This weekend the UFC will shine the spotlight on a featherweight tilt that could have a major implication on the division and set the stage for a future contender to champion Max Holloway. Oh, and the main event at UFC Fight Night in Mexico is almost certain to be a barnburner.
Jeremy Stephens vs Yair Rodriguez
Coming off of his 2018 knockout of the year against Chan Sung Jung last October, Yair Rodriguez makes his highly anticipated return to the Octagon to face the always exciting Jeremy Stephens.
A pair of strikers who let their hands and feet go with bad intentions is assuredly going to produce fireworks. But aside from being an aesthetically pleasing exercise in violence, there is also some money to be made for those who are considering making a wager on this high octane showdown.
Heading into this weekend’s fight Stephens is coming off of a pair of losses to Zabit Magomedsharipov (decision) and Jose Aldo (TKO). Prior to that, Stevens was surging up the 145-pound ladder with a string of three wins in a row against Josh Emmett (KO), Doo Ho Choi (TKO) and Gilbert Melendez (decision). The 33-year-old has been in his fair share of wars and sports a 15-15 record in the UFC. To say that this is a must win fight for Stevens would be underselling it. He desperately needs a victory in order to be considered for a future title fight. A loss would likely end those hopes.
The Hometown Boy
The 26-year-old Yair Rodriguez hasn’t been quite as busy as Stephens. As a matter of fact, Stephens has more wins in the UFC (15) than Rodriguez has total MMA fights (13). The real issue with Rodriguez has been his lack of activity over the past two years. Since January of 2017, Rodriguez has only had three fights while Stephens has doubled his output with six.
The betting line on this is nearly even money as Stephens sits as a very narrow favorite (-115) over Rodriguez (-105). And while it is a pretty evenly matched fight, your betting money should be on the younger, fresher fighter with far less mileage.
Although you can’t take anything away from Stephens losing to Magomedsharipov and Aldo, he’s seemed to be firmly entrenched in this middle-of-the-road fighter who serves as a gatekeeper for the division. He’s come close to title contention several times and has faltered when pitted with the division’s best. Meanwhile, Rodriguez was fed to the lion known as Frankie Edgar far too early in his career and paid in flesh with a brutal one-sided loss. And while he doesn’t have the resume of Stephens, he’s proven to be an adept striker with a flash for the fantastic.
This fight will largely be fought standing up and that gives Rodriguez a solid edge in the fight as he’s crisper and more dynamic with his striking. As long as he can avoid the heavy hands of Stephens, he should find his way to a decision victory or a late stoppage. Stephens isn’t going to waste much time with his guns blazing in search for the spectacular finish. If you are able to find a prop bet, taking Stephens with an under 3.5 rounds (5Dimes currently has that at -125) makes a lot of sense. On the other side, Rodriguez and the over (-105) also seems fitting.
But, ultimately, a polished striker who can avoid tense moments of danger in the Mexican should be able to get by the division’s gatekeeper.
Free Pick: Yair Rodriguez at 5Dimes (-105)