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Glorious homecoming for Rodriguez? Get UFC on ESPN+ 17 tips

Leigh Copson 18 Sep 2019
Yair Rodriguez (credit:Jason Silva/Zuma Press/PA Images)

Yair Rodriguez v Jeremy Stephens predictions and more for UFC on ESPN+ 17 on Saturday, September 21. Can Yair Rodriguez stake his claim for a place in the top five in the featherweight division with a victory on home soil, or will Jeremy Stephens get back on track after back-to-back defeats? Read on for our free predictions and betting tips for UFC on ESPN+ 16.

Yair Rodriguez v Jeremy Stephens

Yair Rodriguez may be going into this fight on the back of arguably the biggest win of his career, and he may be knocking on the door to the top five in the featherweight division, but it would be fair to say that his career has stalled over the past couple of years.

The 26-year-old Mexican suffered his first defeat inside the Octagon in May 2017 when an eye injury forced the doctor to step in and call off his fight with Frankie Edgar, and since that date he has fought just once. A year after that loss Rodriguez was axed by the UFC for apparently refusing a couple of proposed fights, but his exile did not last long and a few weeks later it was announced that ‘El Pantera’ was back on the UFC roster, with his return bout coming in November when he took on ‘Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung on a Fight Night card.

Rodriguez was on the brink of a losing return as he trailed on the scorecards heading into the final few seconds of the fight, but he turned it around in sensational fashion with a highlight reel knockout that will be replayed for years and years to come. As the two men traded shots in the dying moments, Rodriguez landed an elbow from an almost impossible angle to knock out ‘Korean Zombie’ with just one second remaining in the bout. It was an incredible end to the contest, but it once again signalled that ‘El Pantera’ is a major player in the featherweight division and if he can win back-to-back fights for the first time over two-and-a-half years then he could find himself in the top five in the rankings when they are released in the wake of this event. So can he?

Standing opposite the talented 26-year-old will be one of the sport’s grizzled veteran in Jeremy Stephens, a man who has never quite been a leading contender for UFC gold but has become something of a gatekeeper in the division.

The 33-year-old American has 44 professional bouts on his record, of which 30 have come inside the world famous Octagon, and he has shared the cage with a who’s who of fighters over the years, albeit with mixed results. ‘Lil Heathen’ is 28-16 in his career and although that record is hardly something that screams ‘Hall of Fame’, it should not be disrespected because the vast majority of those losses have come against the absolute cream of the crop at that time. He does have some notable scalps on his record too – namely former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao and ex-Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez – so he is more than capable of knocking off top-calibre opposition on his day. A big reason for that is his power – Conor McGregor may have famously mocked Stephens during a press conference a couple of years ago but the 44-fight veteran did have a point when he boasted about his fight-stopping power. 19 of his 28 professional victories have come via strikes and if he can land a big shot on Rodriguez here then an upset could be in the making.

I do not expect that to happen though. The problem Stephens has is that he relies too much on that power. Despite being a standout wrestler during his high school days, ‘Lil Heathen’ appears reluctant to use those skills, instead opting to stand an trade strikes in the hope that he will land that one big bomb that ends the contest. When things do not play out how he wants them to, he does not have it in him to switch tact and go about his business another way. Against Zabit Magomedshirapov he endured a frustrating night as the Dagestani ace fought at range to nullify Stephens’ striking power, and that outing will provide the blueprint to victory for Rodriguez, who has a similar style to that of Magomedshirapov.

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Glorious homecoming for Rodriguez? Get UFC on ESPN+ 17 tips

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