UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Sunday’s UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi card in St. Louis, Missouri. The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for (what’s left of) UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi in St. Louis, Missouri. Only Phil Mackenzie and Fraser Coffeen are going for Jeremy Stephens to knock off Doo Ho Choi in the main event, while opinion is fairly divided on the new co-main event of Paige VanZant and Jessica-Rose Clark. For the record, only Fraser Coffeen was intending to pick Vitor Belfort to beat Uriah Hall, and the majority of us were picking Zak Cummings to beat Thiago Alves.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Note 2: BE moderator and St. Louis native Derek Schott joins us as a guest fight prognosticator.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi
Mookie Alexander: The Stephens who beat up on Gilbert Melendez was so disciplined, composed, and varied his attacks beautifully. My problem with Jeremy Stephens is how often he gets frustrated by fighters with good footwork and elusiveness, as it makes his game fall apart. The Choi-Swanson fight may give off the impression that Choi is a reckless brawler, but his game is more nuanced than that, and it’s not crazy to believe he’s actually the better striker. We could see this be a slow simmer, then slowly heat up, and Choi’s firepower will cause Stephens to fall. Despite Stephens’ reputation, he only has three stoppage wins for the whole of the 2010s. The Korean Superboy is the more potent offensive threat, and Stephens is unlikely to take him down, so this will stay on the feet for awhile and he’s going to crack Lil’ Heathen. Doo Ho Choi TKO, round 4.
Derek Schott: This fight is really something of a toss up for me. I want to favor Stephens because he hasn’t spent the last year on the shelf like Choi and he handed Gilbert Melendez his own ass (well leg actually) a few months ago, so that buys a lot of goodwill in my book. But Choi is a good number of years younger with a solid chin and judging by his fight with Swanson, he’s really dangerous on the feet. That makes me think his youth and durability along with Stephen’s inconsistency over the last few years will lead to a violent and quick end to this fight. Choi by TKO.
Fraser Coffeen: Great, great fight here. I love it. To me the difference maker will be the 5 rounds. Stephens has been stopped by strikes exactly once in his career – he’s an incredibly durable fighter, and I’m not sure I see Choi having the firepower to put him down. So over the course of 5 rounds, I see Stephens being able to grind his way to the advantage in enough rounds to get the win. Choi will probably have some big moments, but Stephens sticks in this and plays the veteran role to take the win. Jeremy Stephens, Dec
Zane Simon: Stephens is the craftier, more experienced fighter, but I don’t actually buy that he just has the right tools to shut Dooho down. Long story short, while Dooho hasn’t beat someone on Stephens’ level, Stephens also hasn’t beat a striker all that similar to Dooho Choi. And while Stephens is a vaunted power puncher, he doesn’t KO all that many people. His path to victory will likely have to be built around scaring off a Dooho early and keeping pressure high all fight. And I don’t think Stephens’ relatively low output power style is built to do that. I could see him cracking Dooho in round 1, maybe even putting a real scare in him, but eventually I think Dooho’s pace gets to him. Dooho Choi via TKO round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: Choi seems like the crisper striker with better accuracy that exerts less effort. His ability to follow a punching combination to a knee as his opponent changes levels or ducks out is great. He’ll finish a combination, ease up for a split second and strings together another one to keep his opponent on his back foot. Stephens is the harder hitter, but it takes him a while to get his opponent to react to his feints the way he wants them too in order to blast them. Choi isn’t just able to take a shot, he’s more than willing to do so. It works against him, but won’t get him in too much trouble. At least not this time. Doo Ho Choi by TKO.
Staff picking Stephens: Phil, FraserStaff picking Choi: Bissell, Nick, Derek, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Stephie, Dayne, Victor
Paige VanZant vs. Jessica-Rose Clark
Mookie Alexander: Sentimentally I really would love for Clark to win considering she just had her home burglarized (and her cat died as a result of the incident). This is a fight she absolutely can win, as VanZant has just not been impressive on a fight-to-fight basis since beating Felice Herrig. I think what we see is VanZant losing the striking exchanges but still being able to get the fight on the ground in pockets and doing her best work there. It’ll be a close bout, but I think VanZant will eke out a win. Paige VanZant by split decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Clark’s really hit a nice stride since dropping to flyweight, winning two straight and edging a split decision against Bec Rawlings in her last outing. Her takedown defense is serviceable, but she’s a bit slow on her sprawls. Her striking is a bit more measured than Paige’s, but not enough to avoid getting countered or in an ugly firefight. This will likely be a grinding affair as Paige presses against the cage most of the time in an attempt to chain takedowns, with Jess landing strikes at close quarters and having to deal with knees to her legs and body. The judges give Paige the edge in a close one. Paige VanZant by split decision.
Derek Schott: There’s more than a few variables at play here that make me very hesitant to pick PVZ. First, what is Paige going to look like after being out for a year? What about that back injury she suffered a few months ago? Ask Derrick Lewis how that can crop up again out of nowhere. How good is her new training camp going to be compared to Alpha Male? And on top of all that, she’s moving up in weight for this fight. Meanwhile Clark did miss weight in her last fight, but it was a short notice one and she’s been the far more active of the two in the last 12 months. So because she has fewer question marks floating around her, Clark by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: Neither is what I’d describe as a complete fighter at this stage, but the main things which stand out are as follows: PVZ is a better natural athlete, but Clark’s recent progression curve blows Paige’s out of the water. When was the last time Paige looked… well, good, or improved even? I didn’t think she was beating Bec Rawlings before she just spammed a bunch of jumping switch kicks and Rawlings walked into one. Conversely, JRC has shown visible development as a striker, building into a solid kickboxing presence who feeds a steady diet of hooks, jabs and leg kicks. VanZant’s endless cardio is an interesting x-factor if she can force the bigger Clark into tie-ups repeatedly, but Jessica-Rose Clark by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I really want to pick Jessy-Jess here. She’s a much more consistent striker, and more situationally aware fighter in general. She does well fighting off her back foot, and dipping in and out of the pocket with power strikes. However, every reasonable athlete with a grappling/wrestling game she’s faced has beat her. Even Bec Rawlings almost got a split decision and had no trouble getting her down early. Paige VanZant may have to eat some tough shots to wake up and start wrestling, but Clark isn’t a KO artist, Paige VanZant by decision.
Staff picking VanZant: Bissell, Nick, Victor, Fraser, Mookie, ZaneStaff picking Clark: Derek, Phil, Tim, Stephie, Dayne
Kamaru Usman vs. Emil Weber Meek
Mookie Alexander: Meek has the power to possibly bother Usman on the feet, but Kamaru is such a stout wrestler with outstanding top control and strength that I struggle to see Meek having much of a chance outside of a KO. Kamaru Usman by TKO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Recency bias is a wild thing. Usman has looked unstoppable as of late with his explosiveness and physicality. Meek has the power to put him away, and all fights start standing. He’s gotta land that shot first, and Usman fights smart enough to avoid big damage and negate the range. Usman’s fought guys that are big for the weight class, but Meek hasn’t fought anyone near the level of wrestling technique or athleticism. That pace will wear him down. Kamaru Usman by late TKO.
Phil Mackenzie: I have no idea why the UFC was so utterly set on this fight. Regardless of whether Meek pulls it off, Usman simply deserved someone higher up the food-chain, and the organization’s inability or unwillingness to push him is frankly a bit embarrassing. Meek is a solid physical presence who reminds a little of a more wrestling-focused Bryan Barberena. He’s very tough, keeps a consistent pace in the clinch, and has decent power. Usman is likely at least as strong as him, has a deeper technical wrestling game, and while he looked concerningly hittable in that fight with Moraes, he also showed a rock-solid chin and just punches straighter than Meek does. Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Meek’s need to charge at people winging power shots makes him perfect fodder to get taken down early and often on the way to a one-sided unanimous decision loss. Maybe even a TKO loss. Kamaru Usman by decision.
Derek Schott: I can only recall seeing Usman’s last fight and zero of Meek’s. Usman by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Usman: Bissell, Nick, Usman, Victor, Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Derek, Stephie, DayneStaff picking Meek:
Darren Elkins vs. Michael Johnson
Mookie Alexander: Michael Johnson should win this. He’s a slick, fast striker with the power to put the historically tough Elkins away. Michael Johnson is also a maddeningly inconsistent fighter who cannot help but fight the type of fight his opponent wants. I’m also a little concerned that his weight cut talk may lead him to look a little labored in the later rounds if he doesn’t get the finish. Elkins will just find some absurd way to grind out a win despite a slow start. Darren Elkins by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: It’s hard to think of a fight which seems to lend itself more to being more of a bout of two halves than this one does. Johnson seems almost certain to put an otherworldly beating on Elkins for the early part, then similarly likely to get dragged down, discouraged, and ground on for the latter end. Elkins is absolutely someone where you need to stay away from fighting his fight, and Johnson has increasingly shown virtually no ability to not get sucked into whatever his opponents want. I also think that his typically huge speed advantage and good cardio will be shaved down by the weight cut. Darren Elkins by unanimous decision.
Derek Schott: If this was the BECW, I would do the smart thing and not pick the guy who’s lost four of his last five fights, I’d go with the guy who’s on a five fight win streak. But this isn’t the BECW so I don’t have to use any of that pesky logic and reasoning. Now that this fight is on the main card where it should have been, I really hope he’s able to put on a show for his hometown, gets his hand raised, and I get to yell “St. Louis represent!”. Johnson by first round inverted kimura triangle.
Zane Simon: I’m with Phil, and I could easily see Johnson staying evasive enough to just turn this into a 3 round ass kicking (maybe even a KO), but I just can’t trust that given the weight drop and the seeming lack of prep for it. Maybe that’s all just mind games to get everyone thinking he’s set himself up to fail, but even if it were I could see it costing him as Elkins gets a body lock and starts sucking the life from him. Darren Elkins by split decision (could be a draw if Johnson beats him badly enough early).
Staff picking Elkins: Bissell, Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Stephie, DayneStaff picking Johnson: Nick, Derek
James Krause vs. Alex White
Phil Mackenzie: I like James Krause. He’s a clever, weird fighter who throws a ton of volume and has an sneaky trip takedown and submission game. His main issue has been a chronic lack of power, so bigger and stronger people just march him down with either strikes or grappling. Alex White’s issue has been his lack of wrestling defense, and while he’s improved technically enough that I’d favour him over the rather pillowfisted Krause in a boxing match, Krause has historically been a bit too tricky for fighters as predictable as White. James Krause by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: If I thought Alex White could consistently stop shots and stay upright I’d pick him here. He’s the much more committed power striker and Krause has a tendency to spar in the cage. But, Krause is just too flowy and willing to change gears and White’s takedown defense has rarely looked better than sub par. James Krause by decision.
Staff picking Krause: Nick, Fraser, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Derek, Stephie, Dayne, VictorStaff picking White: Bissell
Matt Frevola vs. Marco Polo Reyes
Phil Mackenzie: On the feet, Frevola sort of reminds me of Reyes at an earlier stage of his career. Big punches, big movements, tough, aggressive, and keeps a pace. I think that Reyes has improved a bit beyond that stage, though. He’s much more capable of exchanging in layers and working in combination, has fixed up a bit on his woeful defense, and keeps his eyes on shots. That he got KOd by James Vick is not a major knock on his boxing skills. Frevola’s takedowns are a major threat, but this should be a firefight, whatever happens. Marco Polo Reyes by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: I really want to pick up what Phil is putting down here. I like Reyes’ game a lot. He’s shown improved movement, some good combinations, he scrambles well. But, I also feel like he’s constantly trying to check himself from being a wild power brawler that gets worked over by anyone who isn’t instantly physically overwhelmed by him and can do more than brawl. Frevola will likely trade hands for a bit and play the coin-flip power shots game, but he’s a much more dedicated wrestler and top position grappler and between his own punching power and pressure and his ability to mix in wrestling and grappling, I think he’ll win this. Matt Frevola by submission, round 2.
Staff picking Frevola: Nick, Zane, Derek, Dayne, VictorStaff picking Reyes: Bissell, Phil, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Stephie
Jessica Eye vs. Kalindra Faria
Fraser Coffeen: I don’t have a ton of confidence in Faria, but honestly, I just can’t pick Eye at this stage. She’s lost 4 straight, coming in off a 16 month layoff, and hasn’t won in over 3 years. And prior to THAT win she hadn’t won in over a year either. Sounds like a perfect pick for Cyborg’s next opponent to me! Kalindra Faria, Dec
Phil Mackenzie: I actually thought Jessica Eye looked better than expected in her last fight. Considering this was a decision loss to an athletically atrocious late starter with less experience and no prior base, that’s not the ringing endorsement that it should be. On the other hand, Kalindra Faria looked absolutely terrible against Borella, but she’s tough and keeps a decent pace and I’m willing to chalk the loss up to octagon jitters to at least some extent because I don’t want to pick Jessica Eye any more and YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. Kalindra Faria by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Eye should probably win this just on size and physicality, but she probably won’t. When it comes to implementing a functional game plan and sticking to it, Faria is just better. Eye couldn’t make her obvious gifts count against Bethe Correia, no reason to think a more capable athlete is going to be easier to overwhelm. Kalindra Faria by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I remember not long ago, Eye was in favor of a 125lb division but wouldn’t fight in it because the cut would be too much. Now she’s fighting at 125 against a capable striker that uses her mid-range very well and has good defensive instincts, and won’t be bullied around. Not only that, she’s on a major losing skid and hasn’t really shown the level of promise that was expected of her based on potential not long ago. I’m not saying she’s not good, nor am I saying she can’t win this fight. Given her performances as of late, I can’t trust her to pick her to win this. Kalindra Faria by decision.
Staff picking Eye: Tim, DayneStaff picking Faria: Bissell, Nick, Fraser, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Derek, Stephie, Victor
Irene Aldana vs. Talita Bernardo
Zane Simon: Bernardo likely gets an early takedown, has a scrambling grappling match with Aldana for a round, gets tired, and starts getting lit up standing. Irene Aldana via TKO round 3.
Phil Mackenzie: Bernardo is just a somewhat outdated fighter archetype. Aldana has been on the end of some tough fights where she’s been on the end of the “fighting the veteran at their own game” matchup. Bernardo just isn’t a consistent enough wrestler for me to think she’ll be able to overcome the massive volume and striking skill discrepancy. Irene Aldana by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Bernardo is probably a more well-rounded athlete, but her striking is way behind Aldana’s. It’s also going to be a long night for both of them of Bernardo takes her down, because Aldana’s defense is good, as is her ability to get back up. Unless this becomes an ugly slog where Bernardo uses her top half guard to control without much else, Irene should have this in the bag. Irene Aldana by TKO.
Staff picking Aldana: Bissell, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Derek, Stephie, Dayne, VictorStaff picking Bernardo:
Guido Cannetti vs. Kyung Ho Kang
Phil Mackenzie: All depends how Kang looks coming from his time off. Before he went to the army, he was a huge and physically overwhelming bantamweight with a ferocious top game. As such, reasonably cast-iron takedown defense is a necessity, and while Cannetti may just be able to run a distance and counter game, I think Kang gets him down and the fight goes downhill from there. Kyung Ho Kang by submission, round 2.
Zane Simon: Cannetti’s power kicks only fighting style is probably just too limited to work against any good well rounded athletes in the division. As long as Kyung Ho is still something like the fighter he was when he left, his high pressure offense should stop a lot of Cannetti’s ability to kick and force Cannetti to scramble, where Kyung Ho is likely the more technical grappler. Cannetti just needs too much space to make his style work and Kyung Ho Kang has been dedicated in his career to closing down space fast. Kyung Ho Kang by submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Cannetti: Bissell, DerekStaff picking Kang: Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Stephie, Dayne, Victor
JJ Aldrich vs. Danielle Taylor
Victor Rodriguez: Taylor has impressed me with her ability to add more movement to her game and work on her takedown defense. Aldrich has craftier striking, great use of level changes and faster hands. Aldrich’s game is much more complete, but she can be forced to grapple if she gets tagged with two or three hard shots. Aldrich’s speed and cardio will be the things to look out for
Phil Mackenzie: Aldrich throws at a decent clip, but Taylor’s speed is going to give a lot of strawweights fits and I don’t think the slightly plodding Aldrich is an exception to the rule. “Female Court McGee” would be my assessment, but she lacks that slight edge of real power which Court could use to upset more skilled strikers. So, I think she struggles to close down Taylor who snips in and out with single punches and the occasional short body-head combination. Danielle Taylor by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: While Aldrich should out-work Taylor at a steady clip, Taylor’s volume has been improving fight to fight. And when it comes to who will likely land the cleaner harder shots in each round, that’s almost certainly going to be Taylor. Aldrich is just too straight ahead and footslow to keep from getting countered and I think she’ll pay for walking into the bigger shots for three rounds. Danielle Taylor by decision.
Staff picking Aldrich: Bissell, Fraser, DerekStaff picking Taylor: Nick, Phil, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Stephie, Dayne
Mads Burnell vs Mike Santiago
Zane Simon: I like the game Burnell is building. A tight, technical boxing game, complimented by an aggressive grappling game, but it very much seems like it’s still a work in progress. His combination striking hasn’t looked that deep yet and his wrestling isn’t up to scratch to make his grappling count the way it should. Santiago will never be a world beater as a power strike throwing, scrambler, but he’s been doing that for a while now and seems to have it down to a science. I think he’ll be able to put Burnell on his heels all fight and punish him with takedowns against the cage. Mike Santiago via decision.
Phil Mackenzie: As with a couple other fights here, the question seems to be whether the scrambler can take down the power puncher, and I generally tend to favour the scrambler. Burnell is a bit more of a physical force than his loss to Prazeres indicates, but I still think he struggles to replicate the way that Magomedsharipov outscrambled Santiago, who has a reasonably high-quality pressure boxing and power game. Mike Santiago by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I’d actually pick Burnell if he were further along in his development, but I’m gonna have to go with Santiago. He has better developed tools and better fight IQ right now. Mike Santiago by decision.
Staff picking Burnell: DerekStaff picking Santiago: Bissell, Nick, Fraser, Mookie, Zane, Tim, Stephie, Dayne, Victor

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