Talk about a guy whose fight game has matured well beyond his years.
At the tender age of 23, the man they call 'Lil Heathen" is making quite a name for himself as a lightweight competitor in the UFC's stacked 155-pound division.
With his hard fought win over the venerable Sam Stout on last Saturday's UFC 113: "Machida vs. Shogun II" fight card, Jeremy Stephens has propelled himself right into the mix with other mid-to-top level guys in his weight class.
With his eyes set on eventual lightweight gold, Stephens is ready to take that proverbial next step in his career.
Just days after winning "Fight of the Night" honors for his victory over the tough Canadian, Jeremy spoke with MMAmania.com about his fight against "Hands of Stone," the big story lines coming out of UFC 113 (re: Kimbo, Daley), just how the hell he developed so much power in his hands, who he wants next in the Octagon and more.
Check it out:
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): First off, congratulations are in order for your win over Sam Stout this past weekend at UFC 113. You have any plans for that 65k you won for "Fight of the Night?" That's a lot of bread for a young guy like yourself.
Jeremy Stephens: Yeah, that's huge for me. I'm gonna actually just save it for now and watch it triple, you know? Just try to invest in my future.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Talk to me about your game plan coming into the fight. Obviously it was to stand and trade with him, that's both of you guys' styles, but did things go the way you envisioned them?
Jeremy Stephens: Well yeah, obviously I'm happy with the way the fight panned out. My game plan was actually to come in and mix it up a little more. I worked a lot on my takedowns and ground and pound coming into the fight and was thinking I was gonna use more of that. But everything else went real well. I've gone back and watched the fight, and besides a few tactical errors, I'm real happy with my performance.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): It was a close fight, a split decision. When you were announced as the winner, you were obviously ecstatic, but you also seemed a bit surprised. Did you think you were gonna get the nod from the judges?
Jeremy Stephens: We were fighting near his hometown and the crowd was behind him, so I wasn't sure what was gonna happen. But I felt like I had won the fight. I felt like I had done enough to get the decision. And after going back and looking at the tape, I definitely thought I pulled it out. You forget some things that you do during the fight, so it was good to go back and watch how it all played out. I mean, God bless that guy. He took everything I had and just kept on coming. It was a great fight. But either way, win or lose, I would have walked away from the fight knowing I gave it all I had, and I can be happy with that.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Let me get your opinion on Paul Daley and Kimbo Slice. Both were released by the UFC this past weekend; Daley for his cheap shot and Kimbo for his less than impressive performance. Did you see either fight, and what do you think of the UFC's decision to cut them?
Jeremy Stephens: Well, I didn't really see either fight, but I did see the cheap shot. And there's absolutely no room for stuff like that in our sport, especially not in the UFC. This isn't Elite XC, you know? Dana and the Fertittas take the reputation of this sport very seriously, so I can completely understand why they cut him. As far as Kimbo, I think he deserves to stay in the UFC. He's gone 1-1 so far, and let's face it, he's never gonna compete for a title, but I think most people knew that in the first place. But he's still a big draw. I got a chance to hang with him a bit in Montreal and the guy is just real chill and nice. He would sign autographs for every fan, and cooperated well with everyone. I mean, you have a guy like Chuck Liddell, who will probably never compete for a title again, but he's still in the UFC because he's a big draw. Of course Kimbo has never, and will never, accomplish what Chuck has in this sport, but purely in terms of just being a big draw, I think he deserves another chance.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Back to your fight with Stout, I gotta ask you about your power. It was the clear deciding factor in the fight. Is that something you either have or you don't? Can you work on developing that kind of power?
Jeremy Stephens: It actually comes natural to me. I honestly don't even think I hit that hard. But everyone tells me that I do. But I don't train specifically for it, it's just kinda something that I've always been good at. I'm lucky I guess.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Now, for a guy with the kind of power you possess, it'd be easy for you to sit back and just rely on your hands and hope that you eventually catch your opponent, instead of continuously working to improve your overall game. What are you doing to prevent your growth in this sport from becoming stagnant?
Jeremy Stephens: That's a good point, and I work a lot to make sure that doesn't happen to me. I'm always working on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu. I think my ground and pound game is pretty good right now too. Of course, I'm blessed to have the ability to always catch someone with these hands, but it's definitely not something I go into a fight thinking about. I actually just moved my family out to San Diego to help take my training to the next level; I'm definitely looking to improve in all areas of the game
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Well, that couldn't have been a better segue if I had told you what to say beforehand. Like you said, you recently moved out to San Diego to train with The Arena Team. Talk about that transition and what it's like training with the guys in that camp.
Jeremy Stephens: Well, I train at Throwdown, Alliance, and Arena. Arena has Steve Abas, Rani Yahya, and KJ Noons. And then I train with Alliance guys like Dominick Cruz and Ed Ratcliff. There's just a ton of variety out here in San Diego and I have coaches that really push me and want to see me improve. It's been great so far.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Talk about your career to date. You've had nine fights in the UFC, 23 overall, and yet you're still only 23 years old [turning 24 later this month]. Do you view that more as a positive because you have so much time to continue to improve, or a negative because by the time you're 30 or so, you may wear down faster than other fighters that haven't been in as many wars as you?
Jeremy Stephens: You're right, that's a good point. That can definitely play a factor later on. But the way I view things, I just look at it one day at a time and thank God everyday that I'm healthy. And I view every fight as potentially my last fight, so I don't really think about the future that much. I just wake up every day and try to improve myself in every way I can.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): You're coming off back-to-back wins after suffering back-to-back losses. Where do you think you stand in the stacked UFC lightweight division?
Jeremy Stephens: I don't really pay attention to rankings, you know? Joe Silva and those guys choose who I fight. There are a lot of different styles of fighters out there to face. But yeah, I definitely feel like I'm ready to move up and take on some of the better fighters in the division. I look forward to it. I think our division is stacked. I think there could be five or six guys that could win the title. Of course you got Frankie Edgar and B.J Penn. But there's Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard, Jim Miller, George Sotiropoulos, and Kurt Pellegrino has been on a roll too. I mean, damn, look at the list of guys I just named. There are so many guys at the top of the division. I just want to fight the best so I can become the best.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): So what type of fight are you looking to get next? Let's try this little exercise out. I'm gonna run off some names of fighters and you tell me if you think they're a good fight for you right now. Nate Diaz, Efrain Escudero, Evan Dunham, Ross Pearson, and Mac Danzig. What do you think of those guys
Jeremy Stephens: I do think about who I'm gonna fight next. And I won't call anybody out right now, but to be honest, a couple of the names you just said are definitely at the top of my list of guys to fight. Some of those guys definitely run through my mind.
James Kimball (MMAmania.com): Well, thank for you time Jeremy and good luck in your next bout against whomever the UFC chooses for you. Do you have any sponsors you'd like to thank or a website you want to plug?
Jeremy Stephens: Thank you. I just want to thank all my sponsors. The Fight Mafia, Venom, Cardboard Box, and MusclePharm. And any other sponsors I forgot to mention. You can check out my website, www.lilheathenmma.com too. Now I'm back home with my family and things couldn't be better. God bless everyone and thanks for all the support.