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Jeremy Stephens: A Walking Highlight Reel

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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.

“Weidman”

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.

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Bellator

Saad Awad talks Zach Freeman, kickboxing, 165 lb division and more ahead of Bellator 186

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Long-time Bellator veteran Saad Awad takes on Zach “the Pico slayer” Freeman at Bellator 186. Awad is currently coming off of a unanimous decision win over Ryan Quinn back at Bellator 178. Awad looks to beat top prospect Freeman in an attempt to go on a two-fight winning streak, in a stacked lightweight division.

Speaking with MMA Latest, Awad let it known he believes Freeman has the better ground game. “I think he’s a solid fighter, pretty durable, obviously better on the ground, so I know I just have to be sharp, and be precise with my striking, and get ready for a good ground game.”

Freeman made his name by beating Bellator’s hyped prospect Aaron Pico back in June, Awad had the chance to give his thoughts on the fight. “I thought it was good, I thought it was a fast win, but he didn’t shy away from it, he didn’t let Pico come in and impose his will, he struck back when he needed to, and dropped him, and got a nice submission.”

With every win helping fighters get closer to a title shot, it’s unclear whether or not Awad is close to a title shot, but he hasn’t given up hope. “I’ve been with Bellator since 2012, I think, or 2013 and I haven’t got a title fight yet so I don’t know man. To be honest, it’s on Bellator and on me to go out there and preform. So I need to win as many fights as I can, so I can go out there and win it.”

For a long time, Awad has been known mostly as the man who knocked out former Bellator champion Will Brooks. Awad believes he’s moved past that fight and more importantly, has moved on from that title. “Definitely at the time I was that guy and I feel like Zach Freeman is that guy for Pico because Pico was pumped up, obviously more than normal. I had that title for a while, but Will Brooks did go off and win a title right after he lost to me, so he had his name buzzing for a while. I definitely think I’ve moved on from that and I’ve beaten some really good guys after that, and I’ve had some really good wars since that fight. I’ll never let one fight dictate who I am and I’m glad I’ve moved past that”

Awad comes into the fight back in the win column and up against an up and coming opponent, Awad details the amount of pressure he’s on. “You know what I always put pressure on myself. Whether I’m winning or losing, because at the end of the day you want to win, whether you’re coming off of a loss or you’re coming off a win. If you lose, you lose, and that’s it, you lost, so there’s always expectation with me and yeah if this time I lose, I could possibly get cut if I lose this one, because I just won my last one and I’m not trying to have a win one, lose, win one, lose one. So there’s still that pressure to perform, especially being that Zach has only one fight in Bellator and I’m probably ten fights in. So I do have some pressure behind me.”

Awad was unable to watch the Henderson-Pitbull fight, lucky, but he did have a theory on why it went the way it did. “You know what I didn’t even watch it, normally I watch all the lightweights but I missed that fight. I read it online, people were complaining saying they both weren’t doing as much, but I understand why Henderson probably wasn’t doing as much, because Patricky hits pretty hard and usually when someone hits pretty hard, you don’t want to go out there with that person and mix it up, because you don’t want to get knocked out. I don’t know if that’s exactly what happened, but I know it could’ve happened. So I take nothing from them because they’re both really good fighters and he won a split decsion so it was obviously close enough for them to go to a split decision.”

Awad also spoke about whether he preferred lightweight or welterweight, and why Bellator should consider a 165-pound weight class. “Honestly man I hate cutting weight. I hate cutting weight but I feel like I’m one of those guys that like if there’s a 165-pound weight class, that would fit me the best. I’m a huge lightweight but I’m a small welterweight, not small but I don’t cut that much weight like my normal walk around weight is probably 165 so you know I’m not the biggest welterweight so I prefer 165 if they added that weight class. If Bellator gets that weight I’d probably be one of the first in line to fight for it.”

With Bellator’s recent splurge on free agents and former UFC fighter’s, Awad believes it’s only helped make Bellator stronger. “I think its cool. No matter where they come from at the end of the day we’re fighters and whether we get cut or we opt to get out of our contracts, it’s because we want to make money, we want to get paid as much as we can, and sometimes we feel like we’re not respected and, were not getting paid what we think we’re worth. So sometimes you have to get out of a contract whether it’s with the UFC, ONE FC or Titan wherever the hell they’re at, or Bellator even. They leave because they want to get paid more. Even if they lost a couple fights, guys can have bad nights and they lose a couple and get cut. It doesn’t mean the guys suck. They could have had something going on or they just have bad match-ups and those guys could be still just as good and dangerous as they were when they first started. So I think nothing of them, I don’t look down on any of the fighters that come here, whether they were cut or opted to get out. At the end of the day, they’re still fighters so there’s respect for their abilities.”

Awad has also been training with Duane Ludwig ahead of this fight. “You know what Duane used to train with my coaches back in the day, I think back in ‘99, 2000 and so they have a really good relationship. He was out in Colorado and we had some teammates that would train with him. Now he’s back out here in Cali, so now we have some teammates going out and mixing it up with them. I’ve only met him once but the dude brings a different aspect to training and for me training with them I would definitely like to train with him more because, like I said, it opened up a whole new book in the chapter of training. I’ll definitely look forward to learning his style of standup because I think it would be good. I’m a big fan of Muay Thai, kickboxing, and boxing, and that’s how I’m going to end being the best I can possibly be, so I think that can add a lot to my arsenal.”

Speaking of kickboxing, Awad has also shown interest in participating on Bellator’s kickboxing cards. “You know what I did ask them, it kind of got shunned away because they’re keeping me busy with MMA. If they cant keep me busy next year I’ll definitely ask them to put me on one of those cards.”

Saad Awad takes on Zach Freeman on November 3rd, at Bellator 186. MMA Latest would like to thank Saad for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.

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Exclusive: Derek Brunson: “Anderson was definitely a little lubed up”

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Derek Brunson fought Anderson Silva back in February of this year, at UFC 208. Brunson would go on to lose the fight by controversial unanimous decision. However, the controversies didn’t stop at the questionable decision, Brunson also claims Silva was greasing during the fight. The Wilmington, North Carolina native, posted about it on Twitter a few days ago:

Speaking with MMA Latest, Brunson explained why he believes Silva was greasing during the fight. “Anderson was definitely a little lubed up. Every time I grabbed him he was just slipping out of everything, and his takedown defense was really good that night. I was definitely curious to know why he was very slippery, which I definitely think he had some kind of substance on his body. He knows I’m a wrestler obviously, he’s an old, savvy veteran, so he was definitely trying to play all the rules and be very strategic, and make it harder for a wrestler to grab him.”

Brunson is set to face Lyoto Machida come October 28, when asked about whether he was worried about Machida greasing, considering Gegard Mousasi accused him of doing so in their fight, Brunson admitted he wasn’t too worried.

Well I’m not too worried, but like I said, I put it out there because I know they’re friends and I know, obviously, that’s kind of what the guys do when they know they’re fighting a wrestler. They want to lube their body up really good to make it hard to grab hold, Anderson did a great job defending my takedowns. It’s because he was all greased up so he was able to stop a lot of them. When I grab guys in the clinch, it’s very tough for them to get away and I’m pretty good with my Greco takedown. He was pretty much pulling through my clinch when I had a tight grip on him and if you have some kind of substance on your body it’s easy to pull them.”

Neither Silva nor his management have commented on the greasing allegations. Anderson Silva makes his return against Kelvin Gastelum later this year, in China. While Brunson makes his return to the Octagon on October 28th, in Brazil, where he looks to add Lyoto Machida’s name to his impressive list of victories.

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Bellator

Michael Page Not Focusing on Opponent Ahead of Boxing Debut

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest spoke to Bellator’s Michael ‘Venom’ Page, as he makes his boxing debut this Friday at the Hayemaker Ringstar Fight Night.

Page (12-0 MMA) is renowned for his entertaining fight style inside the cage, with most of his knockout and submission victories ending up in highlight reels online, that almost always go viral.

‘MVP’ was supposed to make his boxing debut on the undercard of David Haye vs Tony Bellew in March of this year, but due to ongoing negotiations with Bellator, his debut was delayed. Shortly after Page signed with Haye’s promotion “Hayemaker Ringstar.”

Q: So, Michael, we’re about five days out now from your big boxing debut, and still we have no name of an opponent? Can you break the big news, who will you be fighting next week?

I honestly couldn’t even tell you his name right now! I know I’ve got an opponent, but I haven’t even looked at him because it has changed so many times. I don’t like to pay too much attention to it, because it’s added stress. For me it’s just a case of turning up, and firing punches at whoever is across the ring.

Q: Is this fight 10 or 12 rounds? Given a standard boxing fight is a lot longer than your typical 15-minute MMA bout, has there been an emphasis on cardiovascular work in your training camp?

Depending on the opponent, I think it’s 6-rounds. The preparation has been different, I’m having to stress out my shoulders and core a lot. The kicking distance as well is very different, getting used to having people a bit closer. I’m getting used to the corners of the ring, I’ve done it before but not to this extent so I am familiar of it, but my body wasn’t really used to it.

Q: So, is this kind of like a one fight deal for Haye’s Ringstar promotion? Regardless of this fight’s outcome, will you return to MMA?

Not at all, I’m taking it seriously. Otherwise, I would have just had a super fight against a big name like McGregor did. This is why I can’t just jump into a 12 round fight, I need to adjust my body and get it prepared for boxing.

There’s no future plans yet, I’d like to have an MMA fight again before the end of this year, as I haven’t fought this whole year, but another opportunity for boxing may come up and I might get a chance to jump on that, so it depends.

Q: Were you frustrated that Bellator booked Paul Daley vs. Lorenz Larkin, and if you could send a message to Daley right now what would it be?

I have no interest in him anymore. It feels so pathetic and unnecessary now. I don’t think he deserved that fight with Larkin right after the shocking display he put on in Wembley against Rory MacDonald. But good on him he beat Larkin, however he calls me out immediately after then goes on to say he’s past that fight, it just doesn’t make sense.

Credit – michaelpagemvp – Instagram

Q: A statement we hear a lot is “MVP is the only guy outside the UFC that I want in the UFC” People criticise the talent in Bellator and say you’re fighting nobodies, what do you say back to them?

The amount of times you hear “you shouldn’t fight this person, you should have fought that person.” Everyone’s got an idea of what the correct steps someone should make are, but at the end of the day it’s their career. People are so fickle and easy to forget. If you are a fan of somebody, just be a fan of them regardless of win or loss.

Q: I’ve got to ask about how things are with Bellator, because from the outside looking in it’s quite unclear. How is it relationship at the moment?

Yeah I get on with most of the guys, it’s like a small family. I’ve still got a couple of fights left with them, they’re growing very well, the only problem is I feel like they’re focusing a bit too much on ex UFC fighters. For me it says you’re classing yourself as second best. Bellator generate some amazing superstars and young talent, they should continue to promote them.

You can watch ‘MVP’ make his boxing debut this Friday night, as the Hayemaker Ringstar Fight Night will air at 21:00PM on Dave.

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