the wind and slugged it out with Cub Swanson in 2016’s fight of the year, a decision every fight fan will thank him for.
In Choi’s bout with Swanson, the 26-year-old struggled when fighting on the back foot but his boxing fundamentals were simply fantastic when he was on offensive. The perceived easiest path to victory would be to pressure Choi but Stephens has a low output at the best of times and over a five round fight, I doubt he’ll be able to keep a high tempo for 25 minutes.
Whether Choi can stop the durable Stephens is a question mark on this bout, but Choi’s striking is more likely more technical than his opponents and I think the young striker can be the cleaner of the two.
Pick: Doo Ho Choi
Paige VanZant (7-3) vs Jessica Rose-Clark (8-4, 1 NC)
VanZant and Rose-Clark’s mutual opponent, Bec Rawlings, would suggest that VanZant will be the winner here but there’s far too many variables at play to take that result at face value.
PVZ has been MIA for over a year and was demolished in her last outing against Michelle Waterson. VanZant is also moving up in weight here while Rose-Clark has fought at bantamweight in the past. That natural size difference again leaves a question mark over this bout as VanZant tends to bully her opponents in the clinch but against a bigger opponent that style may not pay dividends like it has in the past.
On the feet Rose-Clark may not be as adventurous or varied in her striking as VanZant but she is steady with the strikes at her disposal. With that being said, does Rose-Clark have the technical ability to make VanZant pay for her mistakes? I’m not so sure.
PVZ is relentless with her takedown attempts and Rose-Clark has struggled with wrestlers in the past. The big question is surrounding their physicality but I think PVZ’s approach to takedowns will be the deciding factor when the judges score the bout.
Pick: Paige VanZant
Kamaru Usman (11-1) vs Emil Meek (9-2,1 NC)
Meek is a big puncher at welterweight but Kamaru Usman is just further ahead than his Norwegian counterpart in all aspects.
Meek will be buoyed by his biggest career victory over the dangerous grappler Rousimar Palhares when it comes to staving off Usman’s takedowns but Usman is far more well-rounded than anyone Meek has fought before.
Pick: Kamaru Usman
Darren Elkins (23-5) vs Michael Johnson (17-12)
Elkins is as tough as they come and can grind out victories but Johnson is a talented wrestle-boxer.
Johnson’s speed is simply terrifying and he had the power to match it at lightweight. With the move down to featherweight, Johnson may be one of the biggest hitters in the division and his speed will be as quick as anyone Elkins has fought.
Elkins will look to close the distance and grind away against the cage and employ a top-heavy gameplan but Johnson should be able to stave off ‘The Damage’ and hold the distinct advantage on the feet.
Pick: Michael Johnson
(2017: 60% Success Rate)