The Film Room: Jeremy Stephens

By Kevin Wilson Sep 18, 2019
Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC on ESPN+ live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

One of the most exciting competitors in Ultimate Fighting Championship history will face off with one of MMA’s most unorthodox strikers when Jeremy Stephens takes on Yair Rodriguez in the UFC Fight Night 159 main event on Saturday in Mexico City. At 33 and with 14 years of professional fighting experience under his belt, Stephens figures to be approaching the tail end of his career. He also lost his last two fights against Zabit Magomedsharipov and Jose Aldo. Nevertheless, Stephens remains one of the hardest hitters in the featherweight division, and a win over the highly touted Rodriguez would undoubtedly keep him in the conversation as a contender. “Lil’ Heathen” earlier in his career was known more for his powerful right hand and a willingness to stand and trade with anyone. Fast forward 10 years, and he has become a calculated and patient striker with brutal power for the 145-pound weight class.

Stephens steps into the spotlight in this edition of The Film Room.

Instead of running forward face first with swinging hooks like before, Stephens now works behind his jab and feints into combos, setting traps for his vaunted right hand. Notice that he only throws two to three strikes at a time before resetting, and he never puts himself out of position to properly defend. Stephens still plods forward and forces exchanges in the pocket, but he takes a more patient and tactical approach akin to the trends of modern MMA. Most fighters that came up in the early 2000s are not around today because they failed to adapt. Stephens grew with the sport and has looked better than ever after a decade with the UFC.

Stephens also does a wonderful job of mixing up his combos in the pocket to the head and body. Early in his career, he was a pure headhunter, but he has since developed into a well-rounded striker who can best opponents in the pocket, at range or in the clinch. With vicious hooks to the head and body in the pocket and leg kicks at range, Stephens can truly pick apart his opponents from head to toe.

Low kicks have always been a staple of Stephens’ offense, but lately, he has shown the ability to mix up the kicks from thigh to ankle. Most low kicks are thrown to the thighs, where they can easily be checked and cause much more pain for the kicker than the receiver. Mixing up the kicks to the calf and ankle not only overwhelms an opponent with options but makes the kick impossible to check and take on the knee. The downside for thigh kicks has always been the chance of kicking the knee, but the only way to check a calf kick is to take it on the ankle or make the kicker miss.

The reckless striking early in his career meant Stephens found himself in the clinch with regularity, and he would hammer in knees to the body. He does not work in the clinch much these days, but opponents do have to watch for the occasional flying knee.

Stephens spent most of his career at lightweight and did not move to the 145-pound class until 2013. He was known for his incredible power at lightweight, but at featherweight, his ability to finish the fight with one punch may be second to none. Half of his wins at 145 pounds have been highlight-reel finishes, and his opponents are visibly taken aback when they first feel his power. This finishing ability, along with newfound tactical striking, makes Stephens a matchup nightmare for anybody in the division. Advertisement


Comments powered by Disqus
<h2>Fight Finder</h2>