Jeremy Stephens stepped into the Octagon for the 28th time on Saturday in Orlando, Florida, as he squared off with Team Alpha Male’s Josh Emmett in the UFC on Fox 28 main event. For Stephens, it was a chance to string together three straight wins for the first time since 2014 and inch ever closer to a title shot that has eluded him since he entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship more than a decade ago.
A hard left hook, a controversial knee strike and a few devastating elbows later, Stephens exited the cage one step closer to his goal after picking up the 19th knockout victory of his career.
Both fighters fired quickly. Stephens took the center of the Octagon and immediately began headhunting, as did Emmett. In the middle of the first round, Stephens moved in with a lunging uppercut, and Emmett connected on a short counter right hand that planted “Lil’ Heathen” on the canvas, with Emmett moving in for a kill shot. Emmett managed to land a few good strikes before Stephens stood, his wits seemingly gathered. The round ended with both fighters exchanging kicks and the crowd roaring with anticipation.
Round 2 started similarly, with the two featherweights looking to land heavy shots and end the night early. Stephens landed well with leg kicks, and then, out of nowhere, he countered an overhand right from Emmett with a looping left hook that resulted in a knockdown. Stephens pounced and looked to put out his opponent, raining elbows to the top of Emmett’s head. As Emmett rose to his knees, Stephens threw a glancing knee to his downed counterpart’s head. He then shoved Emmett to his back and uncorked two monstrous elbows that shut out the lights.
Stephens was a ball of energy during his post-fight interview, dropping to his knees and begging UFC brass for a title shot.
Coming Into Focus
Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres locked horns in the co-main event, a three-round fight that would likely determine the No. 1 contender for the UFC women’s strawweight championship. They set a fast-and-furious pace, with Andrade walking down Torres, who played off of her back foot and capitalized on a discernible speed advantage. Early on, she peppered Andrade with accurate punches.
Although Torres was initially successful in the standup exchanges, Andrade’s pace was relentless and her superior strength and grappling skills became more and more obvious as the fight wore on. She planted Torres on her back, worked her ground-and-pound and fished for submissions in all three rounds. Torres remained active off of her back, throwing up an inverted triangle and working back to her feet on multiple occasions. However, her efforts fell short, with Andrade earning a unanimous decision.
A Rash of Upsets
Ilir Latifi faced off with Ovince St. Preux in a light heavyweight showcase that figured to launch the winner into the upper echelon of a division that has been dominated by Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. The encounter ended suddenly, as Latifi flattened St. Preux with a sledgehammer of a left hand and went for the kill. The Swede connected with another left before sinking a tight standing guillotine. St. Preux tapped, but the submission went unseen by the referee, as the former University of Tennessee linebacker slumped to the canvas unconscious upon being released by Latifi. Afterward, Latifi set his sights on Cormier, even though “DC” is preparing for a champion-versus-champion superfight with heavyweight titleholder Stipe Miocic.
Meanwhile, Max Griffin and local favorite Mike Perry battled in an anticipated welterweight feature. Perry entered the cage as a sizeable favorite but could not get the job done. Griffin utilized superior movement and clean, crisp boxing to outstrike Perry, dropping “Platinum Mike” on one occasion and opening multiple cuts on his face. Perry seemed frustrated by the reach advantage Griffin employed and stormed out of the Octagon after winding up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision, leaving his opponent to bask in the glory of the most significant win of his career.
Elsewhere, Brian Kelleher and Renan Barao went to war in the final prelim, and it was hotly contested across three rounds. When all was said and done, Barao could not keep up with the pace Kelleher set, as the former Ring of Combat champion stayed in the Brazilian’s hip pocket and forced him to box moving backward. The bantamweight match reached peak intensity late in the third round, where Barao absorbed a hellacious barrage from Kelleher. When the bell sounded, only the cage stood between “The Baron” and the canvas. Barao has lost four of his last five fights.
Sara McMann was finished in back-to-back bouts for the first time in her career, as the 2004 Olympic silver medalist was caught in a Marion Reneau triangle choke in the second round. Reneau rebounded after dropping Round 1 in decisive fashion ... Former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Angela Hill outstruck Maryna Moroz to a unanimous verdict over three rounds. Hill entered the match on the heels of a decision loss to Nina Ansaroff in November ... Alan Jouban wiped out Ben Saunders with a straight left in the second round of their high-octane collision and afterward called for a future pairing with Donald Cerrone. The win snapped a two-fight losing streak for Jouban ... Sam Alvey knocked out Marcin Prachnio in the opening round of their UFC Fight Pass prelim. Despite being hurt early on, Prachnio marched forward on the hard-hitting Alvey and paid the price. In his post-fight interview, Alvey took aim at Gian Villante, an indication perhaps that the longtime middleweight plans on staying at 205 pounds.