We’re barely at the end of February, and 2018 has already has already been a historic, legend-making run in the UFC. Saturday’s Fight Night Orlando has all the ingredients to be one of the standout chapters of a truly epic year, the kind of night that will begin a story with “It all started back in Orlando…”.
These are the reasons to watch Fight Night Orlando.
Maulers in the Main Event
Regardless of the outcome, Fight Night Orlando’s main event is going to deliver. Both Jeremy Stephens and Josh Emmett brandish a fighting style that might politely be described as brawling; hiding their considerable martial arts prowess under the veneer of an old fashioned fracas. As matchmaking goes, it’s about as perfect as one can hope for.
Anyone who has paid attention to Stephens’ last two bouts know that this is more than some scrappy veteran contender; he’s clearly tapped into a new level of his game. Despite being a UFC fighter since 2007, Stephens is only 31, and based on his recent work, we may well be witnessing Stephens entering his prime.
Fighting less than six weeks from his last headliner, Stephens has no worries about Emmett. “He’s never been in there with a guy like me. I compete at a whole other level of animal,“ Stephens said. “We’re coming for a fist fight, we ain’t here to run around or put on ballet shoes, we’re here to put on a good scrap, and Emmett is gonna feel that Saturday night.”
Emmett, five fights into his UFC career, is coming off the instantly-legendary knockout of Ricardo Lamas at Fight Night Winnipeg. It was truly a punch heard ‘round the world; one that made his entire division take notice and made his longtime Team Alpha Male comrades say ‘I told you so’.
Asked if the strategy that worked so well against Lamas would work again on Stephens, Emmett didn’t hesitate, “one clean shot, and I could put anyone away.”
Strawweight Strap Significance
What will follow the title rematch between current Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be determined by what happens in Orlando’s co-main event.
Jessica Andrade is coming off one of the best UFC bouts of all of 2017, a fight that certainly was on opponent Tecia Torres’ radar. “It was a great fight,” she said, adding that she pictures her own fight with Andrade will look “something similar. I hope there’s a little less blood, and if there is blood it’s on her part.”
It won’t be easy. Andrade has visibly entered a different level of the stratosphere with her game, and another victory makes her a no-brainer to get another title shot after coming up short last time against Jedrzejczyk.
Riding a three-fight winning streak into Saturday, Torres is also certain that a dominant win is the last stop before a title shot. The fact that Namajunas is the current champ intrigues her, as it would give her a chance to avenge the only loss of her professional career.
Surprisingly, this is where she and Andrade agree.
“As much as I would like to get a rematch with Joanna,” Andrade explained. “For this fight I am cheering for Rose,” calling Namajunas “a great representative for the sport.”
RELATED: Stephens and Perry on Unfiltered | Andrade Makes a Guarantee
Never has a non-Top 15 fighter been such must-see TV. Win or lose, love or hate, Mike Perry does everything with a level of flash and thrill that are the envy of even veteran fighters. All his wins are by knockout, and none of his losses have been by finish.
But aside from knowing that Perry always brings it, add that his opponent, Max Griffin, is the biggest underdog on the entire card, and that Perry is fighting in his hometown of Orlando.
Fighting a short distance from his own home is a dream come true for Perry, who has been feeling the love of the fans everywhere he goes. Asked about this newfound adoration, Perry replied “It kinda changed me. I’m gonna keep the mean streak, but I’m gonna fight with love this weekend.”
If that sounds like a softening of the Mike Perry we’ve come to know, he quickly put a rest to that declaring “Because I love to f@#$ S%$# up!”
Another Hot Prospect
Following on the heels of Sean O’Malley and Israel Adesanya, Manny Bermudez could well be another statement debut in the UFC.
Undefeated in his professional career, Bermudez is a born finisher. Eight of his 11 wins have come by first round submission, and one of those wins came less than a month ago. Detractors argue his opponents are more of the regional variety and not UFC-caliber, but a review of any those fights demonstrates a set of skills that should make any adversary anxious.
Steve Latrell is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TheUFSteve
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