UFC Fight Night 32 Preview- Rony Jason vs. Jeremy Stephens

Rony Jason (13-3, 3-0 UFC) vs. Jeremy Stephens (21-9, 8-8 UFC)

A featherweight bout that has been planned for quite some time opens the night’s main card as TUF: Brazil 1 champion Rony Jason meets Jeremy Stephens. Jason puts an eight-fight win streak on the lines as he looks for his 14th career win and fourth in the UFC. He was last seen in June submitting Mike Wilkinson at UFC On FUEL TV 10. Stephens snapped his three-fight losing skid in his last bout, which happened to be his featherweight debut. He won a unanimous decision over Estevan Payan at UFC 160 in May to pull his record back to an even .500 mark. He is 3-3 over his past six fights heading into the showdown with Jason.

Fight Breakdown- The UFC has found something in Jason as he is a superstar in Brazil. He is known for his trademark of walking to the Octagon wearing a “Jason” mask from Friday The 13th, and he has looked like a killer in his last two fights. He knocked out Sam Sicilia in vicious fashion at UFC 153 in October 2012, and his submission win over Wilkinson was the fastest submission win in UFC featherweight history. He was the top pick on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, and he was every bit impressive on the show en route to a unanimous decision win over Godofredo Pepey to win the six-figure UFC contract. He has eight straight wins overall, and he has fought some tough competition in his career, including fighting Renan Barao to a decision back in 2006. He may have been a victim during Barao’s long win streak, but it showed he can hang with some of the best in the sport.

Stephens had been a long-time standout in the UFC’s lightweight division, a fighter who was always able to put on exciting fights. However, his inability to string together more than two straight wins kept him from making the leap into title contention, but he had some strong wins at 155 pounds. He has Octagon wins over fighters including Sam Stout, Cole Miller and Rafael Dos Anjos, but a three-fight losing streak put him in danger of being released from the roster. It started with losses to Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone, two of the best in the sport at 155 pounds. A series of turmoil that included an arrest on the day of a scheduled fight ended with Stephens suffering the only knockout loss of his career to Yves Edwards in December. He decided to drop down a weight class to rejuvenate himself and his career, and it paid off with a hard-fought win over Payan in May. He will provide a giant leap in competition for Jason, but it is also a chance for Stephens to prove himself once again.

This has the makings of being a battle. They were set to meet last month at UFC Fight Night 29, but injuries kept them both from competing. The promotion really wanted to see these guys fight as they could’ve been matched up against other competition, but instead they remain linked together, and it will be a test for both. Jason is a dangerous fighter on the feet and on the ground, and he is the more polished fighter on the feet. Stephens has some brutal knockout power as well, but he isn’t quite as technical, and it is yet to be seen if his power translates to 145 pounds. One punch can change a fight, though, and you have to give the edge in punching power to Stephens. Jason mixes his strikes up better as Stephens looks to headhunt more than anything.

Jason will likely be looking to switch things up and drag the fight to the mat. Jason has an outstanding ground game and Stephens can be submitted. Jason is very active off of his back and is always looking for submission attempts on the ground. Stephens has decent takedown defense, and he is not afraid to throw in takedown attempts of his own, but he may be leery of going to the mat with a polished ground fighter. Stephens will need to avoid the takedowns and turn this fight into a points fight on the feet as that is a fight he can win. Stephens has the experience edge and the edge in tougher opponents, but Jason is a fast-rising contender who has a lot of momentum on his side. Stephens showed he was able to go the distance as a featherweight, but it takes a few fights in a weight class to truly see how comfortable someone is. Jason is comfortable. It is a step up in quality of opponents for Jason, but a test that he will pass. He eeks out a hard-fought decision.

Why It Matters- This fight provides a huge step up in competition for Jason. It is the first fight he’s had in the UFC where his opponent didn’t come from an edition of The Ultimate Fighter as he faces a true UFC veteran. It is time to see if he is ready to be a real contender. Stephens is looking to maintain his spot on the roster, and a loss would give him losses in four of his last five fights. Moving down a weight class was his chance to get his career back on track. They seem to like him, so I doubt he’d be cut with a loss, but this is the chance for Stephens to get ready to head to true title contention.

Prediction- Jason

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