Jeremy Stephens is on a high heading into his UFC Fight Night 44 headliner with Cub Swanson. And if all goes according to plan, he won’t be coming down anytime soon.
The first main event of Stephens’ 18-fight UFC career takes place Saturday, and “Lil’ Heathen” is beaming with confidence. The stakes are high with a featherweight title shot potentially on the line, but that hasn’t shaken Stephens’ (23-9 MMA, 10-8 UFC) mindset going into what he views as a favorable matchup with Swanson (20-5 MMA, 5-1 UFC).
“I feel like my MMA game overall is better,” Stephens told MMAjunkie. “I’m a better wrestler, I’m the more explosive striker, and I can beat him with basics. I can rip his arm off; I can do it all. I’ve been there, I’ve fought the top guys, I’ve been at this level for a long time, I’ve been a lot more active, and I feel like I’ll be the biggest, stronger, faster MMA fighter, and I’ll be the better man that night. I can’t wait to prove it.”
Stephens has every right to be confident going into Saturday’s main event, which tops the FOX Sports 1-televised main card at San Antonio’s AT&T Center. He’s undefeated since dropping to the featherweight division this past year and has dominated each opponent in the process.
The 28-year-old hit several snags during his UFC tenure as lightweight, and at times, it looked like his hope for a title shot wouldn’t materialize. While the change in weight classes may have revitalized Stephens’ career to outsiders, he said he never doubted his abilities, even at the low points, including an arrest during a three-fight losing streak in 2012.
“Never have I lost faith, or I just would have given up a while ago or given up in my downtime or given up when I’ve been down financially,” Stephens said. “That’s never the case, man. Fighting’s just something that I’ve been born to do, bred to do, and it’s just something I really love and have a lot of passion about.
“Fighting’s my passion. I really care for it a lot. I love the training, and I love fighting. It’s fun, and it comes easy and natural to me. I’ve never thought about giving up, not one time, and it’s all part of the game. It’s been a good learning experience,and I’ve taken a lot from the losses, and it’s made me a better man today.”
Stephens has picked up the pieces since that losing streak and turned things around. His path of success has led him to Swanson, who is on a respectable climb back up the ladder in his own right.
Of a combined 43 professional wins, Stephens and Swanson have stopped 23 opponents by knockout. Those numbers have all the makings for a memorable stand-up affair, something Stephens would relish.
While Swanson has knocked out his opponent in four of his five UFC victories, Stephens believes he has the advantage if the fight stays on the feet. More specially, he thinks his one-shot, fight-ending power will be an X-factor in his favor should Swanson choose to engage on the feet.
“When you look at my fights and I knock people out, they go out,” Stephens said. “They have to get woken up. As compared to when he knocks people out, they’re just kind of dazed and still wobbly, but they’re still up and still conscious. That’s not me talking sh-t or anything false, that’s an actual true statement.
“When I knock people out, they’re asking, ‘What happened? Did I fight yet?’ They’re just trying to get their wits about them. It’s not a sh-t-talking statement; that’s a true statement. It’s been proven. I have the more explosive power, and he utilizes a lot of footwork and movement, but I can cut him off and counter him and overall play my game. I feel like if he wants to play the stand-up game, he’ll figure out real quick after I hit him one time who the more powerful and explosive striker.”
When judging how their styles mesh, it’s hard to see the 145-pound contest ending anywhere but on the feet. Each man has only been stopped with strikes once in their respective careers, which means a 25-minute brawl is a realistic possibility.
Stephens won’t be aiming for a decision victory, though. If he wants the next crack at the featherweight title, he must make a statement to the fans and UFC brass.
“I can knock him out in the first, the third or the fifth round,” Stephens said. “I feel like I’ll be able to do whatever I want. If I want to take it to the mat, I’ll take it to the mat. If I want to keep it standing, I can keep it standing. If I’m hitting him that hard and he wants to shoot on my ankles, I’ll be able to stuff him, take him down and ground and pound him. He’s been submitted in the past, and I feel like I can submit him. I feel like I can rough him up, cut him up, ground and pound him.
“I can do whatever I want in this fight, and I’m very confident in doing so. I know I can do it. It’s getting down to the time where I go out there and shock the world with it.”
For more on UFC Fight Night 44, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.