The Craft of Combat: Jeremy Stephens vs. Doo Ho Choi Technique Breakdown

After a week off of UFC action, we open the new year with potential for fireworks as UFC St. Louis’ main event features a fan-friendly showdown.  Let’s dive into the technical breakdown of the two elite featherweights competing in the main event.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Jeremy Stephens (26-14 MMA, 13-13 UFC) has had a wishy-washy career, but a win over former champion Renan Barao propelled Stephens into the top 10, earning some of the biggest fights of his career. But a UFC 205 loss to Frankie Edgar grimly reminded us that Stephens is a solid top 10 fighter who can never put it together enough to best the upper-echelon of the division.

Stephens has been an interesting fighter to follow over his career. He came into the UFC with a powerful right hand and a mean streak that touted him as one of the most exciting fighters in MMA. Now with a move to 145lbs, he is much more patient and calculated striker with knockout power that is unheard of at featherweight. Instead of running forward face first with swinging hooks that knock himself off balance, he is now working behind his jab, and feinting into combos, setting traps for his vaunted right hand.

Wild hooks like these is what the early days of MMA were built on, but as the sport grows and fighters get smarter, this isn’t as successful.

Feints and an active jab has always been Barao’s kryptonite. Here Stephens feints and pumps out his lead hand before timing the right over the top.

Bad habits can be hard to break. Here Stephens shows flashes of his old self as he knocks Barao off balance with an intercepting jab, and landing hooks and uppercuts in the pocket that has Barao wishing he stayed at bantamweight.

But an older, more experienced Stephens stayed with his new slower paced style and picked Barao apart for an easy decision victory. A stepping left jab and right hand sends Barao’s check hook flailing over his head.

Stephens style is very similar to lightweight standout Justin Gaethje. Plodding forward with wild right hands and leg kicks slowly breaking down their opponents. The difference had been that Gaethje had the tools to set up his combos and Stephens did not. Now the new and improved “Lil Heathen” can effectively feint and jab his way into combos, and his dominate victories over Barao and Gilbert Melendez showcased these new skills.

In his fight with Melendez, the leg kicks were the star of the show. Stephens hammered in what Joe Rogan calls the low, low kick or calf kick. Here Stephens lands the calf kick, jabs to get his hands high and comes back with another low, low kick. 

Melendez showed incredible heart, but his lead leg looked like someone shoved an orange in there and allowed Stephens to take home another easy decision victory.

Despite showing an evolving new, tactical Jeremy Stephens, let us not forget he has the power to finish the fight at any moment.

Rise of The Korean Super Boy

With his two year mandatory military service impending, “The Korean Super Boy” Doo Ho Choi (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) is vying to make a statement. A win over Jeremy Stephens will do just that. One of the hottest prospects in MMA today, Choi has looked every bit of what we thought he was when the UFC signed him in 2013. Although he looks like an innocent teenager, Choi has the power and pinpoint accuracy to put anybody in the division to sleep. A counter-striker at heart, Choi likes to keep an active jab to disrupt his opponents timing and cork off the counter right as they step in. MMA Today’s Jordan Colbert explored possible fights for Choi to take prior to military service leave.

Landing a counter-right, and left-hook that drops Sam Sicilia.

A minute later Choi finishes the fight with the same combo.

Landing a counter right as Cub Swanson comes forward sloppily, then cautiously picking his strikes looking for the finish. The way he lines up the straight rights on the head to get Swanson’s guard high then ripping to the body is sublime.

Even after two rounds of one of the craziest wars we have ever seen inside the octagon, Choi keeps his wits and steps back to land a counter-right as Swanson goes for a lazy leg kick.

On the lead is where Choi’s problems lie. With a low rear hand and careless forward pressure, Choi can find himself on the receiving end of counters. Nobody before Cub Swanson was able to exploit this and Swanson did so impressively. Choi’s style relies on his opponents to stand in front of him and bite on his jabs and feints. Swanson’s creative madness overwhelmed Choi and forced him to step in carelessly and back straight up to the cage when Swanson advanced.

Although he lands some nice right hands, walking forward like this and crossing your feet is downright irresponsible.

Swanson also exploited Choi’s lack of lateral movement and was easily able to back him to the cage and land wild combos like this that had me and my friends jumping out of our seats.

But Choi had his flashes of competent leading as he intelligently works his jab and looks for openings for the right straight.

 

Conclusion and Ideal Strategies

Swanson was able to exploit Choi’s lack of footwork and back him to the cage forcing wild exchanges in the clinch. Jeremy Stephens has thrived in exchanges like this in the past and should look to clinch and work Choi to the cage at all times. Choi’s heavy lead leg is also an area of concern as Stephens loves to end his combos with leg kicks. I would also like to see him look for the takedown considering his massive size and strength advantage despite neither man having great grappling.  But if he shows up as the old Stephens, those wild hooks and disregard for defense will open him up for Choi’s counter-right.

For Choi, he needs to exploit Stephens’ aggressiveness and look to counter, staying off the lead as much as possible. He should also look to stay a bit lighter on his feet and for gods sake don’t run straight back into the cage unless he wants another five years taken off his memory. At the end of the day I believe Stephens newfound, safer style of pressure striking will be too much for the young Korean to handle. We saw him flustered against Swanson when pressured and Stephens intelligent pressure, leg kicks, and pacing should get him the finish in under five rounds. But Choi’s superhero like power is a huge intangible in this fight and if he made some improvements in his footwork and defense he could take this one away. For now, I think he is too young and inexperienced for the surging Stephens.  Official prediction: Jeremy Stephens by TKO (round four).

 

For more on this matchup and the rest of the card, check out this preview article from MMA Today’s Max Freedman.

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