MMAOB staff writer Adam Martin takes a deeper look at the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 17, a five-round featherweight bout between Jeremy Stephens and Yair Rodriguez. The event takes place Saturday, September 21 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico.
Jeremy Stephens (-115)
Stephens (28-16) is one of the longest-tenured veterans in the UFC featherweight division. The 33-year-old American has a 15-15 overall record in the UFC since beginning his Octagon career back in 2007. He’s fought the who’s who of both the UFC lightweight and featherweight divisions and has become a fan favorite over the years due to his exciting fighting style. Since moving down to 145lbs in 2013, Stephens has an 8-7 record. Stephens has notable featherweight wins over Josh Emmett, Gilbert Melendez and Renan Barao, with losses to the likes of Jose Aldo, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar. Stephens is a powerful striker who is known for being durable and putting on good fights. He is usually in competitive fights and hangs in there as long as he can, but his .500 UFC record paints him more as a gatekeeper than as a legitimate contender at 145lbs. That being said, Stephens has a big fan in UFC president Dana White, who always puts him in big fights like this. Even though Stephens is coming off of two losses, he can jump right back into title contention with a big win over Rodriguez in his home country of Mexico. This is a huge fight for Stephens, and a win would be huge for his career.
Yair Rodriguez (-105)
Rodriguez (11-2) is the former Ultimate Fighter Latin America winner and a top prospect at 145lbs. The 26-year-old Mexican is coming off of one of the best fights in UFC history against Chan Sung Jung, winning with one second left in the fifth round by elbow KO. Rodriguez has looked amazing in the UFC for the most part, save for a TKO loss to Frankie Edgar. Otherwise he’s looked absolutely fantastic with wins over the likes of Dan Hooker, BJ Penn and Andrei Fili. Rodriguez is a dynamic talent who has tremendous striking skills and legitimate knockout power. He is still young and improving, and is coming into this fight with all sorts of momentum after the amazing Jung fight. Rodriguez will look to take the next step in his career and become a title contender here with a big win over Stephens in his home country of Mexico. If he can get the win, especially if it’s in devastating fashion, calls for Rodriguez to get fast-tracked to a title shot will be high.
Fight Breakdown: The UFC continues its string of strong main events with a terrific battle between featherweight studs Stephens and Rodriguez. Stephens is a long-time veteran of the Octagon but he continues to evolve his game and remain relevant 13 years after his UFC debut. As for Rodriguez, he’s been a top prospect at 145lbs for five years now and is finally turning into an actual contender. Both men are known for putting on exciting fights, and this one shouldn’t be any different. That being said, I like Rodriguez here. He’s the younger fighter, the more dynamic fighter, hasn’t taken as much damage, has more momentum coming into this fight, and should get a boost fighting in his native Mexico. This is a close fight but I think Rodriguez should be the betting favorite based on all those factors. I believe at the end of 25 minute, Rodriguez will be the more effective striker and take home a decision, and get one step closer to a title shot at 145lbs.
Prediction: Yair Rodriguez wins via decision