First and Worst: Week of February 25 to March 3, 2013

By Adam Martin

First and Worst is an ongoing series for, where every week Adam will make his pick for the best and worst newly-announced fight of the past week (Monday to Sunday). If you’d like to see any additions to this series, hit him up on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.

First: Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev, Bellator 95

An injury to Daniel Straus took him
out of his upcoming featherweight title matchup at Bellator 95 against Bellator
145-pound champ Pat Curran, but luckily for the promotion they were able to
replace Straus with another great fighter as Shahbulat Shamhalaev, who won the
most recent Bellator featherweight tournament, and will step in on
approximately five weeks’ notice and fight Curran for the title.

I love this fight.

Although Curran is fighting in
Bellator, most observers of the sport peg him as one of the top five
featherweight fighters in the world. With wins over Patricio”Pitbull” Freire, Joe Warren, Marlon Sandro, Ronnie Mann, and Luis Palomino in his last five fights, Curran has no doubt been on a terrific roll
since dropping to 145 after an unsuccessful shot at the Bellator lightweight
championship at Bellator 39, when Eddie Alvarez handed him a decision defeat.

On the other hand, Shamhalaev is
probably one of the best-kept secrets in the sport today. A Russian standout
who excels in the striking department, Shamhalaev knocked out Rad Martinez,
Mike Richman, and Cody Bollinger to win the Season 7 Bellator featherweight
tournament and earn his title shot. In fact, the 29-year old has only lost once
in his career, and it came to current Top-10 UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov.

This fight won’t get a lot of love
because it’s in Bellator, but make no mistake about it, this is one of the best
upcoming featherweight matches in any promotion, and it could easily end up as
the best fight of April, which is saying a lot, considering the number of great
matches the UFC has lined up for the fourth month of the year. Great fight.

Worst: Jeremy Stephens vs. Estevan Payan, UFC 160

I’m not saying the upcoming
featherweight bout between Jeremy Stephens and Estevan Payan, which goes down
this May at UFC 160, won’t be exciting, because any fight pitting two sluggers
with dynamite power is almost certain to provide entertainment.

My problem with this fight is that
the UFC is giving Stephens just way, way too many chances to stick around in
the big show.

A longtime veteran of the UFC
lightweight division, Stephens has fallen on hard times as of late, losing his
last three fights in a row to Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, and Yves Edwards,
respectively. Sure, the losses to the highly-ranked Pettis and Cerrone are
forgivable, but getting knocked out by a 36-year-old fighter in Edwards back at
UFC on Fox 5 is bad any way you look at it, especially considering it was the
first knockout loss of Stephens’ career.

And don’t forget Stephens’ legal
troubles, which caused the original matchup against Edwards at UFC on FX 5 to
be scratched at the last minute after Stephens was arrested on an outstanding
warrant and UFC president Dana White couldn’t bail him out in time.

Despite this skid, Stephens is
getting a chance to drop to featherweight and pick up a win, and the UFC also
signed him to a new four-fight deal.

So apparently Jon Fitch and his
1-2-1 record over his last four fights is enough for him to get the boot, but
Stephens with his 0-3 fall and legal troubles gets to not only keep his job,
but get a contract extension too. And to make matters even more confusing, the
UFC is giving him a fighter in Payan who should, at least on paper, be knockout
fodder for the heavy-handed slugger nicknamed “Lil’ Heathen.”

I’m not so sure why the UFC is so
nice to Stephens when they give up on other guys in his same situation. Sure,
he has put on some very exciting fights in the Octagon and he’s got some sick
knockouts on his resume, but he’s clearly not the fighter he used to be, and I
don’t understand why the UFC is so committed to him.

Expect Stephens to get a KO win in
this fight against Payan (who is making his UFC debut after a solid run in
Strikforce) and continue to move up the featherweight ladder, while guys like
Diego Nunes and Milton Viera, who have better records in their last three
fights, are given their pink slips.

It’s not fair, but hey, the UFC is
clearly not about consistency and fairness; it’s about making money, and
Stephens is still considered somewhat of a draw (I guess), even though he’s
only a preliminary fighter at this point, and even though he’s looked terrible
in his last three fights. As for Payan, don’t expect him to get another fight
in the UFC if he loses, so this really should be do or die for both guys.
Should be.


UFC 160: Velasquez vs. Bigfoot II is due to take place on May 25, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC 160 will be.

Bellator 95 will take place on April 4, 2013 at Ovation Hall inside Revel Resort & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Click the stars to rate how good you think Bellator 95 will be.

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