Jeremy Stephens is set to begin a new journey in his post-Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) life as part of the 2022 Professional Fighter’s League (PFL) Lightweight tournament.
Despite going winless in his last six outings, “Lil Heathen’s” departure from UFC came as a surprise to many considering he’d been under contract since 2007 when he debuted opposite Din Thomas at UFC 71. Now a veteran of 48 fights with 34 of those inside the Octagon, the 35-year-old Stephens (28-19, 1 no contest) never thought about retirement during his brief free agency period.
“Nah, not at all,” Stephens told MMAMania.com regarding the thought of retiring. “I wanted to continue to fight and they weren’t fighting me the way I wanted to so I chose to leave. To get it clear, I didn’t get cut from UFC, I decided to part ways because I wanted to do what’s best for me and my family. UFC never cut me so don’t get it twisted, I could still be with them, but I’m gonna be waiting on the sidelines.
“I asked for the Joe Lauzon, Clay Guida, Donald Cerrone [fights],” he continued. “Now Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon are fighting? Like I’d been asking for that. Why can’t I get it? The only thing I can think of is that [UFC Matchmaker] Sean [Shelby] just didn’t like getting yelled at by [UFC President] Dana [White] when I pushed him. Drakkar Klose, right? That was like when s—t kinda started getting weird. I’m like, ‘This is kinda funky, but I’m not gonna get mistreated.’ I’ve done my job for that company and continued to fight. Dana wanted to keep me on. He and I still have a cool relationship. I still text him and chat with him. I just felt like I had to do what’s best for me and my family. There’s opportunities all around. I have a name out there, 34 fights in the UFC, people know what they’re getting with me and you know you’re getting action.”
Stephens’ last UFC fight came against former Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW) champion, Mateusz Gamrot, but three months prior he was set to take on Drakkar Klose. Instead, the action started a little too early.
At official weigh-ins the day before the event, Stephens and Klose went to staredown where the latter got too close for the veteran’s liking, resulting in a reactionary shove (watch it). Klose ended up suffering a cervical sprain of the neck and a concussion, therefore, the fight was canceled later that day.
With Klose competing against Brandon Jenkins this Saturday night (April 16, 2022) at UFC Vegas 51, he revealed during fight week that he’s still feeling the effects of the incident a full year after ... and may at some point require surgery.
“I’m done talking about him, brother,” Stephens said. “I don’t want to hear his name no more. S—t’s popping up. You know what, everybody can just eat it. I don’t care. It is what it is. That guy got knocked out right before I fought him. Is what it is, move on.”
As for Stephens’ next fight, he’ll kick off the PFL’s 2022 season as the April 20 card’s main event when facing fellow UFC veteran, Clay Collard. Also known for his striking abilities and fan-friendly style, Collard has competed a bit in boxing recently to really hone his craft. In the 2021 season, he dropped a controversial unanimous decision in the tournament’s semifinals to eventual champion, Raush Manfio, which many believed he should have won.
Because of that, Stephens expects his promotional debut to be nothing but a vintage “Lil Heathen” war against the man who very well could be considered the uncrowned 2021 titleholder.
“Straight banger! You guys know us, you’re in for a treat,” Stephens said. “This is a good one, this is something that gets me excited waking up for every day, preparing my ass off for and knowing that he’s gonna bring it and I’m gonna bring it, we’re gonna collide in there and I’m gonna flatline ‘em.
“I think that’s the thing that’s good about it is I get to go out there and take out [who] I feel’s the champion guy and put on a statement and put these motherf—kers on notice that ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m making a statement with this one.’ So this is a great opportunity,” he continued. “I’m not looking past him at all. I feel like I’m fighting the best one which is what I do. Jeremy Stephens, he fights nothing but the best. People may not know who Clay is, they may not know who the f—k he is but he’s a very dangerous tough dude and it’s gonna make for a great and exciting fight. He’s not gonna be running around, he’s not gonna be trying to run from me. He’s gonna be in my face, he ain’t gonna be hard to find. So this makes for an exciting matchup with the way that we stylistically collide and can make some fireworks.”
This poll is closed