UFC Fight Night 124: Where to Lean in Stephens-Choi?

ufc fight night

Andreas Hale

Friday, January 12, 2018 1:40 PM GMT

Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 1:40 PM GMT

The UFC kicks off 2018 by heading to St. Louis for UFC Fight Night 124. The main event is likely to produce fireworks as Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi battle in the Octagon.

Free UFC Pick: Jeremy Stephens +130Best Line Offered: 5Dimes

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The main event of UFC Fight Night 124 in St. Louis on Sunday finds Doo Ho Choi coming off of the brutal 2016 fight of the year throw down against Cub Swanson as Choi takes on hard-hitting Jeremy Stephens. Choi has been out of action for a year after his slugfest with Swanson and hopes to get back on track. Despite the savage nature of his last fight, Choi has only two losses in his career. Prior to the Swanson fight, Choi had peeled off eight consecutive knockouts. He’ll enter the fight as a slight favorite (-160).

As for Lil’ Heathen, he found his way back into the win column against Gilbert Melendez last September after losing decisions to Frankie Edgar and Renato Moicano but is a +130 underdog vs. Choi. Given their two styles, this should certainly be exciting. However, there are far too many variables to lock in a pick. We don’t know how Choi’s body will hold up after his war with Swanson. Stephens hits harder than Swanson and could be meeting the right opponent at the right time. The Korean Superboy could just as easily put Stephens down with his vaunted striking. Both have granite chins and could go the distance, but the dynamite in their hands could crumble those walls.

If I had a free bet, I’d go with Stephens at +130 considering the value in the pick and the curiosity surrounding Choi’s body after being out of action for a year. Everything else has too many variables to feel comfortable picking.

The co-main event has a fascinating line. Uriah Hall scored a 2nd-round knockout against Krzysztof Jotko to offset a three-fight losing streak where he was stopped by Gegard Mousasi and Derek Brunson and a decision to current middleweight champion Robert Whittaker. Meanwhile, Vitor Belfort defeated the now-retired Nate Marquardt by decision but had suffered three straight stoppages to Kelvin Gastelum (overturned to a NC), Gegard Mousasi and Jacare Souza.

But despite both fighters having similar records, Belfort is a +265 underdog while Hall is a -320 favorite. Although Hall has all of the physical advantages and is seven years younger, the problem has always been Hall’s mental approach to fighting. He’s undeniably gifted, and that alone should have him as the favorite. But he suffers far too many issues where he can’t pull the trigger and often follows his opponent around in search of one big shot. Belfort doesn’t have a mental issue because his is all physical. The miles on his body are showing, and he’s been steamrolled by better opposition. Because of the uncertainty surrounding Hall’s mental approach, betting on either fighter is a hard pass. However, there is value in betting the fight goes 'over' 1.5 rounds at +155. Hall will likely show Belfort respect early, and this could easily go the distance as long as Belfort doesn’t make a costly mistake where Hall can land a devastating strike. I don’t trust either fighter to win, but I do see this going a minimum of 7.5 minutes.

One of the more bizarre lines is Paige VanZant’s flyweight debut against Jessica-Rose Clark. VanZant opened as a +100 underdog but has now climbed to a -110. The rationale behind VanZant’s underdog status makes sense if you haven’t paid attention to PVZ’s career trajectory. She’s 1-2 in her last three fights and was finished in both of them. But if you consider the fact that the UFC may have pushed her too hard and too fast, then those losses to current strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and Michelle Waterson are quite forgivable. Clark has given us a small sample size but nothing that justified her opening as a favorite. Clark currently sits as a -110 but hasn’t faced close to the level of competition that VanZant has. As far as the actual fight is concerned, VanZant should be able to win this fight inside the clinch and smother Clark with her infinite gas tank. With a possible title shot being on the line considering the fresh new scent of the division, expect VanZant to play it smart and safe. Couple VanZant at -110 with her winning a decision at +190, and you should see a return on your investment.

The final fight that we’re going to take a look at is Kamaru Usman’s almost ridiculous -650 advantage over Emil Meek (+475). Meek is relatively unknown, but that shouldn’t make the 9-2 fighter from Norway a worse underdog than Conor McGregor was against Floyd Mayweather. Meek got his shot in the UFC after finishing submission specialist Rousimar Palhares in the first round and then won a decision over Jordan Mein in his UFC debut. Usman may be trending upward, but the oddsmakers are treating him as a dominant force. Usman has won 10 in a row against relatively subpar opposition. His wrestling base is easily the most troubling thing for his opponents to deal with as he has a tendency to smother his opposition for the duration of the fight. But given all the questions surrounding Meek, he’s definitely worth taking a chance. And if you’re going to take a chance, go all the way. Meek by stoppage is likely the only scenario where he can win because Usman will deploy his wrestling at the slightest hint of trouble. If Meek is able to pull off the upset, make it worth your time by plunking down cash on the +765 for a finish by the Norwegian. Usman should win, but this line is far too wide to not take a chance on the other side.

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