Black-eyed pea: A conversation with UFC lightweight Jeremy Stephens

jeremy stephens
UFC lightweight competitor Jeremy Stephens (14-3) threw a devastating uppercut in the third round of his lightweight battle at UFC 91: "Couture vs Lesnar" that not only sent opponent Rafael Dos Anjos crashing to the floor, but also brought the fans in attendance and at home straight out of their seats.

It was a jaw-dropping ending to a fight that Stephens admits wasn't exactly heading in the direction he was hoping for when things first got underway.

"He took me down. I really wasn't expecting for him to take me down. He's really strong. I was trying to get back up, but he had really, really tight jiu-jitsu. I couldn't move. I've been working on getting up but he left no spaces. He did a good job holding me down. Once I was able to reverse, I made a mistake and he capitalized on it. But you know I'm not going to tap. I've got too much heart, too much on the line."

Stephens credits his tremendous heart to more than just his training and iron will. "Lil' Heathen" has his roots in a state that's been a breeding ground for some of the UFC's top fighters, including former UFC welterweight champion Pat Miletich.

"515 (area code) that's my city: Des Moines, Iowa. If you throw a dart in the middle of the United States it would actually land on Des Moines, Iowa. That's why we say we have a lot of heart because Des Moines, Iowa is the heart of the United States."

After his uppercut sent dos Anjos to the land of heavy eyelids, an elated Stephens was overcome with joy, running face-first into the side of the cage - much to the crowd's enjoyment.

"[The moment was] explosive as you could probably tell. I ran into the cage! I was just so hyped up. I have so much going on in my life and it was like I was reborn again. It felt really great."

The bout against dos Anjos, Stephens fifth under the UFC banner, was a culmination of five months of hard work and determination spent trying to rebound from his unanimous decision loss to Spencer Fisher back at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 7 in June of 2008.

That preparation sent him all over the country to train with some of some of the UFC's most recognizable fighters and trainers.

"I met up with Hermes Franca. I flew out to San Diego to Saulo Ribeiro's gym. We trained with Diego Sanchez a little bit. Went up to Throwdown Elite and trained with Baret Yoshida – not with Baret but with his gym and War Machine (former UFC fighter Jon Koppenhaver). I was moving around a lot, then I went back to Davenport to finish up training and then I met Hermes a week before the fight out in Vegas."

Despite hurting his foot at UFC 91, Stephens doesn't plan on taking any extended time off away from the gym. His goal is to ride the momentum from his exciting KO at UFC 91 right into his next bout.

"The first round I kicked him and it kind of messed up my foot. I'm going to take this week off then on Monday I'm going to get right back into the gym. I expect to perform here very soon. Josh Neer and Hermes Franca were both in my corner and they are going to be fighting in February. I'm hoping to spend a lot of time with those guys and train and fight maybe on the same card or afterward."

Stephens has dedicated himself to his craft and understands that it demands time away from friends and family. But he also understands that it's exactly those kind of sacrifices that will elevate him to the next level of mixed martial arts, in turn helping him support his family through a successful career.

"[Cindy] is my girlfriend of a little bit over a year. Tuesday she flew into Vegas and that week was our one year (anniversary) and she is currently pregnant. She is a little bit over four months and in two weeks we are going to get an ultrasound and find out what sex our baby is. She is a real big help she is always there for me and it was all work for our baby so I had to give her a shout-out (after the fight)."

Aside from girlfriend Cindy, Stephens also gives thanks to his mother for helping him become the man he is today, including branding him with his nickname "Lil' Heathen".

"When I was a little kid I was more of a wild man I guess. That is the only way she could describe me. I spent a lot of time with her when I was younger. She definitely made me the best."

Being the best is Stephens ultimate goal. His thrilling win over Rafael dos Anjos was a big step in the right direction in his ascension to the top of the lightweight division.

Just don't expect another victory collision with the Octagon walls.

"It left me with a black eye."

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