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UFC St. Louis predictions

The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The first UFC event of 2018 is here, and the promotion is starting the new year on the right foot. In the headlining slot of UFC St. Louis, exciting brawlers Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi collide in a significant featherweight bout. This Sunday’s event also has plenty of other attractions, as it features the flyweight debut of Paige VanZant, an important welterweight bout in Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Meek, and an interesting fight pitting Michael Johnson, who makes his featherweight debut, against contender Darren Elkins.

What: UFC St. Louis (UFC Fight Night 124)

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Mo.

When: Sunday, Jan. 14. The three-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, the four-fight FOX Sports 1 preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the four-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET also on FOX Sports 1.

Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi

This could very well be the Fight of the Night, or maybe even the Fight of the Year. Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi is a fantastic featherweight match up that pits together two exciting brawlers.

Jeremy Stephens looked amazing in his last outing. He scored a dominant decision win over former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez in what was one of the best performances of Stephens’ career. In that match, we saw an improved Stephens. “Lil Heathen” fought composed, but still managed to keep his fun style. Stephens showed quickness in his striking and an improved fight IQ.

Doo Ho Choi is an interesting fighter. Choi fights stiff with his striking and uses very little head movement or footwork. The South Korean fighter likes to stick behind his jab and wait for opponents to attack him so he can use his speed to get out of the way and come back with a counter. Choi is very calculated with his strikes and keeps a solid pace.

This fight is probably going to stay standing most of the time. I think this will be a difficult battle for Choi. “The Korean Superboy” stands heavy on his front leg and that’s not a good thing to do against someone who can kick like Stephens. I also think that Choi is very hittable and Stephens just happens to be a heavy puncher. I think the veteran will cause the most damage here and have the more significant shots of the fight.

Pick: Stephens

Paige VanZant vs. Jessica-Rose Clark

This will likely be a very close fight and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the course of 15 minutes. Paige VanZant and Jessica-Rose Clark are evenly matched.

VanZant has shown to have two different sides to her fighting style. She can be a tough, gritty brawler or a very patient and more technical striker. With either style, VanZant is still a tough fighter who is very well-rounded. Meanwhile, Clark is a tough fighter possessing good movement and striking, and a solid grappling game. Clark is also strong for the division and fights at a good pace.

I’m having a tough time making a pick here. VanZant has the better and faster movement on the feet — she’s a bit more active on the feet than Clark. But on the other hand, Clark seems a bit stronger and a more composed. As far as skill level, I see them being on similar levels. To me this one is a coin flip, but I slightly favor Clark. I think she might be able to be dominant enough to win a close decision.

Pick: Clark

Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Meek

This fight is very much flying under the radar. But depending on how things shake out, we might get a new top title contender.

Kamaru Usman has been on a roll. The Nigerian fighter has yet to taste defeat in the Octagon, as he’s 6-0 in the promotion. Usman has proven to be a very dominant grappler with great wrestling and control. Usman has also shown improved striking, as seen in his most recent bout against Sérgio Moraes.

On the other hand, Emil Meek is a very different fighter than Usman. Meek is a powerful and sometimes wild striker who likes to put pressure on his opponents. Meek is also a good wrestler and a solid grappler, but maybe not on the level of Usman.

I think Meek has plenty of power and can stop many top guys at 170 pounds. However, I find Usman far too savvy and technical to lose against Meek. I think Usman will out-grapple and control Meek for three rounds.

Pick: Usman

Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson

Longtime UFC lightweight contender Michael Johnson will now be displaying his skills at 145 pounds. Johnson will be making his featherweight debut against one of the toughest guys in the division, Darren Elkins.

Normally, I’m not always a fan of fighters dropping down in weight class. But in this case, I think this is a smart move by Johnson. I feel like “The Menace” could do well and possibly become a serious contender at 145 pounds. Johnson has great, powerful striking and solid takedown defense. Johnson is also very tough and quick in his movement.

Elkins is not super impressive in any specific area of the game, but he could very well be the toughest guy in the division. Elkins is gritty and likes to fight in close quarters. The Team Alpha Male fighter has strong grappling with a solid wrestling base. “The Damage” can hold his own on the feet and carries a granite chin.

This is a really interesting fight, and maybe my favorite of the card. Elkins is carrying a great deal of momentum and seems to be better than ever. Still, I find Johnson to be far too dangerous on the feet for Elkins. I see Johnson landing often on Elkins, while avoiding his grappling attempts. If this were a five-round fight, I’d think Elkins would have good chance of winning. But in three rounds, I think Johnson should be able to get a dominant win.

Pick: Johnson


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Matt Frevola def. Marco Polo Reyes

Kalindra Faria def. Jessica Eye

Irene Aldana def. Talita Bernardo

Guido Cannetti def. Kyung Ho Kang

JJ Aldrich def. Danielle Taylor

Mike Santiago def. Mads Burnell

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