Arguably the greatest featherweight in history returns to the Octagon this weekend at UFC Fight Night Calgary as Manaus favourite, José Aldo meets the heavy hitting rankings climber Jeremy Stephens in the co-main event.
A win for Aldo may instate him as the rightful contender for the 145lbs championship after Max Holloway and Brian Ortega throw down, while former lightweight challenger Stephens has reinvented himself a weight lower and is on the cusp of his premier UFC title tilt.
Losing three of his last four MMA contests, Aldo’s legacy is undeniable but it has been tarnished to a certain extent after the rise of Conor McGregor in 2015. The Muay Thai expert finally clashed with the Dubliner at UFC 194 after a broken rib injury prevented him from making the initially scheduled UFC 189 meeting, and in astonishing fashion, the contest lasted all of thirteen swift seconds. An emotional Aldo left his chin exposed when throwing a right-left combination with ‘The Notorious’ one starching the only featherweight champion in the promotion’s history.
Earning the opportunity to face arch-nemesis McGregor once more with a win over Frankie Edgar at the monstrous UFC 200 card, Aldo was now the Interim champion but Conor’s successful quest for a second title after two Nate Diaz clashes at welterweight seen the Crumlin native stripped with Aldo promoted to the undisputed champion.
In the meantime, emerging contender Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway became the Interim crown holder with a win over a drained Anthony Pettis and subsequently stopped Aldo in Brazil to become the new champ. A short notice replacement opportunity gave José another chance to take his throne back after an injury to Frankie Edgar, but in the third round, suffered his third knockout defeat.
Since his move to a much more suited 145lbs in 2013, Jeremy Stephens has been hot and cold in terms of results and performances but is always game to throw down making him a favourite among the traditional fanbase. His most recent run of wins, however, has been nothing short of devastating.
Meeting former Strikeforce lightweight kingpin Gilbert Melendez in the first of three brutal victories, Stephens implied a very effective and offensive heavy Muay Thai style, landing debilitating calf kicks, leaving Melendez immobile and on the canvas countless times on his way to a lopsided decision.
Facing the tricky prospect Doo Ho Choi in a guaranteed barnburner, ‘Lil Heathen’ failed to disappoint once again, dropping the Korean before finishing with an incredible right hand from the top, almost taking Choi’s head off his shoulders.
Similarly to the Choi finish, Stephens caught fellow heavy hitter Josh Emmet in an exchange and finished with slashing elbows from the top, with the then-surging Emmet suffering a fractured orbital at the contest’s conclusion.
Whenever paired with top-level competition, Stephens has fallen narrowly short but against a José Aldo who’s chin has been tested like never before in the previous three years, my money is on Jeremy Stephens to connect and switch the Brazilian’s lights off once more.
Pick: Jeremy Stephens via knockout.