I’m going back to my usual style of writing for this prediction… because I’m about to go into rant mode regarding Darren Elkins.
What does Elkins have to do to get some respect from the MMA community? All Elkins has done is rack up a 7-2 UFC record, with one of the two losses to Chad Mendes, and you would never know it by examining the complete lack of hype surrounding him.
Of course I know what the problem is. Elkins doesn’t have a great highlight reel. He’s a grinder – five of his seven wins are by unanimous decision, usually with takedowns and grappling. Elkins also isn’t a big talker. He’s not Richard Sherman – stick a microphone in his face and you’re not going to get a memorable sound byte. Elkins is pretty much a perfect example of how to be a good fighter and not sell any pay per views or get people excited to see him fight.
Let’s look at some of the statistics. Significant strikes: Elkins 249, opponents 156. Takedowns: Elkins 13, opponents 2. Submission attempts: Elkins 10, opponents 6. Elkins is 1-1 in knockdowns, having been knocked out by Chad Mendes but knocking out Antonio Carvalho.
Elkins’ body of work has resulted in an FPR of +2.90, good for 8th best in the featherweight division. The fighters currently higher rated than Elkins: Jose Aldo, Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Dustin Poirier, and Jim Hettes. Elkins most recently defeated a quality opponent in Hatsu Hioki. He’s legit.
And now Elkins is the underdog against Jeremy Stephens. In my view Stephens has the advantage over Elkins in exactly one category: knockout power. Stephens is certainly more of a threat to win by knockout than Elkins. Here’s my question: has anybody seen what happens when Stephens is forced to grapple?
Overall, Stephens has been taken down 22 times, had his guard passed 43 times, and had 19 submissions attempted against him. His takedown defense is below average at just 54 percent. He’s up 24-22 in takedowns, but remove his fights against Estevan Payan and Danny Downes and that ratio plummets to 12-22.
It’s also been a very long time since Stephens has been tested against an opponent with grappling as his primary offense. Tell me which of these fighters are grapplers first: Rony Jason, Estevan Payan, Yves Edwards, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Danny Downes, Marcus Davis, Sam Stout, Melvin Guillard, and Justin Buchholz. The answer is zero – zero of those fighters are grapplers first… but they represent Stephens’ last ten opponents.
The last time Stephens faced a grappler was against Gleison Tibau. In that fight Stephens was completely smothered as he was taken down five times, had his guard passed nine times, and was caught in three submission attempts. He ended up losing by unanimous decision despite Tibau landing a grand total of seven significant strikes.
That’s not to say Elkins is as good or effective a wrestler as Tibau but it illustrates what happens when Stephens is forced to grapple. It’s not a good style match for him. Even Pettis took him down six times. Joe Lauzon took him down and submitted him. Rafael Dos Anjos took him down four times and attempted two submissions before Stephens knocked him out in the third round.
None of this is to suggest that Stephens is doomed to being smothered by Elkins – just that it’s the most likely outcome. It’s quite possible Elkins could meet the same fate as Dos Anjos, being knocked out before he can really get his game going. Either way I don’t see Stephens being able to stuff Elkins’ takedowns and battering him on the feet. It’s a competitive fight that I feel Elkins should be able to succeed in.
Pick: Darren Elkins by decision
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Right now Stephens is -125 with Elkins the underdog at +105. I really like a bet on Elkins here for a number of reasons. I think the style match is favorable to Elkins. I also think Elkins is an “anti-hype” fighter in a way – while a guy like Yoel Romero sends shockwaves throughout the MMA community with every fight he wins, Elkins can dominate an opponent like Steven Siler and nobody notices or cares. Now Elkins is facing a “name” opponent in Stephens. I think it all adds up to a situation where Elkins is easily undervalued. I’ve placed a bet on Elkins +105, risking $2.50 to win $2.63.
Mandatory disclaimer: I am not a betting professional and I do not recommend following my picks in any serious way. Whenever you make a bet on any fight, you do so at your own risk.