After winning his first three UFC fights, Dooho Choi was considered one of the UFC’s future stars, but that status has changed after running into two veterans in consecutive fights.
Choi was involved in one of the best fights of the decade when he suffered a decision loss to Cub Swanson at UFC 206 in December of 2016.
Having not fought since then, Choi made his return on the UFC’s first card of 2018 in the main event against Jeremy Stephens at UFC Fight Night in St. Louis on Sunday.
After a solid first round for Choi, Stephens gathered momentum in the second round and after knocking Choi down, finished him with strikes on the ground.
It is Stephens’ first winning streak since 2014 and will likely move him up the ladder in a stacked featherweight division.
Choi may fight again in 2018, but is expected to take two years off for his mandatory South Korean military service later this year.
VanZant loses flyweight debut
Paige VanZant often said that the 125 pound flyweight division was where she belonged, but her debut in the division did not go as planned as she lost a unanimous decision to Jessica-Rose Clark.
In between the second and third round, VanZant told her corner that she had broken her right arm in the first round, but she fought through the pain for the remainder of the fight.
The 23-year-old VanZant has lost two in a row, the first consecutive losses of her career, while Clark won her third straight.
Attendance and performance bonuses
The UFC’s first event of the year at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis drew 10,052 for a gate of $812,995.
Performance bonuses were awarded to Choi and Stephens for their main event matchup and to Marco Polo Reyes and Darren Elkins who both scored finishes in their fights. Each of the fighters earned an additional $50,000.
Whittaker out of UFC 221
UFC 221, which takes place on Feb. 10 in Perth, Australia suffered a massive blow when Australia native and middleweight champion Robert Whittaker was force to withdraw from the card due to an injury.
As a result, the UFC have replaced him with Yoel Romero, who will now face Luke Rockhold for the interim middleweight title.
Rockhold previously held the title before dropping it in a shocking upset at the hands of Michael Bisping in June of 2016.
Romero lost to Whittaker last year in a fight for the interim middleweight title, which has since become the undisputed title after Georges St-Pierre relinquished it following his win over Bisping in November.
Whittaker released the following statement after his withdrawal:
“I would like to apologize to all my supporters and fans of MMA for not being able to put on the show you deserve. I've been ruled medically unable to compete and won’t be able to defend on home soil. This card meant so much to me and I'm devastated for not being able to fight. All I can do is focus on getting healthy to come back better than ever. All the best to Yoel and Luke for their fight and I’ll be waiting…”
Two titles on the line at UFC 220
The UFC heads to Boston for UFC 220 on Jan. 20 for a card that features title defences in the organization’s two heaviest divisions.
Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic defends the title against Francis Ngannou in the main event. Ngannou started training in mixed martial arts less than five years ago when Miocic was already competing in the UFC. After going 6-0 in the UFC, he will now fight Miocic for the title of “Baddest Man on the Planet” that is often bestowed upon the heavyweight champion.
In the co-main event, Daniel Cormier, who lost the title briefly last summer to Jon Jones before it was revealed that Jones was flagged for a potential anti-doping violation and was reinstated as champion, faces challenger Volkan Oezdemir.
Despite being something of an unknown when he started in the UFC last February, Oezdemir has made a name for himself with three wins – including two that took place by knockout inside of one minute into the fight.
Cormier sits at 19-1-1 with the only blemish on his career being an official loss to Jones in 2015.
The preliminary card airs at 8 p.m. ET on TSN2.