Featherweight fireworks are in store for St. Louis, Mo., this Sunday evening (Jan. 14, 2018) as knockout machine Doo Ho Choi throws down with Jeremy Stephens in the main event of UFC Fight Night 124, which will air live on FOX Sports 1.
Forty pounds higher, Uriah Hall squares off with Vitor Belfort in a clash of strikers with flashes of brilliance, while Paige VanZant makes her Flyweight debut against Jessica Rose-Clark and Kamaru Usman attempt to extend his UFC win streak to seven at Emil Meek’s expense.
There are only four main card fights, but there are four “Prelims” undercard matches on FOX Sports 1 to beef up the broadcast (check out the Fight Pass portion here). Here they are, broken down for your enjoyment:
145 lbs.: Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson
Darren Elkins (23-5) — once an afterthought at 145 pounds — has emerged as an unexpected contender under the tutelage of Team Alpha Male. His current five-fight run includes wins over Chas Skelly, Mirsad Bektic and Dennis Bermudez, all fights in which he was an underdog.
“The Damage” will give up two inches of arm and leg reach to Michael Johnson (17-12).
It’s been a rocky road for Johnson, who snapped a two-fight losing streak with a stunning knockout of Dustin Poirier before dropping two straight to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. To his credit, the latter battle earned several “Fight of the Year” accolades, but he’s taking the plunge to 145 nonetheless.
He has scored eight professional wins by (technical) knockout.
I’ve picked against Elkins in three of his last four fights and the crow is starting to taste bad. I’m going to put my faith in him here, which will probably result in him losing, but I’ve actually got good reason.
Frankly, I think moving to 145 pounds is a terrible decision for Johnson. That 1-4 run he’s on should be 2-3 -- he deserved the win against Beneil Dariush. And losing to monsters like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje is nothing to be ashamed of. A fully equipped Johnson has the firepower to take out Ekins, but I can’t pick him to win his Featherweight debut against a guy with this sort of pressure. Elkins, as always, walks through fire to wear down Johnson and eke out the decision.
Prediction: Elkins via split decision
155 lbs.: James Krause vs. Alex White
James Krause (24-7) — despite a two-fight win streak — decided to try his luck on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 25, where he reached the semifinals before getting overpowered by Jesse Taylor. He got back on track on the Finale with a decision over Tom Gallicchio, upping his UFC record to 5-3.
He is two inches taller than Alex White (12-3) and will have as many inches of reach on him.
White started his UFC as a Featherweight, going 2-2 with wins over Estevan Payan and Artem Lobov. Following the latter victory, he made the jump to lightweight, where he’s suffered a decision loss to Tony Martin and scored a technical knockout finish of Mitch Clarke.
He owns five professional wins each by knockout and submission.
White is tough, powerful and relentless. What he isn’t is slick enough to get inside on Krause or sufficiently equipped to exploit Krause’s iffy takedown defense. All the grit in the world isn’t worth squat if he’s getting picked off by jabs and long kicks the entire time.
Krause’s skillset (strong striking and grappling without the wrestling to support it) isn’t enough to carry him into the division elite. It is, however, more than sufficient to take out mid-tier sluggers like White. Krause pieces him up at range and threatens a few takedowns to take home the decision.
Prediction: Krause via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Matt Frevola vs. Polo Reyes
Five consecutive victories, including one each in World Series of Fighting and Titan FC, put Matt Frevola (6-0) in center stage on the “Tuesday Night Contender Series” season finale. There, “The Steamrolla” took on fellow unbeaten Jose Flores and picked up his third professional submission victory.
In addition to his professional record, he went 8-0 as an amateur.
Polo Reyes (7-4) was outgunned by teammate Horacio Gutierrez on TUF: “Latin America” 2, but proved his chops with three wins in his first three UFC appearances, including a “Fight of the Year” contender against Dong Hyun Kim. The momentum was not to last, however, as he was beaten down by James Vick this past May.
At 5’11,” he is two inches taller than Frevola.
Frevola is built for entertainment. What he isn’t built for is consistent success. He keeps his hands low and marches forward, winging haymakers and looking for poorly disguised takedowns. Reyes is right at the threshold of people he has a shot against.
And, I think, just ever-so-slightly on the wrong side of it. Frevola is going to slug it out with Reyes, which is the worst possible way to fight him. Unless Frevola’s wrestling is sharper than it’s looked, Reyes outbrawls him on his way to a late stoppage.
Prediction: Reyes via second-round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Thiago Alves vs. Zak Cummings
A tough loss to Carlos Condit sent Thiago Alves down to 155 pounds, where he promptly missed weight by over six pounds, and lost a decision to Jim Miller. He went back to 170 pounds and handily beat Patrick Cote, but Hurricane Irma left him unable to face Mike Perry in September.
He owns eight UFC wins by knockout, though just one since 2008.
Though he fell short on TUF 17, Zak Cummings (21-5) has established himself as a capable Welterweight despite a couple of scale fails. He is currently on a 4-1 streak wherein he survived the distance against Santiago Ponzinibbio and earned a stoppage in three of the four wins.
He stands three inches taller than Alves at 6’0.”
Cummings is definitely on a role and his pressure game is deceptively effective. Even so, Alves’ performance against Cote has me leaning “The Pitbull’s” way. Cummings is fairly straightforward in his attack and is almost certainly slower than Alves, who will have the edge in footwork and the takedown defense to force prolonged striking engagements.
Though Cummings packs a decent punch, it’s not enough to rattle Alves, who’s proven he can do real damage on the counter. He piles up leg kicks and counter punches on his way to a decision victory.
Prediction: Alves via unanimous decision
Not the worst way to start the year, I suppose. See you Sunday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 124 card this weekend, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET before the FOX Sports 1 main card action kicks off at 10 p.m. ET.