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EDMONTON – UFC featherweight Jeremy Stephens had a date, and it wasn’t with Gilbert Melendez.

Stephens (25-14 MMA, 12-13 UFC) and longtime fiancee Cindy Lopez were supposed to get married Sept. 23 in his native Des Moines, Ia. Then Melendez (22-6 MMA, 1-4 UFC) came on his radar, and the idea of tying the knot two weeks after a fist fight seemed less appealing.

So the happy couple postponed, which is perhaps why Stephens hopes to make Melendez’s first night as a featherweight a miserable one.

“He’s an older lion. He’s been in too many wars,” Stephens told MMAjunkie on Wednesday in advance of his meeting Saturday with the one-time title challenger at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “He hasn’t really changed and evolved in the sport.

“Now, he’s looking for other reasons coming down here after a long layoff of (performance-enhancing drug) use. He’s come down here to 145 pounds. It’s a big mistake, especially if you’re facing me.”

For the record, Melendez fought once after a failed drug test led to a one-year suspension. But when he makes his octagon walk for the pay-per-view opener on Saturday, it will have been 13 months since he last fought. A decision loss to Edson Barboza marked his fourth defeat in five previous fights, undoubtedly motivating his drop to the featherweight division.

Stephens made the same decision after a trio of losses in the lightweight division, where he’s fought the majority of his UFC career. Saturday’s fight will be his 26th octagon appearance, an impressive mark of his longevity.

Stephens questions why Melendez would even drop a weight class at this point in his career. But he expects Melendez to try and wrestle away from his power punches, which have a tendency to change longtime patterns in his opponents.

“Everybody fights me different,” Stephens said. “Max Holloway fought me different. Renato Moicano fought a different fight. They basically game plan against me, and their only option is to run. It’s not like I’m getting knocked out by Jose Aldo.”

Now back with famed coach Eric DelFierro, Stephens feels confident he’s made the adjustments needed to put away Melendez.

Then, he’ll make a walk of another kind.

“I have a great fiancee,” Stephens said. “Not only is she beautiful, she has an amazing heart. She understands this is what I do, and this what I love. These opportunities aren’t going to be knocking 15 years from now.”

For more on UFC 215, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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