Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight knockout artists Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi clashed last night (Jan. 14, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 124 inside the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
Stephens has never been able to string together long win streaks inside the UFC, but he’s still managed to pick up some great wins in his years of UFC competition. He came into this main event slot off perhaps a career-best performance, and “Lil Heathen” was aiming to match it. For Choi, this was an absolute must-win fight. Prior to the bout, he announced his goal of capturing the title in 2018, and that was only possible if he began the year with a big victory here.
Choi showed some smarts by adjusting to Stephens, moving more and landing some early kicks. Stephens tried to return with his own kicks, but Choi did a great job of managing range and getting his lead leg just out of the way. By the halfway point in the round, though, Stephens had settled into the bout and found his range a bit more. He began backing Choi up and landing more often as a result, but Choi scored some brutal counter shots as well.
As expected, the fight moved from technical match to all-out brawl inside of five minutes, and both men had their moments.
The first minute of the second round saw brutal, violent connections from both men. When the dust settles, it was Stephens pressing forward and landing hard shots. Choi’s low kick was connecting well, but Stephens was also timing his counters better and smashed Choi with a counter right hand.
Just about two minutes into the round, Stephens dropped his opponent with a heavy overhand. Once on top, Stephens did a great job of methodically picking his shots, resulting in a massive diving punch that bounced Choi’s head off the mat once more. The South Korean tried to hang tough, but ultimately Stephens’ consistent and powerful ground strikes forced a halt to the contest just halfway through the second round.
I was entirely unsure which man would emerge as the winner, but otherwise this bout played off as expected. Both men did their best to be technical early on, but neither had the discipline or defensive technique to make that style work. It took less than two minutes for Stephens to begin flinging out overhands, and Choi largely abandoned his precise distance management by the end of the first as well.
Just look at the opening to round two. Choi cracks his foe with a perfect kick up the middle, but Stephens bulls forward and lands anyway. After getting hit, Choi doesn’t return to his distance, he bites down and fires his own power shots.
Looking at the match up, a brawl was the only possible option.
Unfortunately for Choi, Stephens absolutely thrives in brawls. Once both men were a bit tired and the exchanges came down to instincts, Stephens began to pull ahead. He waited for Choi to fire from too close and countered viciously, timing Choi’s lack of head movement to punish him with heavy shots. Somehow, it’s become a talking point that Stephens doesn’t actually punch that hard. Is that argument dead now?
This is a pair of big victories in a row for Stephens. He’s earned a high profile match up, so any member of the top five would work.
As for Choi, he did his best to fight smart. He kicked well and did real damage to the lead leg. He also showed a real understanding of distance, staying just out of range of most of Stephens’ early blows.
However, his complete lack of head movement came back to cost him. As the fight wore on, Stephens realized that he could wait for Choi to throw, keep his guard tight, and immediately fire back. At first, he was countering Choi’s jab with stiffer jabs of his own, but Stephens was soon lighting Choi up with big right hands and left hooks immediately after blocking.
Until Choi learns to slip his head off the center line, he’s going to get cracked by that approach.
Last night, Jeremy Stephens absorbed some early shots before blasting his opponent into unconsciousness. Who should “Lil Heathen” face next?
For complete UFC Fight Night 124: “Stephens vs. Choi” results and play-by-play, click HERE!