UFC 215: Johnson vs. Borg
Date: September 9, 2017
Arena: Rogers Place
City: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Gilbert Melendez (-115) vs. Jeremy Stephens (+105)
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will be in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for the first time in promotional history with UFC 215: Johnson vs. Borg. The 12 fight card will kick off with preliminary action on UFC Fight Pass at 6:15 p.m. ET, and prelims will continue on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m., with the main card getting underway at 10 p.m. on Pay Per View. Kicking off the main card will be a featherweight tilt between former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez and longtime UFC veteran Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens, with Melendez being -115 ($115 to win $100) and Stephens being +105 ($100 to win $105) at Several Bookmakers.
Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez (22-6 MMA, 1-4 UFC) is dropping down to the UFC’s featherweight division, following a three fight skid inside the Octagon. He has not seen action in more than a year and recently finished serving his suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. After a year away from the cage, he is ready to return to the win column in his new home of 145-pounds. Welcoming him to the division is fellow former lightweight Stephens, who is no easy picnic for anyone at featherweight. Melendez is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has an excellent submission game, though he only owns one submission victory in his 28-pro fight career. It is also worth noting that he is much more effective with his Jiu-Jitsu from top position and is not nearly as talented off his back. Opponents with a solid top game could take advantage of his subpar guard, but getting there is a tough task, as Melendez possesses tremendous takedown defense, and when taken down, does a fantastic job of quickly working his way back to his feet. The California native much prefers to keep the fight on the feet, as he is an excellent striker. He has great boxing skills and is very effective with his punches. His technique is very good and he has the punching power to go with it, so that makes him a threat on the feet. “El Nino” also has excellent wrestling skills; he works great takedowns and has a solid top game, where he does a good job of staying heavy and working his ground and pound. Melendez used to have very good cardio, but it has been hit or miss at this stage in his career. He will likely have enough in the tank for a full 15 minutes of action, but he may be at somewhat of a cardio disadvantage heading into this contest, especially considering the fact that it is his first cut to 145-pounds.
Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens (25-14 MMA, 12-12 UFC) is coming off a split decision loss to Renato Moicano at UFC on FOX 23 four months ago and is currently on a two fight losing streak inside the Octagon. Stephens is a solid grappler who comes from a high school wrestling background and owns a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He works good takedowns, has a heavy top game and a vicious ground and pound attack. He generally looks for a T/KO finish but is also capable of ending the fight with a submission, though not having recorded an official tapout victory in over a decade. The 31 year old’s striking has really developed and he has become dangerous on the feet for just about anybody at 145-pounds. He packs a lot of power in his hands, being one of the hardest hitting featherweights in the division. The same goes for his kicks, as was evident with his knockout of TUF: Brazil winner Rony Jason. Stephens is generally well-conditioned, so I expect him to have enough in the tank for a full three rounds of action, should this fight reach the judges’ scorecards for a decision.
Gabe’s Thoughts: I see value in Melendez at -115, as I think he should be a -180 betting favorite in this contest. This is his drop to 145-pounds and I favor him to have an impressive showing against Stephens. I think Melendez has advantages in both striking and grappling heading into this bout, so as long as he does not get caught with a fight-ending shot, he should be en route to a unanimous decision victory, potentially securing a finish of his own along the way. He does have quite a good chin, so I don’t expect Stephens to put him away, despite being one of the heaviest hitters in the division.
Gabe’s Call: Melendez by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Gabe’s Recommended Play: Melendez (-115)