Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strikers Jeremy Stephens and Renato Moicano will brawl this Saturday (April 15, 2017) at UFC on FOX 24 inside Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Stephens’ drop to Featherweight has proven to be quite successful. He hasn’t won every fight, but Stephens has proven to be a remarkably tough out and established himself as a Top 10-ranked athlete. Compared to Stephens, Moicano is a relative unknown. However, the Brazilian prospect brings an undefeated record and a pair of Octagon victories to the this bout, and he’s earned a chance to step up in competition.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Renan Barao (UFC Fight Night 88), Dennis Bermudez (UFC 189), Darren Elkins (UFC on FOX 10), Rony Jason (UFC Fight Night 32)
Key Losses: Max Holloway (UFC 194), Frankie Edgar (UFC 205), Cub Swanson (UFC Fight Night 44), Charles Oliveira (TUF 20 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Stephens has been doing this for a very long time. He’s grown as a kickboxer and wrestler since moving to Alliance MMA, but Stephens’ primary path to victory has always been finding a way to land massive punches.
In this match, he should be able to do just that, so long as he doesn’t load up too much. Moicano is a well-rounded fight with decent counter punching and dangerous jiu-jitsu, but that’s nothing Stephens hasn’t dealt with in the past.
Since his opponent doesn’t have anything that can seriously threaten Stephens, the veteran should be able to walk him down without issue. Stephens is at his best when pressuring his opponent and watching for mistakes, as timing frantic movement with a heavy punch or kick is his specialty.
Aside from pressuring his foe, the occasional takedown attempt wouldn’t hurt. Moicano is a decent wrestler, but he ended up on his back multiple times in his last fight. If things are close on the feet, a couple key takedowns could help Stephens secure the win.
Key Wins: Tom Niinimaki (UFC Fight Night 58), Zubair Tukhugov (UFC 198)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: More than any one opponent, Moicano has struggled with inactivity. The well-rounded Brazilian and former Junglefight champion has actually been competing in the UFC since 2014, but this is just his third fight in that time.
In his last bout, Moicano dealt with Tukhugov fairly well, who is an explosive and wild athlete with big power and occasional bursts of offensive wrestling. He’s not close to an exact replica of Stephens, but Moicano will have to rely on similar tactics to defeat “Lil Heathen.”
There are two real strategies to defeating Stephens. Fighters with elite levels of grappling — such as Frankie Edgar or Charles Oliveira — can find success dragging him to the mat and controlling him. Alternatively, slick outside strikers like Max Holloway and Cub Swanson have controlled range and out-landed the bruiser.
The second is definitely a better fit for Moicano. If he can maintain his distance and get the jab/low kicks flowing like he did in his last fight, there’s a chance that he can slow Stephens and capitalize on his occasional recklessness.
Bottom Line: It’s an important bout for both athletes.
Stephens may have four losses at 145 pounds, but they came opposite the division’s elite. Alongside his quality knockout wins, that’s the important fact to remember that keeps Stephens so highly ranked. If he loses to an unknown like Moicano, it’s less excusable, and Stephens will definitely lose some ground.
A win, meanwhile, sets Stephens up for another top fighter.
As for Moicano, this is a huge opportunity for him. It’s been established that only the best at Featherweight can defeat Stephens, and Moicano has been given a chance to add his name to that list. If he succeeds, Moicano moves from being an unranked and fairly unknown fighter to a suddenly relevant contender.
Should he come up short, that’s a problem. The 27 year old should be nearing the prime of his career, but he hasn’t been fighting all that often. Considering his inactivity, it may be quite some time before he receives another chance like this.
At UFC on FOX 24, Jeremy Stephens will face off with Renato Moicano to open the main card. Which man will have his hand raised?