Anthony Pettis is ‘Showtime.’ So his next opponent, Jeremy Stephens, recently began advertising himself as the ‘Showstopper.’
Days before the two highly-ranked 155-pounders collide, Stephens said that despite a pedigree that includes 12 Octagon appearances – versus just one Octagon test for Pettis – the knockout artist (Stephens) nevertheless perceives himself as the underdog headed into a contest that is virtually a lock to produce some fireworks. And it’s a comfortable spot for the husky roughneck who boasts more than his fair share of victories.
“His camp has talked some crap about me but that’s easy for them to do because they get to hide behind their fighter come fight night,” said Stephens (20-6). “He’s going to be the one suffering the blows. That’s not my focus, to talk s---. I know I said some things about ‘Showstopper’ Stephens (publicly) but that’s what I do. I’m very confident. That’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to stop his show.”
Winner of four of his past five bouts, Stephens’s lone loss came via split decision to Melvin Guillard – a ferocious and intimidating top contender in the hunt for a title shot. For his most recent training camp, Stephens placed particular emphasis on footwork and has tried to mimic the movements of elite fighters such as Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. Though he pronounced himself “more light on his feet,” Stephens also intends to pressure Pettis (11-2) for as long as the fight lasts. To prepare for the unpredictable kicks Pettis might try to unleash on Saturday night in Houston, Stephens has sparred regularly with a Hawaiian fighter named Max Halloway, whose unique style also features an array of wild and crazy kicks.
“I have a great chin and standup and I’m a striker myself … so Anthony’s not going to do anything that I haven’t seen,” Stephens said. “One thing Anthony doesn’t do -- he doesn’t throw any combinations. He has power in his kicks but he also hasn’t fought a striker like myself, who can bring the kind of pressure like Bart Palaszewski did. I hit a lot harder than Bart and I’ll be in his face a lot more. I’m constantly evolving. Ever since the Melvin Guillard loss I move a lot better, Anderson Silva-style. I’ve become more fluid.”
As he discussed the matchup over the course of a 30-minute interview, Stephens mentioned the word “hype” several times in reference to Pettis, a fan favorite since appearing on MTV’s “World of Jenks” and since delivering a Matrix-style kick (in a WEC title bout last year) that remains unlike anything the MMA world has ever seen. The popularity of Pettis far trumps that of Stephens, but the latter insisted it doesn’t bother him in the least.
“It all comes with timing. I’m not a jealous or envious guy,” the 25-year-old Stephens said. “He got what he deserves – the fame and the highlights. And he can have all of that. I’m sure he’s trained really hard for this fight and wants to get on track in the UFC (after losing his UFC debut against Clay Guida). He doesn’t want to lose his job or all the sponsorships that he probably got off ‘that kick.’ So that will be beneficial for me. When you beat somebody you steal their energy, you steal their momentum. You take something from them. That’s why no one likes losing; no one likes getting their energy stolen.
“I’ve been fighting in the UFC since 2007 and I’m looking to steal some of that energy from Anthony Pettis. He has a long ways to go in his career and I’m going to go in and expose him. And if that means more fan followers and the limelight then I’m ready for it. But I don’t mind being low-key and chill. I’m more that low-key kind of guy. I’d rather ride in the backseat than the front seat.”
The turning point in his career, Stephens recalled, was in early 2009, following back-to-back losses to Joe Lauzon and Gleison Tibau. Amid the disappointment, a sobering reality sank in for the fiery Iowan.
“I knew that if I buckled down and quit with all the partying,” Stephens said, “that I could be one of the best in the world. I just had to make some changes, get out of Iowa and come here to better training with the best in the world (to San Diego). I took a leap of faith, I took a risk to be a champion. The Justin Buchholz fight was the turning point in my life.”
For this training camp, Stephens occasionally sparred with UFC bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz, whom he effusively praised.
“He deserves a lot more recognition than what he gets,” Stephens said of the champ. “He’s one of the hardest working, most humble guys I’ve ever met. He’s always at the gym constantly. He’s a great leader and is always positive. He’s got a great team and brings in a lot of guys. Just being around him is great energy. I really look up to him.”
Rather interestingly, this marks the second straight fight for Stephens against a Duke Roufus protégé. In October, Stephens tormented and battered Danny Downes over 15 minutes. If they ever invent a “Not An Ounce of Quit In Him” award, an overmatched Downes proved he should be a frontrunner for the honor in 2011. Relatively few fighters would probably march on under such nonstop and prolific abuse (Stephens even cranked on a gnarly kimura that bent Downes’ arm so deeply it was painfully uncomfortable to watch). Yet the epically gutsy Downes fought on, never tapped, never came close to quitting and miraculously survived until the final horn.
“I was impressed by his heart. Danny Downes has got my respect,” Stephens said. “He took a lot more punishment than Pettis will; I think Pettis will fold.”
Stephens conceded that he was uncommonly nervous before the Downes fight because “I had everything to lose that night and he had everything to gain.” Stephens feels he’ll be in the opposite situation on Saturday against Pettis.
“Weakness is not in my heart, it’s my time to rise,” Stephens said. “I’ve got a family to feed, I’ve got a job to do. I really want to finish Anthony Pettis and make a statement on October 8th. So I’m going to go out there and destroy him, rip him apart.”
'Showtime' and 'Showstopper' Set To Collide
"I really want to finish Anthony Pettis and make a statement on October 8th. So I’m going to go out there and destroy him, rip him apart.” - Jeremy Stephens