It was one of the biggest fights of 2010, and in true Vegas fight night fashion, the glitterati attached to the event was hard to miss even if you tried. “Suga” Rashad Evans would take the main stage against opposing TUF 10 coach and heated rival Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
However, on the preliminary card, another great fight occurred between UFC debutant Waylon Lowe and UFC veteran Melvin Guillard. The result: a first round knockout by Guillard that signaled the return of the well-known striking power he has wielded on many before.
However, at the end of the match the emotions gave way to a request directed solely towards one person Guillard had in his crosshairs - he called out his wish to battle Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens. Little did he know, the ‘heathen’ heard the statement just feet away from the battle zone. Insert cryptic smile here.
“I was actually sitting in the stands and was excited that he called me out,” said Stephens. “He gave me some promotion and I figure it will be a great fight. I’ve been getting tons of mail since I’ve been in the UFC about me fighting him since I first arrived. Once I seen him fight my boy Josh Neer a long time ago and Neer put him in that triangle I’ve always wanted to fight him for some reason. I think it would be a great fight, so him calling me out was just a plus and I’m super excited.”
Stephens, who is experiencing a career upswing with his current two-fight win streak, has been preparing for the big fights since he moved to San Diego and out of his Iowa fighting roots. This fight promises to deliver a huge action packed spectacle, not just due to the duo’s penchant for slugging their way through a round but because they actually want to fight each other. The last fight that involved a Stephens call-out? Sam Stout, although no one knew his passion led Stephens to call him out.
“Getting that Sam Stout fight I actually called (UFC Matchmaker) Joe Silva and asked for the fight. I’ve always wanted to fight Sam Stout, I knew I could beat him, I knew my power would be a big thing and overall I just felt like I was a better mixed martial artist,” said Stephens. “I was able to make some takedowns and display some good standup which I haven’t really done in the UFC so I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes about me and there’s definitely more to come. I was happy about my performance, but my next one is going to be my best one.”
In a division as crowded as the UFC lightweight class, every matchup is a solid one, but none more so than when two guys get suited up for a striker’s ball. Two self-professed strikers touching gloves and engaging in that ceremonial dance of skill and wit is always a fan favorite and a UFC trademark. Stephens sees this as no different and unavoidable.
“I just expect an explosive war and I expect to come out on top. I’m a lot more mentally tough than him and I’m just going to break him down at his own game and overall I’m just a better mixed martial artist than he is. His main weakness is that he’s very mentally weak and when the fight doesn’t go his way he folds, he breaks, he looks for ways out and I plan on exploiting those weaknesses. We eventually were going to cross paths and I just think it’s the right timing, especially for me at this point in my career and I’m definitely ready for it; I can’t wait to go out there and shut him up.”
Stephens’s relocation to San Diego has also opened a treasure trove of partners to help elevate his game, and he is basking in the California sun and brightness of the future from these added training partners.
“It’s been great. I’m around people that are better than me every day. I’ve got more than 5-10 black belts here that can help me out on my weaknesses. I have great coaches that push me and they know exactly what to do with me as far as my training. My whole level of training has just improved, my knowledge has improved, and I still have a long ways to go, but every day we’re making those differences better in a positive way and I’m real super excited to go show the fans how my move here and my hard work is going to pay off for UFC 119. I’ve trained here in San Diego when Diego Sanchez was here, Shannon Gugerty, Dean Lister and tons of other guys. I’ve got Dominick Cruz at Alliance Training Center and I’ve got a lot of those guys over there that have been helping me out as well. There’s tons of guys out here in San Diego and it’s really a blessing to be out here.”
Of course every fighter only has his next opponent squarely in his mind, but it would be a misnomer to think Stephens isn’t hungry for a chance at the title. And although he respects the new champ, he makes no qualms about how he feels his chances will be if given the opportunity.
“I feel like I’m on the right path. My focus is on Guillard, but I definitely sat back and watched those guys. I knew Frankie (Edgar) was actually going to beat BJ (Penn), his style has got BJ’s number, but in this division today there’s a spider web of guys that can be at the top on the elite level any given day. I definitely feel I’m right up there with them guys and they have their strengths and their weaknesses as well, and if I get the opportunity I’d definitely love to fight him. I know that I make an exciting fight for anybody, so I’m definitely game, I know I could win and I’m very confident in my abilities these days.”