UFC Fight Night Breakdown: The Main Card

Lauzon vs. Stephens

With the clock ticking towards the Spike TV broadcast of UFC Fight Night 17 this Saturday at the Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla., the main card looks like one of the best to grace our television sets in some time. There are no pound-for-pound stalwarts, but four first-class features await the mixed martial arts faithful.

Joe Lauzon will anchor the bill and match his quicksilver submissions against the tactical nukes the government implanted in Jeremy Stephens’ fists. The return of heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez backs up the headliners, along with a lightweight tilt between “The Ultimate Fighter 6” winner Mac Danzig and unauthorized dentistry enthusiast Josh Neer.

Main Event
Joe Lauzon vs. Jeremy Stephens

Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 5’10/155 lbs.
Age: 24
Hometown: East Bridgewater, Mass.
Fighting out of: Bridgewater, Mass.
Record: 17-4

The breakdown: This fight presents some unique challenges for Lauzon. In order to succeed, he has to ditch his multi-faceted style in favor of a more straightforward ground-centric strategy. While Lauzon had success standing against former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver, Stephens has the kind of kill-shot power that can turn jaws into jigsaw puzzles. That Lauzon must hone in on the other part of Stephens’ game makes this tall task seem downright Herculean.

While Lauzon certainly has the game to make Stephens play the three-tap symphony, he also needs to corral him by maintaining a strong base on the ground. In his bout with Cole Miller at UFC Fight Night 12, Stephens preyed on Miller’s willingness to surrender position in favor of submissions and eventually used that strategic mistake to cave in Miller’s head. As long as Lauzon stays disciplined and uses positioning to set up his submissions, he will have Stephens’ number.

The X-Factor: Typically, Lauzon stays on his feet until his opponent gives him a reason not to. However, waiting around to see if Stephens will send his head into orbit is not the wisest approach in the world, and it could sound Lauzon’s death knell if he chooses to go that route. Keep a close eye on this one early; if Lauzon does not come out thinking takedown, get ready for a sneak preview of the new “Friday the 13th.”

Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens Scouting Report
Ht/Wt: 5’9/155 lbs.
Age: 22
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa
Fighting out of: Des Moines, Iowa
Record: 14-3

The breakdown: No one can argue that Stephens has that rare blend of speed, power and sociopathic rage that turns his opponents into knockout victims in the making. However, his takedown defense is about as effective as anything pushed on an infomercial. With that in mind, Stephens has to come in prepared to force Lauzon into scrambles on the mat.

The downside is Lauzon’s penchant for snatching speedy submissions, but Stephens’ striking on the ground is every bit as dangerous as it is standing. Keeping the pressure on Lauzon when he has him standing will be critical for Stephens, along with establishing that he can hurt the Massachusetts native on the ground. In short, Stephens needs to show he can survive in the grappler-heavy lightweight division.

The X-Factor: A short-notice replacement for the injured Hermes Franca, it’s difficult to handicap how Stephens will react to being thrown into the main event without a normal training camp. Stephens is at his best when he goes for broke, so if he appears to err on the side of caution early, start worrying.

* * *

The bottom line: The disparity in the submission and striking departments is obvious, but Stephens’ wrestling remains an Achilles’ heel. That makes it hard to imagine Lauzon would walk right into the lion’s den and hand Stephens his only shot at winning. Instead, Stephens will spend a short evening on the ground, and Lauzon will walk away with another submission skin for his collection.
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