For as tough as Jeremy Stephens is on the exterior, the power-punching Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight contender — just like an everyday Average Joe — hurts on the inside, fighting his own personal demons. “Lil Heathen” opened up during a recent appearance on “The Ariel Helwani Show” about the struggles he faces within himself for what he feels is coming up short in the biggest moments of his life. Something he reveals boiled over following his knockout loss to Jose Aldo at UFC on FOX 30 in Dec. 2018, which ultimately cost him his first-ever shot at a UFC world title.
It got so bad, says Stephens, that he had suicidal thoughts.
“After the loss, it wasn’t even about the fight, it was about these patterns in my life that were setting me back. I was literally ready to change my life. If I change my wife, change my house, change my car ... I was thinking suicidal thoughts,” said Stephens. “I get into this program and all I had to go was change my mindset and find some tools, discover a bit about myself and dig a little bit deeper and share these things with people so that they can see where I come from,” he added.
“After the fight, I was looking at my kids who were nine and seven, and that was when my parents split up, when I was eight years old. I was ready to go down that pattern. Like I said, I was ready to leave my wife, leave my kids and just leave it all. Change my house, my car, thinking suicidal thoughts,” he reiterated while revealing it was his head coach Eric Del Fierro at Alliance MMA who saved his life by introducing him to a leadership program in Las Vegas, Nevada, called Choice Center.
But, to understand his pain and frustrations with a pattern that seemingly can't be unbroken, you have to go back to his childhood where Stephens says he faced many harsh times.
“As a kid I went through so much, I went from living in a shelter, living in a car and lived through so much abuse in my childhood — going to 14 different elementary schools. I was never really able to talk about that and I let it affect me in patterns of my life,” Stephen said, revealing he also had suicidal thoughts during his high school days, but never actually attempted it.
“I was able to go through the program and find out about life, a lot about myself in this program. It really helped me find myself mentality, help me find my confidence. As a kid when you go through stuff like that, I just realized I was failing at my biggest moments. Like, ‘Why, every time, do I fail at my biggest moment?’’
“I didn’t really believe in myself. Why should a young kid from Des Moines, Iowa, be a world champion? Right as I was about to get my title break, I would just drop the ball. There was no self-confidence. Those things were holding me back. I was able to dig deep, go in get some tools get some coaching from some of the bet people in the world that was better than any type of counseling I’ve ever been to. It’s helped me grow with my relationships, with my wife and my kids.”
Being in the spotlight, athletes, actors, celebrities and prominent figures from all walks of life more often than not have to put on their bravest faces in public even when turmoil and angst is tearing them up on the inside. At the end of the day, however, they are still human, and Stephens says that’s one thing people need to understand ... even if his job is one of the toughest out there.
”People look at us as fighters, and yes, I’m probably one of the toughest dudes you’ll ever meet, but I’ve also been down in the dumps. I’m a real human being. I’m a person, I have feelings, I have emotions. I have a family myself,” he said.
Thanks to Choice Center, Stephens says he’s worked hard to become a better person and overcome his personal mental blocks and issues. And it’s something that has also improved his training ahead of his comeback fight at the upcoming UFC 235 this Saturday night (March 2, 2019), where he is lined up to face Zabit Magomedsharipov in the headlining “Prelims” fight on ESPN.
“All this growth, going through this program has really put me on another level mentally. It’s helped my training, it’s affected my relationships and opened me up to a whole new world. I get to go in on ESPN on as a main event, balls big, hands swinging and take the opportunity against a young man.”
To learn more about Choice Center Leadership University click here.