Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight strikers Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens will clash TONIGHT (Sept. 21, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 159 from inside Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico.
Rodriguez went from the division’s hottest prospect and imminent title contender to being briefly released quite quickly, and it seems like no one is exactly sure where he stands as a result. Even his latest win, the legendary no-look, buzzer-beater elbow that stopped “Korean Zombie” (watch it), has done little to clarify Rodriguez’s current position in the division. Luckily, Stephens is the perfect foe to figure it all out. “Lil’ Heathen” has proven himself a top-notch Featherweight, only losing to the division’s absolute best while taking out some very tough foes in recent years.
It’s a great match up, so let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Chan Sung Jung (UFC Fight Night 139), Andre Fili (UFC 197), Charles Rosa (UFC 188), Dan Hooker (UFC 192), BJ Penn (UFC Fight Night 103)
Key Losses: Frankie Edgar (UFC 211)
Keys to Victory: There is a method to Rodriguez’s high-flying madness. The Taekwondo black belt wants plenty of distance to work — that’s where his deep arsenal of crazy kicks is at its most effective — and does an admirable job of making it dangerous to pressure forward against his offense.
First and foremost, Rodriguez should take a very obvious note from Zabit Magomedsharipov and spend a good amount of time in the Southpaw stance. Like “Zabeast,” Rodriguez is a switch-stance fighter who tends to prefer Orthodox. However, switching to Southpaw helps nullify Stephens’ nasty calf kick, which will make Rodriguez’s life far easier. In addition, open stance engagements tend to favor fighters who throw quick crosses down the middle.
Stephens loves to loop his right hand.
The stance switch alone will greatly improve Rodriguez’s defense. Otherwise, Rodriguez can copy many fighters in how they’ve taken out Stephens, which is namely lateral movement and direction changes. Stephens simply does not cut off the cage that well, and Rodriguez has the natural speed and distance techniques to make him pay for it at range — so long as he keeps moving.
Key Wins: Doo Ho Choi (UFC Fight Night 124), Josh Emmett (UFC on FOX 28), Renan Barao (UFC Fight Night 88), Dennis Bermudez (UFC 189), Darren Elkins (UFC on FOX 10)
Key Losses: Max Holloway (UFC 194), Jose Aldo (UFC on FOX 30), Zabit Magomedsharipov (UFC 235), Frankie Edgar (UFC 205)
Keys to Victory: Stephens has fought an absurdly high level of competition over the last five years. Despite some technical improvements to his kicking and overall strategy, Stephens, at heart, remains the same as ever: a hard-nosed bruiser with disgusting punching power.
If there’s a singular key here for Stephens, I have to believe it’s to avoid loading up too heavily on his punches. “Lil Heathen” is well-built for 25 minute fights. He’s experienced, durable, and well-conditioned. There’s simply no need to be swinging for the fences inside the first five minutes, which will more than likely result in wasted energy.
Instead, Stephens should keep the full five rounds in mind. The goal in the first round should be to gauge Rodriguez’s timing, figure out where his head will be after he avoids the first punches of Stephens’ combo. If Stephens can also begin chopping at the leg early, that will benefit him too.
Stephens hits absurdly hard, and Rodriguez is not impossible to punch in the face. If Stephens properly waits for his opportunities, he’ll have a better chance at capitalizing upon them.
Bottom Line: Let there be no doubt that this will be an entertaining fight.
For Rodriguez, this bout serves as an opportunity to really break back into the Featherweight title mix. If he’s victorious against Stephens — particularly if he manages to finish the durable veteran — he’s just another win or two away from a shot at the title. Perhaps that cursed bout with Magomedsharipov could finally be booked again? Either way, victory proves that Rodriguez deserves his high ranking and is ready to attempt to climb the ladder once more.
As for Stephens, he’s in a very interesting and difficult position. He’s lost his previous two bouts, which does put some pressure on “Lil Heathen” even if the two men to defeat him are currently ranked inside the Top 5. However, a main event victory over Rodriguez would also be one of the best wins of Stephens’ career, something that could even catapult him back into the title mix.
There’s a lot at stake for both men, who will certainly bring the action.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 159 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
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At UFC Fight Night 159, Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens will battle in the main event. Which fighter will remain standing when the dust settles?