With UFC on ESPN 6 fast approaching; this blog will take a close look at the match between dynamic Featherweight strikers Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez competing in a rematch of their no contest last month.
After a disappointing fight which ended before it got started in Mexico, off the back of an unfortunate accidental eye poke by Rodriguez, both men enter the cage with a serious point to prove.
Prior to the fight with Stephens, Yair Rodriguez was coming off of a spectacular 5th round knockout over Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night 139 in November 2018; albeit a fight in which most believe he was clearly losing on the scorecards. Another convincing victory over a long time contender in Stephens would work wonders for Rodriguez’s position within the division, and all but guarantee him a top five ranked opponent.
Jeremy Stephens; whilst facing the stiff competition of Jose Aldo and Zabit Magomedsharipov in his last two fights before Rodriguez, has not registered a win since February 2018, however his toughness is not up for debate, nor his power, ‘Lil Heathen’ still has the ability to sleep any 145er unlucky enough to get caught with his right hand. Stephens needs a win badly here in order to remain relevant in the top tier of the featherweight division as excluding the previous fight with Rodriguez, he would be 0-3 From his last three fights if he were to lose to Rodriguez this Friday.
Keys to Victory – Yair Rodriguez
Keep the distance:
This may be an obvious observation, nevertheless it’s an extremely important factor in this fight. In Stephens, Yair Rodriguez faces a fighter who’s power is not to be underestimated, and Rodriguez’s chances of coming out on top will greatly decrease if he catches one of those sledge hammer right hands from his opponent. Rodriguez must stay away from Stephens power and allow his kicks and speed advantage to come into play. Rodriguez could land strikes and even win the fight in a slugvest with Stephens, as he has finishing ability himself, however his chances are greatly improved if he opts to stick and move here
Stay off of the fence:
Something a lot easier said than done, however the more Rodriguez can stay in the centre of the octagon, the more space he will have to move. He will have to use effective footwork and lateral movement in order to avoid being backed up against the fence by Stephens. If he is trapped by Stephens and is unable to move, the chance of him being caught by Stephens dramatically increases; however, a kickboxing match in the centre of the octagon sure favours the speed and variety of Rodriguez.
Maintain a good volume:
Rodriguez needs to throw strikes on a very regular basis in order to keep Jeremy Stephens thinking. The more long distance strikes Rodriguez can pepper Stephens with, the harder it will be for the veteran to reset, plant his feet and throw haymakers with bad intentions as he likes to do. The more Rodriguez finds his mark, the more likely Stephens will get frustrated and start to swing without caution, making the fight easier for Rodriguez.
Keys to Victory – Jeremy Stephens
Cut off the octagon:
Perhaps the most important element of the fight is the control of the octagon. In order for Stephens to win the fight; being the more powerful but less elusive of the two, it would benefit him to be able to pin Rodriguez down so he can tee off on him. In order to do this he must move laterally to corner Rodriguez before letting his strikes go. If he allows Rodriguez to angle away from him while he throws, it could be a tough night for Stephens.
With Jeremy Stephens savage punching power; it is easy to overlook his leg kicks, which some would argue are equally brutal. Look no further than his fight with Gilbert Melendez for proof of this. Stephens can kick Rodriguez’s legs, he can slow the latter down and potentially make him hesitant to use his own impressive variety of kicks. If Stephens can be successful with leg kicks, this in turn will render Rodriguez easier to hit and increase Stephen’s chance for success with his power strikes.
A strong start:
Jeremy Stephens must establish himself early in this fight; Yair Rodriguez is a very fluid fighter, and once he gets into a rhythm, it will be difficult to stop. Stephens must pressure Rodriguez early; mix up his strikes, and look for the knockout. If he allows Rodriguez to settle in the fight, he will have a hard time taking control of the fight back from the nimble Mexican.
With both fighters being dangerous knockout artists, this fight could end at any time. With this being said, I expect Stephens to have some early success, landing some big shots and throwing some leg kicks. However I believe towards the end of the round Rodriguez will get his licks in to end a close first frame. In the second I believe Rodriguez will find his rhythm and take over the fight, maintaining distance with effective kicks to the legs body and head. Stephens will come out swinging in the 3rd round, with a sense of urgency fuelled from being behind, this is where Yair Rodriguez lands a counter which signals the beginning of the end, as he follows up on a fallen Stephens to take the win.
Yair Rodriguez via TKO (Round 3)