Not necessarily a lighter weight bout, but we're still a full wine-saturated Peter Dinklage away from the acromegalous heavyweights on the main card on the scales.
Stephen Thompson is a name you may or may not recognize. While he avoided comparisons to another World Combat League turned MMA washout in Raymond Daniels (who seemed to get an unfair shake insofar as unlike James Toney, may have had actual upside if he had been brought along slowly), he still disappeared like Daniels, and hasn't fought in over a year.
Dealing with a knee injury is never an easy thing to recover from, and with Thompson's style, you hope it's not serious. On the other side is Burrell, fresh off a victory at UFC 157; an unusual setting for both fighters since Thompson is coming off a loss. Not much is expect of both men other than fireworks, and we've got good reasons to believe they'll deliver.
The matchup: I expect this fight to be a sort of low-rent version of the Cruikshank/Makdessi bout, but likely a bit busier. Both guys are unorthodox strikers. Thompson loves to fight with his body angled for spinning attacks, which can leave him open, but pays dividends for anyone willing to stand in front of him.
Obviously, Thompson's signature move, just as it was in the WCL, is his instep roundhouse kick, which he knocked out Dan Stittgen with; a nifty kick that looks like a leg kick until it lands on the skull. Burrell would be wise to look out for it.
This doesn't feel like a good matchup for Burrell, who got pasted by Chris Spang, and has a tendency to leave himself wide open. But Burrell is active enough that leaving Thompson without time to set up might be enough. I don't mean "active" as in "hypnotoads his arms like Leonard Garcia". I mean, active as in, has a nice jab, which he uses, and throws efficient leg kicks. He especially does a good job of doubling, sometimes tripling up on the jab, which could end up being a big factor.
As we saw against Spang though, who is similar to Thompson in a lot of ways, his defense isn't great though at least he keeps his hands up (you listening Mr. Rockhold?), and had a good enough chin to deceive Pablo Escobar, I mean, Josh Rosenthal, into thinking both men were still fighting several minutes after Burrell's body had shut down (worst stoppage of 2012?). However, with Thompson's slick style, I'd expect him to win impressively again, though not without incident. This should be fairly competitive.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson by TKO, round 3.
It's been two years since Brian Bowles entered the cage, which is hard to believe when you think about it. Seems like just the other day the ref was pulling him out of the knockout van he stuffed Miguel Torres in to win the coveted WEC gold. His last fight was a fairly dominant performance for Urijah Faber.
On the other end is Roop, a guy who seemed destined to be a ham and egger, but has turned into a quality, scrappy fighter. Still...this matchup feels too much like his bout with Cub Swanson.
For Bowles, the plan is to keep it on the feet, where his brutal power can be the great equalizer. The fact that he has an equally brutal guillotine choke leaves little outs for Roop to win this one.
What impresses me about Roop is that he seems to always improve on something in his game. A lot of "us" thought he'd get tooled by Hioki on the ground, and instead the fight was competitive until the end. On the feet, he continues to use his height to great effect. Against Duran, he seemed to shore up his wrestling deficiency.
However, Reuban Duran, who isn't as skilled a boxer as Bowles, landed with regularity, and seemed like he could have taken the victory in that one if he had just fought smarter which indicates to me that Roop's chin is still like a Waffle House; open 24/7.
Prediction: Brian Bowles by KO, round 2.
The man they call 'Lil Heathen' hasn't had a good last two years. He's 0-3 in his last three, and none of his performances have been impressive, especially given the competition in which the bouts favored him to have a chance (all have been strikers).
Perhaps that's why he's making his featherweight debut. Dropping down in weight is rarely the answer, but perhaps Stephens will benefit since the strength advantage may benefit his brawling style.
It'll certainly benefit him here. Payan is a solid fighter, but certainly not a spectacular one, and this just happens to be a terrible matchup. In his last bout against Mike Bravo, he showed a diligent style on the feet, landing numerous leg kicks, and throwing the odd bomb but this is precisely the kind of fight for Stephens, who will be the bigger, stronger, and faster man. Dana seems to like Stephens a lot, if his willingness to escape Alcatraz for him is any indication, so this bout is every bit the softball Dana likely intended.
Prediction: Jeremy Stephens by KO, round 1.