Javier Vazquez (above) will face Joe Stevenson at UFC Live 4. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Javier Vazquez and Joe Stevenson have known each other a long time.

Both are veterans of the Southern California MMA circuit. Both were competing in King of the Cage earlier in the decade.

Now they’re finally scheduled to fight June 26 in Pittsburgh at UFC Live 4.

“Joe and I are friends,” Vazquez said recently on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “Plus he was fighting up a weight. I wasn’t really concerned about him dropping down, but now that he did -- a lot of these lightweights think that the grass is greener on the other side at featherweight. I think some of them are going to find out that we’re just as tough as the guys at 155. We just happen to weigh a little bit less.”

A winner of the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Stevenson eventually earned a lightweight title shot but lost to B.J. Penn. He is moving to 145 pounds after losing three straight at 155. Vazquez has followed his career.

“I’ve watched Joe fight for years and I haven’t seen him evolve a whole lot,” Vazquez said. “I think he’s a good fighter. I think he’s a great guy, but let’s be honest. He hasn’t really evolved that much in the three years he’s been in the UFC. He’s the same fighter. Sometimes he comes in there in a little bit better shape than others. That’s about it.”

Stevenson’s submission game is formidable, though. Vazquez acknowledged that he will have to be cautious of his opponent’s ability to finish.

“There’s no question I respect his submission skills,” Vazquez said. “I think he’s got good leg locks. I think he’s got very good elbows and I think he’s got good ground-and-pound. I think he’s a good fighter and stylistically, he’s a very tough fight for me, but I think I’m a little bit better in every aspect of the game.”

However, Stevenson is training with a camp that knows Vazquez’s game well. In fact, he’s been training with Millennia, Vazquez’s former gym.

“I can’t control what they do,” Vazquez said. “As far as bad blood, it doesn’t surprise me. If I were him, I’d probably go there too. They were my teammates for 12 years. That’s probably his best bet. The only problem is, I don’t think they have anybody there that can beat me. So I don’t think him being there is going to do him any good.”

Vazquez also believes he knows his former camp as well as they know him.

“I know exactly what they’re telling him,” he said. “I know exactly what he’s working on. … From the time I left that gym, I’m a much better fighter. I’m a much more well-rounded mixed martial artist, and my conditioning is much better. Any game plan that they can come up with, I’m going to nullify it.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:00:03).

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