Mexico’s own Yair Rodriguez has been considered one of the most dangerous rising stars of the UFC’s featherweight division, and now the time has arrived for “El Pantera” to claim a career-best win and catapult himself into legitimate title contention.
Rodriguez takes on the uber-durable, hard-hitting, American featherweight Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens in a main event battle in Mexico City that looks sure to produce fireworks on Saturday night.
And while he may not have faced too many opponents of Stephens’ calibre, his last win, a dramatic last-second knockout of “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, may have been the perfect preparation for a fight against the dangerous American.
The altitude in Mexico City could prove a factor, and may put the brakes on Stephens’ high-pressure come-forward fighting style. That should free up the time and the space for Rodriguez to unleash his spectacular striking techniques.
Stephens isn’t finished easily, however, and I can see this one going all the way to the scorecards, with the local hero taking the win.
ESPARZA TO SHOCK GRASSO
Mexico’s Alexa Grasso has been the nation’s great hope for women’s MMA, and the promising strawweight starlet has the chance to pick up a huge win over the first woman to hold the UFC strawweight title.
Former champ Carla Esparza has gone through a spell of patchy form since losing her title, but her smothering, wrestling-based approach could be just what the doctor ordered against Grasso, who prefers to stand and has struggled against solid wrestler Tatiana Suarez two fights ago.
Esparza isn’t as big and strong as Suarez, but she showed improved takedowns and a more varied skill-set in her last outing, and set as a 13/8 shot to win on the scorecards, “The Cookie Monster” looks a solid value bet this weekend.
BEARJEW TO GRIND OUT DECISION WIN
Paul “Bearjew” Craig is not only one of the most charismatic light heavyweights in the UFC, he’s also one of the most dangerous on the mat.
And while the oddsmakers can’t separate Craig from his opponent Vinicius Castro (listed in some places as Vinicius Moreira), his record suggests he has the edge.
Castro hasn’t won in the UFC yet, while Craig has mixed it against higher-level opposition and has picked up a couple of notable submission victories.
He’s come unstuck against powerful one-shot KO artists, but Castro doesn’t fall into that category. And with Craig revealing he has been leaving no stone unturned in his preparation to compete at altitude, the Scot may well have the gas tank to drag this one into the latter stages before picking up the win, either on the cards, or via late submission.