CHICAGO | Darren Elkins is right back in familiar territory.
Once again, he's in a fight that oddsmakers don't think he's supposed to win. In recent years, that's just made the end results all the more sweet for him, racking up upset after upset.
What that has led to for Elkins, after a slow and steady climb, is Top 10 status in the UFC's featherweight division. Today, the former state champion wrestler from Portage, who trains at Duneland Vale Tudo in Hobart, has a chance to move up a few more rungs on the 145-pound ladder.
Elkins (17-3, 7-2 UFC) meets Jeremy Stephens (22-9, 9-8 UFC) to open up the main card of UFC on Fox 10 at the United Center in Chicago. The main card is nationally televised on Fox.
It will be the closest Elkins has fought to home since his last fight before signing with the UFC.
"It feels great," Elkins said. "As soon as I knew they were going to have a fight in Chicago, I started asking the matchmakers if I could get on this card. I've been wanting to get on the Chicago card the last couple years."
Elkins got back on track in August in Indianapolis with an upset of Hatsu Hioki, formerly the No. 2 featherweight in the world. That win was a rebound from a TKO loss to Chad Mendes in April, a fight he took on just a month's notice.
Elkins said that loss may be in the rearview mirror, but it's one he'll carry with him for a while.
"I still think about it a lot," Elkins said. "I like using it to help myself get better and motivated. As soon as I think I'm on top of the world, I remind myself of that loss."
Stephens is a recent entry into the featherweight division, having moved down after a three-fight skid at lightweight. The results have been perfect so far, including a 40-second head-kick knockout win in Brail in November.
Stephens, an Iowa native, poses a danger on the feet – just as Mendes did.
"He comes in with more power than me with some big haymakers," Elkins said. "I think I'm the better fighter overall, but I've got to be cautious. If he hits me with one of those hard punches, yeah, he puts people to sleep."
In addition to Elkins, fellow region fighter Eddie Wineland returns on the card for the first time since his bantamweight title loss to Renan Barao in September. Wineland meets Montreal-based Haitian Yves Jabouin on the prelims on Fox Sports 1 and is more than a 3-to-1 favorite.