UFC fans will easily recognize the name Jeremy “Lil Heathen” Stephens. Not only is Stephens one of the longest tenured UFC fighters currently on the roster, he’s also one of the most consistently exciting fighters the UFC has to offer. With a professional record of 24-11, a UFC record of 11-10 since his debut in 2007 and multiple Fight of the Night and KO of the Night bonuses to his name, it’s hard to argue his ranking as a top 10 fighter in the UFC Featherweight division. Coming off of a vicious flying knee knockout victory over Dennis Bermudez at UFC 189 in July, Stephens is set to face off against Max Holloway, another Featherweight standout, who is currently ranked fifth in the division. I had the pleasure of talking with “Lil Heathen” about his last fight, his upcoming fight, and where he sees himself when he finally decides to step away from the octagon.
The very first thing that I asked Jeremy was if there was anything specific that he attributes his consistently impressive performances to because, whether the result is a win or a loss, it’s never a boring fight when he’s in the octagon.
“Fighting is my life. I mean, everything I own basically was paid for by money I earned fighting. I stick to what I know. I don’t do any of that olympic level s**t that can screw up your body if you don’t do it right. I love what I do and I just go out there and fight.”
One of those highlight reel finishes that he is known for was his last fight against Dennis Bermudez at UFC 189. That fight did carry some controversy however, due to Stephens missing weight for the first time in his career. Stephens gave some insight into what caused the anomaly since he’s always been on weight before.
“Cutting weight has always been tough, I’m a big 145 pounder so it’s not the easiest thing to do and this time I just let too many factors influence the outcome. I stopped drinking water too early and worked out later than usual. By the time I went to work out, the sauna in the gym was closed so I ended up working out in some super cold gym that didn’t help much. It got to the point where my body was starting to shut down on me and I knew that if I kept at it and made weight that I probably wouldn’t be able to go for the fight and I was already coming off 2 losses so, I made the decision to take money out of my pocket and food from my family in order to go in there and do the fight right. I cheated myself out of probably 100k by not making weight but I wasn’t about to cheat or try to screw the system and I just wanted to get in there and see who the better man was. I asked Dennis if he’d still take the fight and he accepted and I was around the weight I would’ve been on fight night anyway so I don’t think it put him at a disadvantage at all.”
He seemed very confident that the weight wouldn’t be an issue this time, so we moved on to the possible implications of his fight at UFC 194. With Max Holloway being ranked fifth and Stephens being ranked eighth, it seems logical that a win over Holloway could propel him right into the number one contender conversation. Stephens didn’t seem to put much stock in that idea however.
“I don’t really focus on the #1 contender thing, people have been promised that stuff before and lost it and I’ve had experience with that in the past. So right now I’m just focusing on Max and getting the win, whether that’s by KO, decision, split decision or whatever, I just want to go in there and win.”
Both Stephens and Holloway are known primarily for their standup but Stephens has a wrestling background, has been working on his Greco-Roman wrestling and trains out of Alliance, a camp that boasts some of the best wrestlers in MMA. With that in mind, but knowing that he couldn’t give away his entire gameplan, I asked if he was planning on using his wrestling as a primary advantage against Holloway. He was very confident in his response.
“Honestly I feel like I’m the better, more powerful striker anyway so I don’t think it matters. Max is a point fighter, he likes to run a lot but I’m in there looking to hunt him down and take his head off. I’m more than willing to stand in there and go toe to toe with him and stand and bang for 15 minutes if that’s what it takes and I think I’ll come out on top if that happens.”
Stephens and Holloway are no strangers to one another. In fact, Stephens brought Holloway in as part of his training camp for his fight with Anthony Pettis in 2011. They lived together during that time and Holloway has said in recent interviews that he still considers Stephens a friend, even if they’re not as close as they used to be. When I brought that up and asked if fighting a friend makes him approach a fight differently, Stephens had a unique outlook on the matter.
“Max is a great kid, probably the most genuine person in the UFC. I cheer for him to this day and definitely wish him success. But I look at fighting differently, we can be friendly afterwards, but we’re there to fight. I have no problem fighting friends, I actually think it makes for a better fight since we can go in there and just put on a great show for the fans, knowing that we’ll both be good afterwards. My training partners will tell you, I don’t care who it is, I’m looking to beat them, obviously I’m not looking to hurt or injure anybody but I don’t take it easy on them either.”
Headlining UFC 194 is a Featherweight title fight between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor. McGregor has been anything but shy about running his mouth and no one in the division, or in the UFC really, has been spared. Many fighters have taken verbal shots back at McGregor but Stephens hasn’t been one of them. Jeremy made it very simple as to why he hasn’t taken a shot at Conor himself.
“I’m 100% focused on Max Holloway, Conor really isn’t a threat to me right now with where we’re both at in the division, obviously that will change at some point but for now I’m not worried about him.”
We switched gears a little bit and I asked Stephens about how important he believes martial arts to be as a way to help kids learn important life principles and other things like that. He has two daughters who are both involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as a nephew who is a wrestler. The passion he has, as well as the love for his family, was instantly recognizable in his voice.
“I definitely think it’s important to get kids involved in martial arts or just sports in general. I think it’s huge that people know how to defend themselves. There’s a lot of bullying in schools and I can’t stand bullying and want my daughters to know how to defend themselves in case they’re ever in a situation that calls for it. It can also teach a lot of different things like discipline. My nephew is in wrestling and he’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever seen, he’s only like 6 years old and just got started in wrestling and he’s already winning 1st place in tournaments, beating coaches sons and stuff like that. I just tell his parents to encourage him, don’t pressure him or anything, I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. Encourage them to do well and keep at it, but if they don’t want to do it then don’t force them. I don’t force my daughters to do anything, I don’t let them quit once they’ve started, like quit mid-season or anything because I think that teaches them the wrong thing too, but I won’t make them sign up for anything they don’t want to.”
Branching off of that thought a little bit, I asked if he planned on getting into coaching or teaching whenever he eventually retires, although at age 29 that point seems a good distance away. He made it clear that even when he steps out of the cage as a competitor, he will always be involved in the sport.
“I’ve got probably another 10 years in the sport if I’m lucky and stay healthy. Knowledge is power but it’s only power if you use it. What I mean by that is, I’m learning with every fight and with all my experience, but it means nothing if I don’t use that knowledge and experience and pass it on to others. I think I’ll have my own gym in the next 5-6 years and it will be open to anyone who’s willing to learn. If you’re committed and want to learn then you won’t be turned away.”
To finish off the interview, I asked him for his predictions on the two title fights that will headline UFC 194. For the middleweight championship, his answer was short and sweet.
For the Jose Aldo vs Conor McGregor fight, the title of the division he fights in, he elaborated a little more.
“Aldo, but I think Conor has a chance. He’s unorthodox and he might be in Jose’s head a little bit, but I’ve seen things in Conor’s game that I think Aldo will exploit and I think he’ll take the fight.”
If I only took one thing away from my talk with Jeremy Stephens, it’s that he is a fighter to be looked up to by fight fans and aspiring fighters alike. The passion and love that he has for the sport is obvious and his thoughts on teaching the younger generation show that it’s anything but selfishness that keeps him going.
You can watch Jeremy Stephens vs Max Holloway, in what is sure to be a contender for Fight of the Night, at UFC 194 on December 12th, 2015.
Dana White gives update on Conor McGregor and the lightweight division
The top end of the UFC’s lightweight division is thriving. Dustin Poirer defeated former division champion Anthony Pettis, in dominant fashion. Tony Ferguson won the lightweight division’s interim title by carving Kevin Lee from his back. Safe to say, no everyday person would ever want to see Khabib Nurmagomedov down a damp and dark alley. Don’t forget, the gutsy performance of Eddie Alvarez stealing Justin Gaethje’s undefeated record away. The division is thriving like gas attempting to escape a shaken champagne bottle.
On Friday, UFC President, Dana White, spoke to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, about a number of topics. One, which came up fairly quickly; Conor McGregor and his stranglehold on the lightweight belt. The pair began talking about recent performances inside the octagon when the illustrious name of, Khabib Nurmagomedov, came up. White claimed, “Conor always finds a way to win. When he hits you, you go…”. Then speaking of the potential bout between Nurmagomedov and McGregor, “I love that matchup but, Tony Ferguson is the interim champion. Conor and I haven’t really figured out when he’s coming back and what’s going on…”. He continued, “I don’t think Conor wants to fight until August, but if he waits until August or September, that’s around two years since the belt has been defended and that can’t happen”.
Iole followed up by asking, due to circumstances, does McGregor owe it to the sport to defend his title? The UFC president agreed, “And to the other fighters. Not only to the sport but, to the other fighters. This is a game of time… when you’re a professional athlete, time is your enemy and we can’t let this thing go on forever and not give other guys the opportunity. Tony Ferguson has been around for a long time and has earned his dues, Khabib has earned his dues… Conor has done very well, he’s made a lot of money, and if he decides that he doesn’t want to fight again for another however long that’s up to him… but, the belt has to move on… we gotta figure some stuff out here in the next couple months”.
It only makes sense that the UFC wants progression in the one-hundred and fifty-five lb. division. Even without their massive revenue generator, the division must move on. Athletes like Nurmagomedov may be relatively unknown outside the MMA community in the United States but, his official Instagram page holds 3.2 million followers. While Tony Ferguson may not hold online notoriety, he does have an exciting style. A style that could win a good many of fans, the more exposure he receives.
For White, one of these two men must fight for the division’s championship title. When asked about what is next, he stated, “As long as Conor is willing to fight by March, we could do Khabib versus Tony and then the winner fights Conor… or Conor doesn’t wanna fight and wants to sit out till next fall. Then we would have to make Khabib vs. Tony for the title”.
Time can be the only truth serum in this particular situation. The UFC brass has spoken of forcing McGregor to vacate his lightweight title for some time. Yet, nothing has happened. On the other hand, it would be more than surprising to see the division’s belt sit on the shelf for another year. Considering it all, including the status of contenders and depth of the division, the bottleneck created by one man never ceases to amaze.
Exclusive: Neil Magny: “It’s going to come down to fighting tooth and nail”
On Saturday, December 30th, Neil Magny steps back into the Octagon as he takes on the returning Carlos Condit. Magny’s had a rough past couple of months as the 6’3 welterweight has alternated wins and losses as well as fighting a lot less than usual. Magny was known as one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster until injuries started to take away from his time in the cage.
Welcoming Magny back to the cage is a man who is also making his return after a long layoff, Carlos Condit. Fans and even Magny have been waiting a long time for the fight to come together.
“I love this fight, this a fight I’ve been chasing for nearly two years now,” Magny told MMA Latest. “The fight’s going to be happening this Saturday and I’m excited for it.”
Condit hasn’t competed since he lost to Demian Maia back in August 2016. The Jackson-Wink product lost via first round rear-naked choke, the loss prompted a semi-retirement that left everyone unsure if he would ever return. The time spent away from the cage could potentially bring upon the universally hated “ring-rust”.
“Not at all,” Magny said as he shot down any talks of ring-rust. “I mean, if anything, I would be more affected by ring rust than he is. I mean, I’m a guy who likes to compete all throughout the years. This is the least amount of fights I’ve had in a year- in awhile- I don’t think the ring rust will be a factor at all and I can’t let that allow me to think that this fight will be easier because of that.”
With Condit’s return being the big story in this fight, it’s easy to think Magny’s been swept under the rug. The fan-favorite has been loved for his tendency to turn every fight into a brawl and putting everything on the line. The hype and excitement haven’t lead Magny to believe he’s being overlooked.
“Not all,” Magny says with a shrug. “I don’t feel like I’m being overlooked in this fight at all. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of hype around Condit going into this fight. But yeah I don’t consider it a bad thing at all. I know I’m focused on what I need to do and I spend most of my time focusing on that rather than the other possibilities or what media attention is drawn to that kind of thing.”
Condit’s tendency to turn his fights into brawls is something Magny’s comfortable with, as technique and advantages tend to fly out the window. The Colorado native is honest about where his strengths are.
“This is a fight where it’s going to be a fight and turn into a brawl and were going to fight tooth and nail,” Magny said. “Going into this fight I don’t have the grappling advantage, the submission advantage, I don’t have the significant striking advantage. So anywhere this fight goes it’s not going to be one guy just outclassing the other guy. I know it’s going to come down to fighting tooth and nail or anything that will win this fight. So that’s something that I’m looking forward to the most- going out there and allowing this fight to go down successfully.”
Magny’s rough patch continued in his last fight when he lost to former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos by submission. While a good chunk of fighters have a tendency to dwell on losses, Magny’s moved on and, more importantly, he’s learned from his mistakes.
“I could backtrack and pick the fight apart and find a thousand things I did wrong and things I could’ve done differently,” Magny begin to explain. “But at the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to change the outcome of the fight, all I can do is make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for this fight. That’s what I’ve been spending my time focusing on as well as covering every angle going into this fight mentally, physically, and emotionally. Everything I need to do to be successful in this fight I’ll do it.”
Although Magny’s moved on from the loss, that hasn’t stopped him from making changes in his lead up to fights.
“Since my last fight one of the main things I changed in my training camp was the use of a sports physiatrist,” Magny said. “I noticed for these last four fights I got myself into tough positions all three have been lackluster fights that I wasn’t too proud of. Coming into this fight we’ll be sure to work on all angles and we’ll see if the talks and working with a sports physiologist will make a difference. I have no idea but the thing about it is that I want to be as prepared as possible.”
Welterweight contender Kamaru Usman claimed that Magny was going to fight him, that is until Magny accepted the fight with Condit.
“No, nothing was ever set for Usman and I to ever fight,” Magny said. “I was in a position where I was coming off a loss and it didn’t matter who I fought next. I was just eager to get that nasty taste out of my mouth from the last fight. So he’s done his usual call me out on Twitter call me out on Instagram wherever he could I was just like ‘meh whatever, if you really want to fight me I’m available, I’m interested in doing it right away’ so why not take the matchup sooner and get the taste out of my mouth.”
Although the fight with Usman isn’t happening, the fight with Condit definitely is. So what does Magny predict?
“I see me going out there and just winning any way I see,” Magny said. “Whether its a decision where we go back and forth and go all out war, or me getting the TKO, submission, or knockout. I mean, I’m just looking forward to going out there and getting my hand raised.”
UFC 219’s Dan Hooker: Fighting in Perth Would Be an “Ideal Situation.”
New Zealander Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker is somewhat of a UFC veteran these days. On the 30th December Hooker will make his eighth UFC appearance, facing Marc Diakiese at UFC 219 in Las Vegas.
The card is a marquee event with some of the biggest names in the sport competing, but Hooker isn’t letting the magnitude of the event affect his preparation.
“It’s something you can look back on tell people you fought on a big card in Las Vegas, so it’s a milestone,” the Kiwi explained. “But when you’re focused on it you have to take every fight as just another fight. You can’t let the moment overwhelm you, or distract you.”
Hooker admitted to not knowing much about his opponent, Englishman, Diakiese, when the fight was announced. “I hadn’t seen him fight before we got matched, but he’s a big name in the UK so I’m looking forward to it”
Twenty-seven year old Hooker is just happy to fight. He had planned on fighting in Sydney this past November. “I had an infection in my knee which ruled me out of Sydney. I’m glad they can get me on [a card] before the end of the year.”
The Kiwi last fought at home on the UFC Auckland card in June, defeating veteran Ross Pearson with a devastating knee that KO’d his foe in round two. A fight that proved he belonged with the best in the world.
“It’s where I believe my skills are at. I’m showing everyone else what I know I’m capable of,” he said of the fight. “I think I’m capable of much more so I’m looking forward to getting back in there and doing it all again.”
The Pearson bout was Hooker’s first in the UFC’s lightweight division, having fought his first six bouts at featherweight, ten pounds below at 145 pounds. Hooker now intends to make 155 his home, and isn’t concerned about size difference.
“I’m not going back to 145, 155 is where it’s at. I’m more likely to go up than down,” Hooker said. “I just feel my skills have caught up, even if someone is carrying more size than me, I can beat them with my skill.”
There has been scrutiny in recent times due to weight cutting in the sport and new rules have been implemented by the UFC and various commissions to make to process safer. But not much is different, according to Hooker.
“It hasn’t changed anything. The bigger guys are still here and still cutting the same amount of weight.” Hooker also expressed his concern that more divisions would do more harm than good.
“You might get the opposite effect where guys are coming down even further, thinking its not ten pounds of weight, it’s only five pounds. Everyone needs to move up a weight class and fight at their natural weight. Lifestyle wise and longevity wise it’s going to pay off.”
A big reason why 155 is where it’s at is because of Conor McGregor. McGregor is currently the champion in Hooker’s division, yet he has been inactive for over a year and shows no signs in returning any time soon. Hooker isn’t holding his breath on the prospect of the Irishman fighting again.
“I’m not getting off the couch with a 100 million dollars in the bank, I’ll tell you that. I’ve never seen a fat lion running around chasing antelope in the desert, it just doesn’t happen,” Hooker joked.
While Hooker doesn’t see the UFC stripping McGregor anytime soon, he’s indifferent about the use of interim belts in the UFC. Tony Ferguson is the current interim champion in the lightweight division and Hooker thinks he should be next in line.
“The UFC have offered Tony [Ferguson] to defend his interim title. Defending an interim title is where I draw the line. It should be your golden ticket to a title shot, or don’t hand it out”
Interim titles aside, the stage is set for the New Zealander at UFC 219 in front of a large global audience. He aims to make his way up the lightweight ladder towards a prestigious top 15 spot on the roster.
Hooker is one of a few New Zealand based fighters making a run in the UFC. Shane Young made his debut this year, as did Luke Jumeau. Both often train alongside Hooker at City Kickboxing in Auckland. Hooker also suggested that the undefeated striker, Israel Adesanya will be next Kiwi fighter to join the UFC roster.
“The New Zealand market has quite a big talent pool and we’re able to get multiple New Zealand fighters in the UFC. It’s a really good sign.”
As for 2018, Hooker isn’t looking too far ahead as the nature of the sport of MMA means an injury can be just around the corner. If Hooker does come out unscathed – and victorious – then he has a plan in mind.
“I’d like to fight as soon as possible. I’d like to catch up to the Aussies and New Zealanders who got to fight in Sydney and will be fighting in Perth. If I can catch up in Perth then that would be the ideal situation.”
The Perth card would certainly make sense for Hooker. A win against Diakiese would give him his first win streak of his UFC career and set him up for even bigger fights in 2018. For now, Hooker is focused on his English opponent and ending his year on a high.
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