Last month Jeremy Stephens (28-16-1) and Yair Rodriguez’s Mexico City main event was aborted early when Stephens suffered a corneal abrasion from an illegal Rodriguez (12-2-1) eye-poke. The aftermath was ugly and disheartening from both fans and fighters alike, but this Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) the two elite featherweights are scheduled to rematch in Boston.
We broke down the match up in September in several distinct categories, and much of that may very well still apply this week. If you want to review that, or check it out for the first time, by all means please do.
What we want to do this week, however, is add onto it with some questions and analysis of this grudge match based on possible developments in the past four weeks or so. Like all conjecture, this is open to interpretation, but there are some interesting things to consider ahead of what we’re calling Stephens vs. Rodriguez 1.5.
Fight psychology is always important, and since this rivalry is boiling over of late with slurs and cheap shots both verbal and physical, intentional and possibly unintentional, we have to wonder what role it will play with each man. Right after the first fight ended due to his foul, Rodriguez was a ball of apparently angry emotion, lashing out at Stephens and others.
Rodriguez was coming back after a long lay-off and fighting in his native Mexico as a headliner, so he must’ve felt lots of pressure and additional motivation. Leading up to that fight Stephens, who spent his training camp in Mexico, challenged Rodriguez’s manhood by insulting his fighting style in a gendered way.
He’s doing it again, by the way, ahead of this Boston rematch, saying that Rodriguez’s “whole family is bitch-made,” earlier this week. After Stephens couldn’t continue following Rodriguez’s foul to his eye, Rodriguez questioned Stephens’ gameness.
He continues to do it up till now. Rodriguez told reporters this week in Boston that he’s calmed down, however, after meditating and reading, and is focused on the task at hand.
Stephens appears no less riled-up, however. He said, simply, “F--- Yair,” before expanding. “[I’m] calm like a bomb. I’m ready to go off. I’m going to kill this kid. If he don’t die, it don’t count.”
Stephens continued, explaining that to him, especially in the precarious position as a UFC fighter “it’s always personal.” In fact, Stephens scoffed at the notion that a pro fight could ever be anything but the most personal of events.
“It’s always personal when you fight. ... What if I was coming into your house, taking food off your table, smacking your kid? That’s the way I look at it. How do you feel if I were to do that? Is it personal? Fuck yeah it’s personal — it’s a fight. You only get one check if you lose. What do you think, it’s a game? You think this is a sport? It’s not a sport, it’s fist-fighting, bro.”
We can’t possibly know what to make of all this, of course, but if both men are telling the truth about their mental states, it very well could be the case that they’re in the right states of mind for themselves. Rodriguez is aggressive, but selective, going for finishes on his own timetable.
Stephens is technical and skilled but has a brawler’s application at times. Stephens has fought well while angry, or at least appearing to be, for years.
In a related topic, Rodriguez has given indications that he was ambivalent at best about fighting Stephens again so quickly, or even at all. Rodriguez claims he’s above Stephens already, when it comes to rank, and specifically wasn’t looking forward to extending his training camp to an effective 12 weeks and cutting weight twice in a month’s time.
“Your body starts getting tired, your mind starts getting tired, because you’re going hard,” he explained, accurately, about what happens to fighters in training camps that last several months. Still, Rodriguez says that, as opposed to earlier in his career, his weight cuts are more manageable now because he’s more knowledgeable and because the UFC offers assistance with nutrition planning.
As evidenced by his above statements, Stephens seems completely enthused at the thought of trying to get his hands on Rodriguez again, and soon. Rodriguez has also commented that he feels less pressure on his shoulders this week than he did as a hometown headliner last month in Mexico.
The two will also only have to fight a scheduled three rounds this time, instead of a planned possible five rounds like last time. My guess is that if both men are able to have gotten themselves into the mindsets they fight best in, and their weight-cuts deplete them pretty equally (and if Stephens’ eye healed well enough to get in meaningful training the past few weeks), the fight could end up being the compelling matchup we were hoping to see play out in Mexico City.
We can’t know any of that, yet, though. Perhaps Rodriguez would have been sharper last month with the additional pressure, or maybe he’s better off feeling less of it this time around.
Maybe he’s as cool as he claims to be, or maybe he isn’t, and perhaps that’s fine ... or not. Stephens is much older and that could mean he’s got weight-cutting down a bit better or perhaps it means it takes a larger toll on him than it does on the younger Rodriguez.
Whatever the case ends up being, let’s just hope for a clean fight and that the aftermath of whatever occurs is better than what took place in September.
More from Yahoo Sports: