You don’t want to call Jeremy Stephens a gatekeeper, per se, since he’s still got power that can knock out anyone in the UFC’s featherweight division.
And yet a victory over one of the company’s most durable fighters is a solid indicator you have a solid future at 145 pounds.
Such was the case on Saturday night at UFC 235, as Zabit Magomedsharipov scored the biggest win of his career. The Dagestani featherweight was strong in the first two rounds and held off Stephens’ third-round surge as he went to a unanimous-decision victory in the featured ESPN prelim bout. The judges scores at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas were 29-28 across the board.
“Jeremy is a very tough opponent,” Magomedsharipov said through an interpreter. “He has lots of experience in the UFC and I think this is a good step up for me.”
The opening round was the fight’s closest. Stephens connected on power shots and low kicks. Magomedsharipov, however, landed with a variety strikes, and nearly connected on an attempted Showtime kick off the cage in the round’s closing seconds.
The second round was clear-cut for the Dagestani fighter, as he landed heavier shots (including his second low blow of the fight), scored takedowns, and stayed atop his opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov-style. There was a shoving match between the duo after the horn which was quickly separated.
In the final round, Stephens, who had been outstuck on about a 2-to-1 basis over the first two rounds, picked up the pace and started connecting again with his power punches. While that was enough to win the round, he didn’t come close to a finish, which he would have needed on the scorecards.
With the win, Magomedsharipov (17-1) has won 13 consecutive fights. He’s 5-0 in the UFC, and that five-fight win streak puts him second behind champion Max Holloway’s 12 for longest current string at 145 pounds.
Stephens (28-16) has lost two in a row.