UFC Fight Night 124 Results: The Real Winners and Losers from Choi vs. Stephens
After two long weeks, it finally arrived—the first UFC fight card of 2018.
On paper, it was a show that left much to be desired. There were no fights with title implications at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
No superstars entered the Octagon, either, unless you count reality television sensation Paige VanZant. Worse, with the loss of the Vitor Belfort vs. Uriah Hall bout on the day of the weigh-ins, there were no fighters who had ever held UFC championship gold.
Nothing happened to change that perception as the fighters engaged in one listless bout after another.
Then Matt Hughes limped out to the cage, just months removed from a collision with an actual train. It was a touching moment, with Hughes showing the fighting spirit that earned him a spot in the UFC's Hall of Fame.
As if energized by the emotional display of courage and heart, the action immediately picked up. Kamaru Usman channeled Hughes himself, practically slamming his opponent right through the mat. Jessica-Rose Clark outgrappled VanZant, and Jeremy Stephens closed the show with a brutal beating of Doo Ho Choi.
There were human beings fighting in a steel cage. Punches and kicks were thrown. Joints were stretched. Necks were strangled. Sometimes, that's enough.
As always, the final stat lines only reveal so much. These are the real winners and losers from UFC Fight Night 124.
For the literal-minded among us, full results are listed at the end.
Winner: The Legend of Jeremy Stephens
In the first round, Stephens seemed to be fighting a version of Choi who was standing six inches in front of the actual Korean superstar. Almost every punch and kick seemed to be missing, some of them in embarrassing fashion.
By the second round, Stephens had figured things out. The comical haymakers most top fighters avoid were landing. And Choi, like anyone else in the world, wasn't capable of withstanding their fearsome force.
Stephens leapt out of the cage after his upset victory, flying into the crowd to celebrate his win. But no one could possibly be happier than UFC's stats team.
Before every fight they proclaim Stephens to be a Mike Tyson-esque knockout puncher. And, before every fight, online know-it-alls like me point out that Stephens has only actually scored one finish in the last four years.
His legend was built on a truly brutal knockout of Rafael dos Anjos more than nine years ago. Since then, his power has proved, well, ordinary.
Stephens, once again, displayed the power that made him famous. Next time the UFC talks up his prowess, no one will have anything to say. He proved it in the cage.
Loser: Dana White's Dreams
The promotion has devoted a ton of promotional effort to VanZant, hand selected by the UFC brass as the next big thing in women's MMA. But, for the third time in seven fights, she came up short, this time against an opponent carefully selected to give her an easy night.
VanZant has star potential, code in this case for traditional good looks. But, almost six years into her professional career, it's becoming clear her potential inside the cage isn't nearly so promising.
Update: VanZant broke her arm during the bout.
Winner: Kamaru Usman
First, Usman picked Emil Meek up over his head and slammed him hard to the mat. From there, he dominated and bloodied him, killing both hope and his foe's four-fight win streak.
All and all, it was a fitting tribute to UFC Hall of Famer Hughes, the master of the form.
It was after the fight that Usman, the "Nigerian Nightmare" truly turned heads. As he made his case to be a top contender, Usman broke into a foreign tongue that, indeed, could give an opponent nightmares.
He may have moved to the United States at the age of five—but he clearly has Nigeria in his soul.
The crowd booed it's collective heart out, but boos aren't going to be enough to stop him. The win brings Usman's UFC record to 7-0. It's going to take an awfully bad man to stop him.
Winner: Feel-Good Moments
On a Friday morning in June last year, UFC Hall of Famer Hughes drove his truck on to the train tracks in the small town of Raymond, Illinois. A train struck it on the passenger side. Severely injured, Hughes was airlifted to a hospital 46 miles away in Springfield.
It didn't look good.
But Hughes is a fighter. And on Sunday night in St. Louis, he won the biggest fight of his life, walking to the cage on his own power, basking in the roar of the crowd one more time.
Fighting is the hurt business. We come to see athletes bring the pain. Sometimes, however, it's nice to smile. I'm glad the UFC gave Hughes, and his fans, a final feel-good moment.
Loser: Michael Johnson
As Darren Elkins squeezed the rear-naked choke tighter and tighter, he wasn't just choking Michael Johnson out. He was putting the finishing touches on his UFC career as well.
The move to featherweight was supposed to be Johnson's opportunity to reinvent himself. As the perennial prospect creeped past 30 with little to show for his career, the 145-pound class represented a final chance at glory.
Instead, it looked like his tenure at lightweight. Johnson, as per usual, started fast only to watch another man walk away with his hand raised.
With five losses in his last six bouts, his return to glory will likely begin in another promotion. His days in the Octagon, at least for now, are probably numbered. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Johnson could use a chance to figure things out again under lights that shine a little less bright.
They wooed when something good happened. They wooed when things got slow.
When one fighter buried her face in another's crotch in a grappling exchange? You guessed it.
Saint Louis wooed.
Listen, there's no doubt that Ric Flair is a true American icon. The wrestling legend was a jet-flying, wheeling dealing superstar, one of the best to ever step into the ring.
Ric Flair is allowed to whoo. When you've lived half the life he has, you deserve to exhale and celebrate a little bit.
But if you're some humanoid in St. Louis, wooing for hours until everyone around you is looking up the difference between murder and manslaughter on their phones and wondering if they could claim temporary insanity, maybe knock it off, bubba?
Winner: Vitor Belfort
For a moment, it appeared Belfort's final fight was going to be on this forgettable card, against a failed prospect, in front of an indifferent crowd in the American heartland.
Even if you're no Vitor fan, that's no way for a bonafide legend and former light heavyweight champion to walk away from the sport he helped build on three continents.
Now, because of Hall's medical issues, Belfort will have a chance to write a different ending to his story. While his new opponent may or may not be Michael Bisping in a retirement bout for both fighters, as reported by Globo (h/t Bloody Elbow's Nick Baldwin), it's bound to be better than this.
And, for that, Belfort is a clear winner. And he didn't even have to step into the cage.
Winner: Jessica Eye
The gulf between how Jessica Eye sees herself and how everyone else in the world sees her is vast—a mammoth gap that separates reality from fantasy.
On one planet, she's a fringe UFC fighter one loss away from exile to the regional scene. On the other, she's a champion just waiting for her shot.
Which is which depends on whether you are, in fact, Jessica Eye.
On the Fight Pass prelims, Eye won a split decision over Kalindra Faria, a Brazilian of little renown, and celebrated at the end like she'd just conquered the world's best.
It was Eye's first win since 2014, bringing her UFC record to 2-6 with one no contest. Despite this paltry success, she continues to believe she belongs squarely in the title picture.
"Watch me earn that gold title," she told announcer Paul Felder after the bout. "I will. Mark my words and put it on your calendar."
Of course, she believed that when she was on a four fight losing streak. Why wouldn't she feel the same way with a win under her belt? Things are looking up indeed on Planet Eye.
Jeremy Stephens defeated Doo Ho Choi via KO (punches), 2:36 of round 2
Jessica-Rose Clark defeated Paige VanZant via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Kamaru Usman defeated Emil Meek by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Darren Elkins defeated Michael Johnson via submission (rear naked choke), 2:22 of round 2
James Krause defeated Alex White via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Marco Polo Reyes defeated Matt Frevola via KO (strikes), 1:00 of round 1
Irene Aldana defeated Talita Bernardo via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Kyung Ho Kang defaeted Guido Cannetti via submission (triangle choke), 4:53 of round 1
Jessica Eye defeated Kalindra Faria via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
JJ Aldrich defeated Danielle Taylor via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Mads Burnell defeated Mike Santiago via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)