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All bets are off: exclusive interview with Joe Stevenson

Joe Stevenson interview
Joe "Daddy" Stevenson is indeed a family man. But that never stopped him from whooping up on people inside the cage.

At just 26 years old, the father of four boys has nearly 40 professional fights to his credit. He’s 5-2 in the UFC and is looking to rebound from a recent title bout loss to BJ Penn.

When Joe steps into the cage this Saturday night at UFC 86: "Jackson vs. Griffin" in front of 12,000 screaming fans and millions more tuning in around the world, his eldest son, Joey, will be in attendance, watching his dad fight for the first time ever.

And a fight he shall get.

Stevenson faces American Top Team’s Gleison Tibau (15-5). Known for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling, Tibau himself is coming off a recent loss to Tyson Griffin (11-1), a friend and occasional training partner of Stevenson.

It should make for a great fight and for rare back-to-back losses for the loser (Tibau’s never had consecutive losses, and Stevenson hasn’t since ’99 – ’00 -- when he was 17 years old).

We caught up with Stevenson to see how he plans to bounce back this Saturday, find out how he feels about UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn potentially moving up in weight, get details about his brand new gym that just opened up in Victorville, Calif., and to see how family life is treating him.

Adam Wagner ( You’re set to face Gleison Tibau at UFC 86 on July 5. Tell us a bit about how you’ve been preparing for this fight.

Joe Stevenson: Nothing out of the norm. Same old training camps. This time, instead of going to Big Bear, I stayed up in Victorville, my hometown where my gym is. Other than that, same old practices.

I’ve been working with a guy named Robert Drysdale, who’s one of the best jiu-jitsu guys in the world, and he’s elevated my jiu-jitsu game even more. In fact, so much that in August, I’ll probably be competing in the No-Gi World Championships in Jiu-Jitsu, and I’m excited about that.

While I didn’t go up to Big Bear, I did do much of the same. I didn’t stay with my family — our gym has a house we rent out for trainers — so I wouldn’t be as distracted. And I had some great jiu-jitsu guys from Brazil cover my classes, because normally I teach at the schools. And then my buddy, Brandon Shelton from Oklahoma, came in, and he’s teaching the kids classes that I normally teach. So everything just really came together.

Adam Wagner ( Both you and Tibau are coming off losses: you, of course, to BJ Penn for the vacant Lightweight strap, and Tibau to Tyson Griffin. How much of a "must win" situation is this for you?

Joe Stevenson: It’s not a must-win situation. Nothing has changed, except for the fact that I’m upset that I am coming off a loss so I might have put a little bit more into it. It’s not a "Ah, I better win this," you know? Fighting is awesome and it’s great, and I get a chance to get out and show my skills in front of the world; however, I’m looking to take him out just like I do everyday.

Adam Wagner ( You’ve trained with Tyson Griffin in the past, correct?

Joe Stevenson: Yeah, Tyson and I are good friends, actually. We’ll probably be eating together after weigh-ins.

Adam Wagner ( Did you help him train for his fight with Tibau?

Joe Stevenson: Yes, I did, actually.

Adam Wagner ( Has Griffin helped you prepare for this fight?

Joe Stevenson: Yeah, we ran into each other a couple of times, and I worked with Tyson’s coach a few times. But other than that, nothing extra special, because it’s hard with family, and because his camp is in Vegas now, so it makes it difficult.

Adam Wagner ( Do you think that that familiarity puts you at any kind of advantage going into this fight? I liken it to when Diego Sanchez fought Josh Koscheck, followed immediately by (Koscheck’s training partner) Jon Fitch.

Joe Stevenson: Well I would love to say, yeah, I’m at a distinct advantage, due to fact that I trained with Tyson for him prior and for this fight. However, it’s not like (Tibau)’s not training at American Top Team with some great, great fighters like Yves (Edwards) who is probably trying to show him everything in the world to try and beat me.

Adam Wagner ( How do you see yourself measuring up to Tibau’s strengths and weaknesses?

Joe Stevenson: I think one of the only things I have better than him right now is my looks. That’s about all.

No, he’s a really tough opponent. I can’t underestimate him. I can’t take him lightly. I’m going to have to go out there and try and match skill for skill, wit for wit, strength for strength, and show him that I’ve put everything I have into this.

Come third round, when we’re both in pain and our faces are swollen up, you know, I’ve been there and done that several times. It’s definitely an experience that I enjoy, so we’ll have to see if he enjoys it.

Adam Wagner ( Do you see it as a long fight or a quick fight?

Joe Stevenson: You know, you always want the quick fight; however, you have to be prepared for the long fight. And that’s what I’m doing.

Adam Wagner ( Do you see yourself trying to stand with him, or will you be more comfortable on the ground, do you think?

Joe Stevenson: I think wherever the fight goes, I’m just going to be a little bit better than him. Wherever it goes, whether it’s a cardiovascular push, a strength push, an endurance push, a jiu-jitsu push, a wrestling push, a striking push. I’m just going to make sure I’m in a better position than him wherever the fight goes.

If he wants to take the fight standing, I’m more than comfortable standing. If he wants to push it to the ground, I don’t mind going to the ground with him either. I think he’s going to be out of his comfort zone, because whatever pace he wants to push, I’m gonna take it up one notch.

Adam Wagner ( How’s making weight going?

Joe Stevenson: I’m walking around like 165 right now* so 10 pounds to go, which is about average for me normally before a fight.

* (NOTE: this interview took place Tuesday evening, July 1)

Adam Wagner ( Is that just a pain in the butt, trying to cut that last 10?

Joe Stevenson: It’s more mental toughness to control your diet and to stay hydrated and cut the weight right. I don’t want to walk into this fight, you know, the next day (after weigh-ins) weighing 155, but then again, I don’t want to walk in weighing 180. I want to come in around 170, 175, and feel strong and have energy.

Adam Wagner ( BJ Penn has talked openly about wanting to move back up to 170 for a rematch with Georges St. Pierre. Dana White has said he can only do that once he clears out the Lightweight Division. How do you see the situation? Do you think he should first face the winner of Kenny Florian vs. Roger Huerta? Or are there other Lightweight contenders you see who might deserve a shot before Penn can claim that he’s cleared out the division?

Joe Stevenson: You’ve got Gray Maynard, Tyson Griffin, you’ve got a bunch of guys. Everyone knows that in fighting it’s styles that win. So there’s a lot of people that he could face.

However, I also think it’s his prerogative if he wants to go up, he can go up. I don’t think he should be pigeon-holed. You know, I think he should be able to do whatever he pleases, and keep the belt if he can make 55 at the same time.

I’m one of the more laid-back fighters out there, so I’m not really … As long as he can still maintain the weight or come back and make the weight again, that’s up to him, man.

Adam Wagner ( You’ve just opened a new Cobra Kai gym. How has that been going for you?

Joe Stevenson: It’s been going great. People are shocked when I’m teaching the classes. I guess they thought that I would just put my name on it or something, but that’s not how I roll. I like to teach about four times a day — two kids and two adult classes. But I had those covered for this fight, which really worked out well for me.

Other than that, this is going to be the first fight that my oldest son, Joey, is going to watch. None of my kids have ever been to the fights to watch, really. They were always too little.

Adam Wagner ( That’s gotta be exciting for the household.

Joe Stevenson: It is, it is. In fact, I’m sitting in the living room right now with three of my nephews, two of my nieces, one cousin and my four boys, so it’s pretty packed.

Adam Wagner ( How many gyms do you guys have now? I’m familiar with Cobra Kai Laimon, but with your new one, does that just make two, or are there more?

Joe Stevenson: I believe there’s a Cobra Kai in Guam, a Cobra Kai in Victorville and a Cobra Kai in Vegas, so that would make three. And then in Vegas, I think they have some charter schools like at Las Vegas Athletic Club and a few other places.

Adam Wagner ( Is having these gyms and training young fighters, is that something that you hope to do when your fighting career is over?

Joe Stevenson
: Personally, I don’t mind if it’s a fighter, or a person that just wants to get in shape or someone who’s learning self-defense. I just like to teach and share what I’ve learned. It’s kind of like I went to college for this, and now I can teach and help share. It’s not like I know everything, but if one or two things someone can take away from me that helps them, it’s priceless. You really can’t put a price on it.

Adam Wagner ( How many fights do you have remaining on your contract?

Joe Stevenson: I believe I have four. I re-signed with the UFC prior to the BJ fight.

Adam Wagner ( Well, Joe, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. I’ve watched your career since the TUF days, and I think you’re a great advocate for the sport. Do you have any parting words for your fans out there, or would you like to thank any sponsors?

Joe Stevenson: Honestly, there are so many people. Everyone you see on my clothing is someone I’d like to thank, but that would take way too much time right now. I’d like to thank some of the unsung heroes, like my family, my wife, my kids, my parents, my in-laws, my coaches and Robert Drysdale — all these people that have supported me.

I did do an interview explaining a lot of my sponsors. It’s on and I believe it’s also on, so people can check that out.

And I’m sorry that I’m so vague, it’s just that I can’t really give away the game plan strategy.

Adam Wagner ( I understand.

Joe Stevenson: (Laughs) I practice being vague at those questions.

Adam Wagner ( Well I know you have a lot of fans at who are looking forward to the fight.

Joe Stevenson: Well one of the cool things is that, the last time I fought an American Top Team guy, my dad was standing in line — I had given him a ticket, and he was going to go watch me fight — and some guy had overheard him talking about me. He didn’t know he was my dad (he’s my stepdad, you can’t really tell, he was with my mom).

Anyway, the guy had been like, "Oh, I just put $10,000 down on Yves. You know Joe?" My dad was like, "Yeah, that’s my son." And the guy was like, "Oh, I’m sorry." My dad just shook it off and walked away, but he wanted to say, "Well I’m sorry you just lost 10 grand."

It’d be interesting to know if that guy put the same bet down this time.

Adam Wagner ( If he's remotely smart he won't make the same mistake twice. Thanks Joe, again, for your time and best of luck this weekend.

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