UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi Preview
A preview of Sunday’s UFC Fight Night card, set to take place in St. Louis.
Updated: Jan. 12, 2018 • 9:50 AM ET
Vitor Belfort will step into the Octagon for the last time this weekend.
The UFC will visit the “Gateway to the West” for the first time on Sunday for UFC Fight Night. The event, which will take place in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, is stockpiled with intriguing matchups that will help the organization start 2018 in dynamic fashion.
A featherweight fight between No. 9 ranked Jeremy Stephens and No. 13 Dooho Choi will headline Sunday’s event. The fight should produce non-stop action, as Stephens is one of the hardest hitting featherweights in the world and Choi is known for using his chin defensively.
In September, Stephens won by unanimous decision over Gilbert Melendez and collected Fight of the Night honors in the process. The win over Melendez was much-needed, as Stephens was on a two-fight losing skid to Frankie Edgar and Renato Moicano by decision, respectively. Stephens also failed in his previous two attempts at headlining a card, losing by submission to Joe Lauzon in 2009 and to Cub Swanson by unanimous decision in 2014.
The 31-year-old Stephens has fought in the UFC since 2007, and it’s hard to believe he’s just now reaching his prime. Despite a 7-10 record in fights that have gone to a decision, Stephens continues to get better. He has 17 wins by KO or TKO and has only been knocked out once. A victory in Sunday’s main event over a prodigy with an entire country in his corner would mark the biggest win of Stephens’ career.
During his lengthy UFC tenure, Stephens has collected key victories over Renan Barao, Dennis Bermudez, Darren Elkins and Rafael Dos Anjos. This will be his 26th appearance inside the Octagon, which is three behind Michael Bisping’s record of 29. Twenty-six is also the age of Stephens’ opponent on Sunday.
The 26-year-old Choi is coming off of a loss to Cub Swanson at UFC 206 that won him 2016 Fight of the Year honors at the World MMA Awards. It was an outstanding back-and-forth battle, in which Choi made a name for himself. Choi is 3-1 in the UFC, and all three of his victories have come by first round knockout.
South Korea requires its male citizens ages 18 to 35 to undergo conscription, or a two-year mandatory military service. Choi is not exempt from this list, and he has one more year before conscription. A victory over Stephens would represent the biggest win of Choi’s career and put him on track for a title shot. But will Choi have enough time to get that shot before mandatory military service?
Uriah Hall vs. Vitor Belfort - Middleweight fight
Update: This fight has been canceled due to Uriah Hall's failure to weight in
Sunday’s main card will also feature a middleweight showdown between No. 11 Uriah Hall and No. 12 Vitor Belfort.
Hall is coming off of a second round knockout victory over Krzysztof Jotko in September that won Performance of the Night honors. He looked like a future champion during his time on The Ultimate Fighter reality series, scoring highlight reel knockouts over his opponents; but Hall ultimately lost in the finale to Kelvin Gastelum and has gone 6-5 since.
After a signature win over Gegard Mousasi in 2015, Hall lost three straight fights. Nevertheless, a win on Sunday would put the 33-year-old back on a winning streak and perhaps back into the top 10 of the middleweight division.
Belfort is coming off of a unanimous decision victory over Nate Marquardt in June. The fighter nicknamed “The Phenom” burst onto the scene at UFC 12 in 1997 and is without a doubt a future Hall of Famer, collecting victories over some of the sport’s all-time greats, including Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, Randy Couture and Wanderlei Silva. This will be the last time fans will see Belfort in the Octagon, as he announced on Thursday that Sunday will be his final fight.
“Now I’m finishing my journey,” Belfort said via UFC.com. “We had a long journey, and I’m very grateful that God gave me the longevity in this sport where people usually don’t even have 10 years; I’m having 22 years. I’m very grateful and thankful. I think it’s time to walk out and so this will be my last fight.”
Paige VanZant vs. Jessica-Rose Clark - Women’s flyweight fight
This weekend, fan favorite Paige VanZant will finally make her return to the Octagon in a flyweight fight against No. 10 ranked Jessica-Rose Clark. The 23-year-old VanZant is ranked No. 11 in the women’s strawweight division, but she hasn’t fought in more than a year since losing by submission to Michelle Waterson in December 2016. The former Dancing with the Stars contestant is 4-2 in the UFC and in need of a big win to preserve a blossoming reputation that could make her one of the UFC’s biggest stars. The fight will mark VanZant’s debut at 125 pounds.
Clark, a native of Australia, has one fight in the UFC, a split decision victory over Bec Rawlings in November. However, Clark missed making weight for the fight, weighing in at 128 pounds, two pounds over the 126-pound limit for flyweights. She’s 8-4 overall, and a win over a fan favorite would solidify Clark’s place in the women’s flyweight division.
Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Meek - Welterweight fight
Rounding out the main card will be a welterweight fight between No. 10 ranked Kamaru Usman and Emil Meek. This fight was originally scheduled for UFC 219, but the bout was postponed as Meek was unable to travel due to visa issues.
Usman is 6-0 in the UFC and has quietly become the welterweight no one in the top 10 seems to want to fight. The well-rounded Nigerian most recently defeated Sergio Moraes by first round knockout in September, and his biggest strength is his ability to wear-out fighters. Usman combines precise striking with over-powering grappling, which has been unmatched thus far during his stint in the UFC. Usman is 11-1 overall, and another victory will likely land him a fight with someone in the top 5 of the division.
Meek successfully made his UFC debut in December at UFC 206, winning by unanimous decision over Jordan Mein. He’s 9-2-1 overall with seven wins by knockout, five of which have come in the first round. Meek is powerful for the division, and a victory over Usman would likely land him a spot amongst the top 10 welterweights.
Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson - Featherweight fight
Headlining the FS1 Prelims for Sunday’s event is a featherweight fight between No. 10 ranked Darren Elkins and St. Louis native Michael Johnson.
Elkins is riding a five-fight win streak, most recently defeating Dennis Bermudez by split decision in July. He’s 13-4 in the UFC, and his losses have come against big names such as Jeremy Stephens and former title challenger Chad Mendes. Elkins is known for being difficult to finish, hence his nickname “The Damage”, which comes from his uncanny ability to absorb almost anything a fighter can throw at him.
Hometown fighter Johnson, who is making his debut at featherweight, is the No. 10 ranked lightweight in the world. He’s 1-4 in his last five fights, with his last fight against Justin Gaethje in July being one of the greatest in recent memory. Johnson has collected key victories over interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Edson Barboza. A win over a durable fighter such as Elkins would announce Johnson’s arrival to the featherweight division with authority.
Lightweight fight - James Krause vs. Alex White
Lightweight fight - Matt Frevola vs. Marco Polo Reyes
Welterweight fight - Thiago Alves vs. Zak Cummings
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Women’s flyweight fight - Kalindra Faria vs. Jessica Eye
Women’s bantamweight fight - Talita Bernardo vs. Irene Aldana
Bantamweight fight - Kyung Ho Kang vs. Guido Cannetti
Women’s strawweight fight - Danielle Taylor vs. JJ Aldrich
Featherweight fight - Mads Burnell vs. Mike Santiago