The featherweight no one wants to fight finally has a bout agreement in place, and I’ll give my thoughts on this new matchup in today’s MMA odds and ends.
Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Jeremy Stephens, UFC 235
Rising featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov will battle veteran Jeremy Stephens at UFC 235, which is set for March 2 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bout was first reported by ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, and the UFC later made it official. Even before the UFC confirmed the bout, it should be noted Stephens posted a photo of him and Magomedsharipov on Instagram, so clearly he is excited to fight the man no one else wants to fight.
Magomedsharipov (16-1) is riding a 12-fight win streak overall and he’s 4-0 so far to start his UFC career. After picking up back-to-back submission wins over Mike Santiago and Sheymon Moraes, Magomedsharipov defeated Kyle Bochniak via decision in one of 2018’s best fights. He then picked up a kneebar submission over late-notice replacement Brandon Davis in his last fight. No one wants to fight Magomedsharipov because there’s little upside to fighting him. Everyone knows how talented he is but he’s only ranked 15th in the UFC’s rankings and so beating him wouldn’t boost the stock of anyone ranked above him. But the UFC did find a taker in Stephens, who has proven he’s a warrior and will fight anyone the UFC asks him to.
Stephens (28-15) is 15-14 overall in the UFC dating back to 2007. He has been one of the most active fighters in the Octagon at both 145lbs and 155lbs, though he’s always been more-or-less a gatekeeper rather than a bonafide contender. After three straight wins Stephens got a huge step up in competition his last time out against Jose Aldo, but he didn’t live up to the challenge as he was brutally knocked out by Aldo in the first round. Stephens is still one of the best featherweights in the world, but at this point I think we can all agree he’s more of a gatekeeper than a legitimate contender.
Still, Stephens is the best fighter Magomedsharipov has fought to date, and this should be a great fight for as long as it lasts. Stephens is incredibly durable, but he did show against Aldo that he (like anyone) can be knocked out. Magomedsharipov hasn’t really shown off his striking yet in the UFC but back in ACB he had multiple knockouts so he definitely has power. Odds are though that he will look to take Stephens down and smother him on the ground. Although I think Stephens will put up a good fight, I’d still favor Magomedsharipov quite a bit here.
Marina Rodriguez vs. Alexa Grasso Scratched
Just a small note here, as a women’s strawweight bout between Marina Rodriguez and Alexa Grasso, which was set for UFC on ESPN+ 2 in February in Brazil, has been scrapped due to an injury to Rodriguez. MMAFighting.com confirmed the cancellation of the bout. UFC officials have not yet said whether or not Grasso will still fight on ths card or be booked for another event.