Canadian fight fans are set for a belter this weekend, when UFC on Fox 30 takes place, in Calgary, Alberta. With a main card that gives the next two pay-per-view events a real run for their money, expect to see fireworks from some of the UFC’s most talented and decorated fighters weighing in south of 156 pounds. The card will feature three former title holders on their quest back to championship glory. Former featherweight king, Jose Aldo, is back in business with one last run at the division he dominated from day one. In his way is a resurgent Jeremy Stephens, who is looking to add to his three fight win streak and cement his place at the top of the division.
The inaugural champion at 145 pounds, Aldo was once the most feared fighter of his division. His leg kicks are legendary, as is his status as arguably the greatest featherweight the WEC and UFC has ever seen. He was undefeated for a decade until Conor Mcgregor put him to sleep in the blink of an eye. Sadly, he will be remembered by many for that fight alone and was never given a shot at redemption after the rematch was put off the table. He has fought the best at 145 pounds for longer than anyone else and has never shied away from fighting the scariest the division has to offer him. In Stephens, there is absolutely no exception.
Coincidently, Stephens is probably also best known for an altercation that he had with McGregor. “Lil Heathen” became MMA’s meme of 2016 when McGregor rinsed him for over eagerly explaining to everybody how hard he hits and what happens to those hit in the events afterwards. Stephens actually does his best talking in the octagon and since then has shown that he wasn’t lying in that particular press conference for UFC 205. He has been on a tear ever since, with two out of his last three wins coming from knockout. All three of those fights were awarded either fight of the night or performance of the night bonuses, while his last stoppage over Josh Emmett was one of the most brutal finishes to a fight you will see at featherweight. The dude is a savage.
From never being stopped in the UFC and only suffering one defeat, via submission, in his pro career, Aldo has been KO’d in three of his last four fights. His last win, against Frankie Edgar, came at UFC 200, over two years ago. The last time he beat somebody for the first time was four and a half years ago against Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169. Aldo was the godfather of the previous generation of featherweights who are now making way for the next generation coming through. His chin is not what it used to be, nor is his speed and tenacity. At 31, he is by no means too old to be taken seriously, but his body is showing signs of a warrior that has been through many wars, a man that has fought professionally since the age of 17. It has been a giant fall from grace for the once almighty. I am not writing him off this weekend, but I think his days of competing against the top echelon of the UFC are over.
In contrast, Stephens has found the best form of his career, over the last two years. Only once before has he held a three fight win streak in the UFC, after more than a decade in the promotion. Although older than his opponent this weekend, Stephens is fighting like a hungry up and comer. His one punch knockout power is immense for his size. Coupled with his appetite for finishing fights, he has become a real fan favourite over the years. Fighting Aldo is a step up for him but a logical matchup on his path to featherweight fame. He has lost to Edgar, Max Holloway, Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis over the years – all title holders or challengers in their respective divisions. Will he stumble again when thrown into the deep end? This weekend’s matchup will be his biggest test yet.
Aldo has had trouble with the taller, longer fighters at 145 pounds. He does give up size to Stephens, who has fought at lightweight, and will need to be wary of the range between the two of them and not get sucked into a brawl. One thing that has evaded Aldo in his recent fights has been his strongest weapon over the course of his career – his leg kicks. He can still jab, kick and counterpunch his way to a decision victory but if he gets careless, Stephens will catch him. The bookies are backing Aldo but their fellow fighters think otherwise. This fight could go either way, but I’m behind Stephens to get the W. Aldo just doesn’t look like the same fighter anymore and Stephens is the last guy you want to find yourself out of position or out of breath against. I expect Aldo to start strongly but Stephens will catch him at some point and finish the fight.
Stephens inside the distance.