One sentence summary:
David: Didn’t we just preview Stephens?
Phil: It’s the UFC’s next big star(!!!) taking on a guy who authored one big knockout.
Record: Josh Emmett 13-1 | Jeremy Stephens 27-14
Odds: Josh Emmett +145 | Jeremy Stephens -155
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
Phil: Jeremy Stephens appears to improbably be in the second peak of a resurgence. When he first came down to featherweight, most people were understandably bearish about his chances. He made for a ridiculously huge featherweight, and hadn’t exactly been a lightning-fast lightweight. Speed and cardio problems were likely to cripple him. Except they didn’t, and he established himself as a consistent(-ish) top 10 presence. He’s only riding a two fight winning streak, but they were two of the smartest, most impressive performances of his career.
David: Dana White has loved Stephens since he was willing to sacrifice a baby just to have him fight Yves Edwards after being arrested. Except now Stephens is no longer failing up. He’s just a really good, really dangerous fighter who’s turning into a featherweight Robbie Lawler. This fight almost feels like a step backward in some ways. Or at least that’s what I would have said before Emmett pasted Ricardo Lamas.
Phil: Josh Emmett is someone who struggled to be much more than one of those Team Alpha Male guys that popular the lower weight classes. Bricked up, winging hooks and shooting takedowns and guillotines, they tend to occupy a defined gatekeeping role in the middle of the pack. He took a short-notice fight against Ricardo Lamas and made the most of it, planking the canny vet with one terrifying punch. So the question is basically: is this an elite talent who was hiding his light under a bushel, or did he just land a nice shot at the right time on a better fighter?
David: I’m not quite sure if Emmett is ready for a fight like this, but I do know not even Stephens can take him lightly. After all, the same could have been said of Lamas, but Emmett looked like he had a proper training camp and planned accordingly (weight notwithstanding). Emmett’s a really good fighter who profiles—at his best—like a Chad Mendes type. We’ll see if he’s something close to that this Saturday.
What’s at stake?
Phil: Edgar-Ortega winner is definitely next for when Holloway is back from his injury. The winner of this fight is still sitting pretty, though- looking to pick up maybe one more win to get into title contention. The main issue is that there just isn’t anyone else who looks even close to fight them in the meantime... except Darren Elkins.
David: I’m interested in seeing if Stephens really is a featherweight Lawler. Not that I think there was anything in their first fight that would make it more interesting, but a rematch down the road between Stephens and Holloway is something I’d enjoy, assuming Stephens continues picking up new tricks and tactics.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Jeremy Stephens is someone who has a great amount of craft and technique within a relatively defined area. Namely the pocket. If forced to chase consistently, he can struggle, because he literally does not ever throw without planting his feet. Given an opponent who comes right at him, or trades, or moves in predictable ways, and he’s happy. A jab which has developed nicely under Eric del Fiero at Alliance, and a brutal leg kick as his primary distance weapon allow him to set up his left hook, right cross and rear hand uppercut. That ability to figure out which way people are trying to move and put strikes through space has always been one of his best traits. Witness him chasing down Choi with the hook, punting Rony Jason in the head, or landing a vertical jump knee on Dennis Bermudez.
One of the more impressive factors about Stephens is that his durability and cardio seem completely intact despite a long and violent career. Fighting him in the areas in which he is most capable is not recommended.
David: Stephens has evolved in some fundamental ways. We’re so used to thinking about fighter evolution in terms of shoring up weaknesses it’s easy to forget what it means to crystallize strengths ala Lawler (sorry to keep bringing this comparison up like I don’t know any other analogies or adjectives). This is exactly what Stephens has done; powering his right hand not with better mechanics, but with better decoys—a stiff jab, piercing leg kicks, and everything else in between. He layers his offense with a sense of doom, coming forward, absorbing strikes well enough to consider him an underrated chin, and showing strategy and tactics where before there was none except to walk forward.
Phil: Emmett is on the surface the prototypical Alpha Male fighter, but he appears to be gradually transforming into something a little different- a little like a more counter-oriented version of Rumble Johnson, he utilizes surprisingly quick footwork and draws people into a squared stance and throws counter hooks from either hand. What’s notable about the Lamas fight wasn’t necessary that he obliterated Lamas, but that he seemed to be winning the exchanges fairly consistently before the knockout shot. That bears watching.
Whereas most people find their grappling game coming alive at lighter weights, it’s notable (and slightly odd) that Emmett’s effective takedown game appears to have largely disappeared in his move back to featherweight. Regardless, he’s a strong shot and clinch wrestler who was able to control the huge and athletic Scott Holtzman.
David: Emmett’s early work revealed a relatively unassuming boxer-wrestler type. In his fight against Christos Giagos, he showed the best and worst traits of the boxer-wrestler—unable to close the bout after rocking his opponent, displaying little in the way of adjustments beyond the takedown, and when faced with pressure, simply backed the hell up. Over the past several fights, he’s displayed way better movement. Not just simple back and forth stuff, but a bit of lateral movement and spatial awareness he simply didn’t possess in his earlier bouts. The Lamas bout was a perfect example of what he’s capable of when he’s firing on all cylinders—I go back to the Mendes comparison because he was another fighter who had KO power, but never KO’ed anybody early on due to his wrestling instincts. Emmett has that potential. He still has some a learning curve he needs to pass, but so far he looks like peak Emmett; a puncher with more power than he’s willing to express, good movement, a capacity for counters and strong pressure, and a basic wrestling game that will serve him well in the attrition matches.
Insight from past fights?
David: Emmett’s improved movement is enough for me to make a loose comparison to Cub Swanson who has that ability to stick, move, reset, and stick with power. Emmett isn’t as creative but what he lacks in eccentricity, he makes up for in improved strength.
Phil: Emmett’s fight against Des Green was a little concerning. Not because Stephens fights anything even slightly like Des Green, but because two of the weaknesses he showed were slightly suspect cardio and a vulnerability to leg and body kicks. Should he fight him in his preferred space, Stephens will be throwing hard for 25 minutes and will attack all areas.
David: Nothing to report. Unless someone is harboring more assault charges Dana will need to spend his blackjack money on.
Phil: Aside from the fact that we have very little idea how good Emmett actually is?
David: It’s tempting to pick Emmett. But the Lamas fight—while extremely impressive in many facets—doesn’t just wipe away the struggles he’s encountered in multiple areas against far lesser fighters. Fight age hasn’t caught up with Stephens but I could see his chin taking a hit he could struggle to recover from. Having said that, these are long shots that are hard to bank on. Especially if Emmett is still there and the fight’s just getting started in round 3. Jeremy Stephens by Decision.
Phil: Emmett can theoretically play the matador to Stephens’ bull. He’s more of a counterpuncher than advertised, and likes to draw opponents onto shots. But, he sits on shots, gambling that his power will hurt, discourage or finish. Stephens attacks more areas, keeps a more consistent pace and just has more depth of experience. Jeremy Stephens by TKO, round 4.