After a one week hiatus the UFC is back with a very entertaining Fox Sports event this Sunday with a ton of action packed scraps to start off the new calendar year. With that being said, lets take a look at some of the match ups on the card that have the potential or a good chance for the underdog to see themselves getting their hand raised.
Jeremy Stephens +150:
Jeremy Stephens has a chance to not only derail the hype train of one of the biggest prospects in the division in Doo Ho Choi, but is getting a match up that stylistically caters to his fighting style. Stephens typically wins the fights that he is able to stand and strike with his opponent and losses due to his opponent neutralizing his striking and using wrestling and grappling to get a win on the judges score cards. Although he has recently has trouble compiling a win streak, something to keep in mind is in his losses how durable Stephens is and how hard it is to put him away.
In his most recent fight Stephens looked phenomenal and was able to stray away from his typically brawling style of fighting and be very technical against a former Strike-force champion in Gilbert Melendez. He was able to use brutal leg kicks in order to dictate the pace of the fight and put on a technical striking clinic which is something we don’t usually see in his striking arsenal. Doo Ho Choi has quickly made a name for himself in the featherweight division for his brutal power and his “technical brawling” standup style of fighting and after going 3-0 in the UFC with 3 first round brutal knockouts. In his most recent fight,he faced his toughest test to date in Cub Swanson in a bout that was a back and forth 3 round war that was a fight of the year contender. Choi showed how tough he truly was and that he can take a punch as well as have the stamina to go a hard 3 rounds, but it also showed a flaw that he may need some work on and that is his striking defense.
This is a fight that without a doubt will play out entirely on the feet since both fighters never look to take it to the ground and would rather stand in the pocket and duke it out. Stephens has shown he has no problem taking a shot to give one and this matchup gives him the chance to show how much power he truly has. In recent bouts he hasn’t been able to really get off his power because by throwing his haymaker bombs he opens himself up to be taken down and with this matchup he doesn’t have to worry about the threat of being wrestled which will give him more confidence in throwing wild powerful strikes.
Another thing to take into consideration is the experience of both fighters being a big factor, with this being Stephens 41st professional appearance, fighting under the UFC since 2007, compared to Choi’s only 16 fights. I think this bout should be an even money bout, but with the veteran being the underdog I think there is a ton of value in Stephens and regardless of the odds I think this match up favors him.
Prediction: Jeremy Stephens via 2nd round TKO.
Vitor Belfort +225:
The Phenom will have his 40th fight, against a fighter in Uriah Hall who is as dangerous as anyone in the middleweight division. Belfort is coming off of a victory against Nate Marquardt back in June and he will be looking to string together two wins for the first time since 2013 in facing Uriah Hall. Although many people have criticism on Belfort, whether it be he hasn’t been the same since getting popped for steroids and USADA drug testing or that he’s to old and shot, one thing to account for is his list of losses in his career. Although he has 13 losses, they were all against extremely high level fighters; Gegard Mousasi, Jacare Souza, Chris Weidman, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Kelvin Gastelum and Kazushi Sakuraba. Belfort has only lost to the very best that mixed martial arts has had to offer and although he is nowhere near the fighter he used to be, I see a path to victory for the former champion.
During his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, Uriah Hall looked to be one of the best and most deadly fighters to ever come from the series and was even getting talked about as someone who can dethrone the then current champion and pound for pound greatest fighter on the roster, Anderson Silva. Since the show Hall has not been able to live up to the hype and has gone 6-6 during his UFC run, struggling to find that killer instinct. In many of his losses, critics say he beat himself. Hall is known for not being aggressive in a lot of his performances and being very hesitant, struggling to get off offensive and not being aggressive. In a lot of Halls performances he starts off the fight immediately with a flashy strike and then fades as the round goes on, being very hesitant and defensive in his stand up and not throwing a lot of volume.. If Hall comes into this bout with Belfort starting off slow and hesitant, that is going to be a huge advantage for Belfort because he has always been known for being a very fast starter and once he sees an opponent hurt he goes for the kill and is very aggressive.
In Belfort’s last defeat against Kelvin Gastelum, who is not only one of the top contenders of the division but someone who also has a victory of Hall, he was able to rock Gastelum for a moment that caught him off guard. I believe that Uriah Hall is the type of fighter that should never be trusted as a favorite in any fight due to inconsistency and although I can see Hall going out and finishing Belfort, I do see value in Belfort as a big underdog and believe his aggressive style can be very dangerous against an opponent like Hall early on in the fight. If you cant gather yourself to wager on Belfort, I see a ton of value as well in the Under 1.5 at -160.
Prediction: Belfort via 1st round TKO
Darren Elkins +145:
Elkins is currently on the biggest run of his career and since being in the UFC since 2010, he has finally gone from being just a gatekeeper from upcoming prospects to a real contender in the featherweight division. He has a record of 13-3 under the UFC and has been able to compile 5 consecutive victories, coming off two high profile victories against #11 Dennis Bermudez and one of the best comeback victories in all of mixed martial arts against a top prospect in Mirsad Bektic. He is now facing a top contender in Michael Johnson, who is moving down from lightweight and fighting at featherweight for the first time in his career after only winning 1 in his last 5 fights. Although those losses are against top lightweight contenders, he is facing one of the toughest fighters in the division in Darren Elkins and will have his hands full.
Elkins is one of the best wrestlers in the division and if you aren’t fully prepared for a hard fought 15 minutes, as he will make you pay with his extremely aggressive style of wrestling and having endurance to excuse his game plan at an extremely high pace with no signs of letting up. One thing to take into consideration is how the weight cut will affect Johnson’s cardio. Elkins will make sure to test that early on with relentless take down attempts and making this fight as ugly as possible for Johnson. Michael Johnson has very good boxing and is dangerous to strike with, for any opponent but with how phenomenal of a chin Elkins has, its going to be hard to put him away or finish him. I think that Johnson is not going to have an easy night in his first bout at 145 pounds and if he does get the win he is going to have to work every second for it.
I see this fight going to the judges and don’t see either opponent being able to get a finish and I see Elkins grinding his way to a winning on points and grinding his way to a victory on the judges score cards. Johnson may be able to take a round but I think the wrestling of Elkins is going to be way to much for him and although he has good take down defense, he is going to tire himself out and be stuck for the most part of the fight trying to get back to his feet.
Prediction: Darren Elkins via unanimous decision.
Paige Van Zant +110:
VanZant will be making her return to the cage after a year since her last performance in a loss to top contender Michelle Waterson. She is facing Jessica Rose Clark, who is coming off of a debut split decision victory against Bec Rawlings, a fighter Paige VanZant has also previously defeated via a brutal head kick knockout. I am struggling to understand how VanZant isn’t a decently sized favorite in this bout. Although she has lost 2 of her last 3 fights, the losses came against a top contender in Waterson and the current champion in Rose Namajunas.
VanZant had taken a year off to make improvements and at such a young age of 23 years old, a year layoff of just training can really greatly improve a fighters skill set and with her leaving team Alpha Male to train elsewhere at team Quest she is looking to improve her only big flaw which is her striking. She has shown to be extremely athletic and strong with a very good wrestling base. I look at the way that VanZant’s performance against top contender Felice Herring played out and I think she will be able to accomplish a similar performance against Rose Clark.
Clark is moving down to this weight class and VanZant moving up so some may think that that will be a size disadvantage for Paige, but if she can get this fight to the ground and implement her very aggressive style of pushing the pace and being in her opponents face she should be able to dictate where this fight goes. The UFC has invested a ton of their time and money into VanZant and they have handpicked Clark as a matchup that benefits Paige. With a dominant performance, Paige should be able to get back into the win column and set herself up for a title shot in the women’s new flyweight division and be the first challenger for the new champion Nicco Montano.
Prediction: Paige Van Zant via unanimous decision
Which underdogs do you see value in? Comment below or on Facebook or twitter.
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