With the UFC calendar set to begin this weekend, we're taking a different approach to our fight previews, focusing on a few key questions and ultimately, whether the show is worth your time to watch. Let's get to a look at Sunday's UFC Fight Night in St. Louis, MO, airing on Fox Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass, with your MMA three of myself, Paul Fontaine and Ryan Frederick.
Note that co-main event Uriah Hall vs. Vitor Belfort was scrapped Saturday afternoon as Hall failed to make weight.
What fight(s) are you most looking forward to this weekend?
Ryan: Jeremy Stephens taking on Dooho Choi is a great main event, and the fight I’m most looking forward to. The veteran Stephens is a fighter who always delivers good-to-great fights, and he puts on good performances in much-needed positions. Choi, aka “The Korean Superboy”, is one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC. He either knocks his opponent out in the first round, or he puts on a Fight Of The Year like he did with Cub Swanson in 2016. He hasn’t been seen since then and with his mandatory military term coming soon, he is looking to head into title contention quickly. This has barnburner written all over it. I’m also looking forward to Darren Elkins against Michael Johnson at featherweight. Elkins is hard-nosed, gritty, and tough to beat. Johnson is very skilled, moreso than Elkins I believe, but he just couldn’t get over the hump at lightweight. I’m interested in how new life in a new division plays out for him.
Paul: Darren Elkins may be the most underrated guy in all of UFC as he’s quietly rung up a five fight win streak against some impressive competition in the featherweight division. Johnson, the longtime top lightweight contender who is moving down a weight class, needs a win badly as he’s lost four of five but they’ve been against mostly the elite in the division. I’m surprised this fight is on the prelims and it speaks to the depth of Sunday’s card.
Josh: I’m most intrigued by Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi as Stephens has looked great at featherweight while Choi was on a roll before being on the shelf with injuries for more than a year. His last outing? That banger vs. Cub Swanson that snapped an 11-fight win streak. Before that, he had won three straight by first round KO. I’m also interested in how Paige VanZant and Kamaru Usman do.
What fight is a hidden gem?
Paul: The lightweight bout on the prelims between Polo Reyes and the debuting Matt Frevola is one that could steal the show. Anyone who saw Reyes’ UFC 199 prelims fight against the other Dong Hyun Kim will never forget it, one that finished high on many FOY polls in 2016 despite being seen by a limited audience. That makes him a must-see for me any time he fights. In Frevola, he facesan unbeaten prospect who earned a UFC contract on the Dana White Contender series last summer. With eight amateur wins on his record as well, he is on a 14-fight win streak but this will be the biggest test of his career.
Ryan: I don’t know if I would call this a hidden gem, but Kamaru Usman taking on Emil Meek stands out. For all of the talk that Colby Covington and Darren Till get at 170 pounds, Usman might be the most dangerous upcoming contender at welterweight. He has been extremely impressive and has all of the tools to become a future champion in the UFC. While some might see this as a step down for Usman, the unranked Meek is tough even though he has just one UFC fight. This is a sleeper pick for Fight Of The Night.
Josh: The aforementioned Michael Johnson vs. Darren Elkins tilt should be competitive as Elkins is underappreciated due to his style of fighting and littany of decisions while Johnson has the talent but can’t seem to get career momentum going. I don’t think this is a Fight of the Night candidate but should be a good scrap at least.
Why does this show matter?
Ryan: It is going to flesh out some potential contenders in a couple of divisions. If Max Holloway keeps going through challengers, he’s going to need new blood to challenge him with any two of the winners of Stephens, Choi, Elkins and Johnson soon be in contention. The UFC’s newest division, women’s flyweight, will have a couple of new title contenders being added to the mix. There’s no doubt they would like for VanZant to challenge for a title someday, but she has to get past a tough opponent in Clark, who could become the first woman to go 2-0 at 125 pounds in the UFC, and would put her in line. Jessica Eye also debuts at 125 pounds, and a win over Kalindra Faria could put her up in the top five. Eye is in a must-win position, and many fans don’t remember her as the top flyweight in the world before coming to the UFC. She knows she has something to prove, and she is eager to show it.
Paul: There are no immediate title opportunities awaiting the winner of any of Sunday’s fights but that doesn’t mean there are big fights on the show. Johnson desperately needs a win or he could find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to his UFC career. VanZant is very young and still early in her career and if she goes on a win streak, she could be the signature star of the burgeoning UFC women’s flyweight division. Usman, the TUF 21 veteran, has quietly racked up six straight UFC wins (12 in a row) overall and with a main card win here, he may climb into the top five of the division. And of course, the main event could be an early fight of the year contender. The fighter who wins is probably one more big win away from a shot at featherweight champ Max Holloway. UFC probably would hope that would be "The Korean Superboy" as him challenging for the belt would be huge in the Asian market.
Josh: This is a good kickoff for the 2018 calendar, especially on a Sunday night of a holiday weekend. The card has a lot of good establishing fights as we try to figure out where some of the talents fit in their divisional puzzles like Usman, Choi, PVZ, and even Stephens and James Krause to lesser extents. The early prelims are kinda meh for name value outside Eye, in a new division, attempting to avoid her UFC career ending with a fifth straight loss in the Octagon.
Let's pick a few fights.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi
- Choi: Ryan, Paul, Josh
PVZ vs. Jessica Rose-Clark
- PVZ: Josh, Ryan, Paul
Michael Johnson vs. Darren Elkins
- Elkins: Josh, Paul
- Johnson: Ryan
Keep up with our coverage on Sunday night, starting with the Fight Pass prelims. You can watch the other prelims and main card on FS1.