Jeremy Stephens was an afterthought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight division less than a year ago. That narrative has changed.
Stephens pushed his run of consecutive victories to three, as he dispatched Team Alpha Male’s Josh Emmett with punches and elbows in the second round of their UFC on Fox 28 main event on Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. The end came 1:35 into Round 2, and it was not without controversy.
Emmett fired a shot across the Alliance MMA rep’s bow in the first round, where he deposited “Lil’ Heathen” on the canvas with a counter right hook. The notoriously durable Stephens -- he has been knocked out once in 41 professional bouts -- was undeterred. He withstood Emmett’s follow-up attacks, returned to his feet and kept his hands busy. In the second round, Stephens floored the Californian with a left hook, paired it with thudding elbows and lost control of an errant knee strike that appeared to ricochet off the downed Emmett’s head. Referee Dan Miragliotta did not address the apparent foul, as Stephens charged forward with ruthless elbows, one of which knocked Emmett unconscious.
In the aftermath of UFC on Fox 28 “Emmett vs. Stephens,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Jeremy Stephens vs. Chan Sung Jung: While Stephens fancies himself a title contender at 145 pounds, a significant line has formed behind undisputed champion Max Holloway. Brian Ortega and Frankie Edgar will lock horns at UFC 222 on March 3, with the winner all but assured of moving on to challenge Holloway for divisional gold. That likely leaves Stephens with more work to do. Jung last competed at UFC Fight Night 104 in February 2017, when he returned from a three-year absence to knockout Dennis Bermudez in stirring fashion. He underwent reconstructive knee surgery after suffering an injury in training a few months later.
Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas-Joanna Jedrzejczyk winner: Andrade has become one of the bulls in the strawweight china shop. In her latest effort, the Parana Vale Tudo star overcame a slow start to overpower and ultimately overwhelm Tecia Torres across three rounds. Andrade went 10-for-12 on takedowns and outlanded “The Tiny Tornado” by a 151-88 margin, according to preliminary FightMetric data. The unanimous decision moved the Brazilian to 2-0 since she lost on points to Jedrzejczyk in May. Namajunas will defend the women’s strawweight championship in a rematch with Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223 on April 7.
Ilir Latifi vs. Glover Teixeira: Latifi recorded his first submission in nearly four years, as he choked Ovince St. Preux unconscious with a standing guillotine in the first round of their light heavyweight showcase. The powerful Swede sent St. Preux tumbling backward with a left hook, followed up with punches and dropped him again with another left hook. Latifi locked the choke in place during the subsequent scramble and tightened his squeeze until the former University of Tennessee linebacker went limp. The aptly named “Sledgehammer” has rattled off five wins in six appearances. Teixeira last fought at UFC on Fox 26 in December, when he disposed of Misha Cirkunov with first-round punches.
Alan Jouban vs. Curtis Millender: Still trying to find out where he fits in the welterweight puzzle, Jouban threw the brakes on a two-fight losing streak with a sensational second-round knockout of Ben Saunders on the undercard. The 36-year-old Lafayette, Louisiana, native broke down Saunders with well-executed leg kicks, combination punching and devastating standing elbows. A straight left separated “The Ultimate Fighter 7” alum from his senses 2:26 into Round 2, giving Jouban his first finish since March 2016. Millender made his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 126, where he knocked out former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves with a crushing knee strike on Feb. 18. The 30-year-old Bellator MMA veteran has won seven fights in a row.
Max Griffin vs. Niko Price: Griffin showed off the skills and resolve that paved his way to the UFC, as the former Tachi Palace Fights champion laid claim to a unanimous decision over Mike Perry in their welterweight feature. Scores were 29-27, 29-27 and 30-27. Griffin utilized superior speed and technique, racing out to a two-rounds-to-none lead -- he nearly prompted a stoppage with a straight right-left hook combination in the second round -- before hanging on through some late adversity. Price last competed at UFC on Fox 27 in January, when he improved to 11-1 and submitted George Sullivan with a second-round rear-naked choke.