One of the finest prospects in MMA today, Zabit Magomedsharipov, will look to break into the 145lb title-picture by taking out the veteran Jeremy Stephens just prior to the UFC 235 main-card.
And believe me, I call him a ‘prospect’ because of the fact that circumstances have prevented him from taking that next step up until now. But make no mistake, Zabit is one of the finest fighters on the UFC roster today.
An expert grappler with a penchant for the unorthodox, an exquisite wrestler with some of the finest takedowns in the division and, of course, an electric striker, one who uses every attack in the book with near-perfect technique.
It’s hard to imagine what the ‘perfect fighter’ would look like but Magomedsharipov isn’t too far off.
If he has one weakness in his game, however, it is perhaps his recklessness and the fact that he leaves himself open to being hit. We saw it best when Kyle Bochniak was able to walk him down after absorbing an ungodly amount of punishment.
Of course, Zabit surely learned from that fight – even with his highly impressive victory – but if I had to build a fighter to take out this highly-regarded Russian, I’d come back to you with an incredibly durable, hard-hitting block of a man who could take his best shots and test his chin.
Enter Jeremy Stephens.
The self-professed ‘hardest hitting 145lb-r’ will find little argument from this writer as he looks to bounce back from a first-round TKO loss to José Aldo last year.
Stephens dropped after the Brazilian caught him with a perfect body-shot but over the years, his ability to take a punch to the chin has been phenomenal.
I would not be surprised whatsoever if Stephens can connect cleanly with Zabit and end his night in violent fashion. Like we saw with Doo-Ho Choi and his showdown with ‘Lil Heathen’, power like that can be enough to bring hype-trains to a resounding halt.
But for my prediction, as interesting a pick as Stephens is, I’m more inclined to go with the favourite here.
I don’t think he’ll be able to get him out of there on the feet, but if he can take him to the ground and work his way towards a submission, do not be surprised to see this one finish in the second or third rounds.
If not, Magomedsharipov will beat him through distance control, long-ranged attacks, and his fantastic top-game.
Prediction: Zabit by unanimous decision
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena