LAS VEGAS | Darren Elkins wanted his next fight to be close to home again. He has his wish.
Elkins (16-3, 6-2 UFC) will meet Jeremy Stephens (22-9, 9-8 UFC) in January when the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Chicago. UFC officials in Las Vegas on Friday confirmed the fight to The Times.
The UFC card at the United Center on January 25 will be televised on FOX 10. The Elkins-Stephens bout is the first to be confirmed for the card, and UFC officials said the promotion expects to announce the show's main event as early as this weekend.
Elkins, a state champion wrestler from Portage who trains at Hobart's Duneland Vale Tudo camp, in August took a unanimous decision against Hatsu Hioki at a UFC "Fight Night" event in Indianapolis. That win got him back on track following an April loss to former featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes, a knockout that snapped a five-fight winning streak.
The win over Hioki, a Japanese fighter who formerly was the No. 2 145-pound fighter in the world, gave Elkins the UFC record for most wins in the featherweight division, which the promotion added in 2011. He is 6-1 in the weight class since dropping down from lightweight after his second UFC fight.
Elkins took the fight with Mendes in April on short notice, filling in for Illinois native Clay Guida. But he was stopped in just 68 seconds with a first-round TKO. In March, he stopped Antonio Carvalho with a first-round TKO in Montreal to get his first UFC stoppage win at featherwieght after four straight unanimous decisions.
In Stephens, though, he faces a resurgent fighter who also is a recent addition to the division. Stephens, an Iowan who debuted with the promotion in 2007, had a three-fight losing skid for more than a year before dropping to 145 pounds and picking up a decision win over Estevan Payan in May.
But it was his 40-second head-kick knockout of Brazilian standout Rony Jason earlier this month that has gotten the attention of the division.
The UFC last visited Chicago this past January for UFC on FOX 6, and in January 2012 it brought UFC on FOX 2 to the United Center. The city now is a regular stop for the UFC's first FOX card of four scheduled for each year.
Tickets for the event are expected to go on sale through Ticketmaster and the arena box office in early December.