UFC president Dana White always says, “Fighting is in your DNA.”
That statement couldn’t be any truer when it comes to No. 4-ranked featherweight Jeremy Stephens, who will take on former 145-pound champion and No. 2-ranked Jose Aldo on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC on Fox (8 p.m. ET) in Calgary, Alberta.
“I feel like some people say they have that mentality, but overall, just the way I think and the way I do things and the way I carry and handle myself is through experience in life and always try to grow and better myself,” Stephens told Sporting News. “We are in the fight business. You aren’t here to model for Calvin Klein or this and that. This is what you do. You shut up and fight. People bitch about their contracts and complain. Well, who signed the contract? (Laughs.) You signed it. Shut up and fight. Win the fight and then go renegotiate.”
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Plain and simple, fans want to see fighters fight. Stephens is more than happy to do just that.
On multiple occasions, Stephens has been called by the UFC on short notice to fill a fight card, and each time he has stepped up to meet the challenge. He filled in for Max Holloway at UFC 226 to face Brian Ortega. He also was scheduled to take on Frankie Edgar before the fight fell through because of an injury to Edgar.
Those weren’t the only times in 2018, either. In the middle of January, the company was in need of a main event for its UFC on Fox 28 February event. Even though he had just knocked out Dooho Choi four days prior, Stephens stepped up and knocked out Josh Emmett in 95 seconds.
“People cry too much in this business. This isn’t the cry business. This isn’t the hand-me-out business. This is the fight business,” Stephens said. “If you fight and win, you put the ball in your court and you’re able to do the things you want to do or get the things you want to get.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at or doing the things I’m doing if I didn’t fight and go out and put on these performances that I have, but that’s none of my concern. It’s just not my job to think about how other people think about their life or situations. I’m not in their shoes. The only thing I can worry about is me and take care of what’s mine.”
For most, graduating high school comes with the intention of going college, getting an education, obtaining a degree and getting a full-time job. Stephens had a different plan.
He made his professional fighting debut at age 19 on Jan. 12, 2005, when he knocked out Ted Worthington in 33 seconds. Since then, the Iowa native has gone 27-14 with 21 wins coming via stoppage, including a 15-12 record in the UFC.
“This is what I was destined to do,” Stephens said. “I heard a great speech the one time I was running is (sic), ‘There’s two great moments: The day you were born and the day you figured out why.’
“I’m in that how I figured it out and why I was born. Everything I’ve been through has led up to this point. This is what I was destined to do. I’m happy and in a really good place right now. I got good people around me. I have a beautiful wife and family that loves me and these blessings and opportunities just keep coming and I’m just going to keep eating it up.”
Aldo is regarded as the greatest featherweight mixed martial arts has ever seen and one of the best to ever put on a pair of four-ounce gloves. None of those accolades matter to the 32-year-old Stephens. He plans on stepping into the Octagon and leaving his blood, sweat and tears inside the eight sides of steel.
“I honestly don’t give a damn,” Stephens said. “He’s coming to take food off my families table. I don’t care what the guy has done. He’s trying to take me out and I’m looking to paint his body on the canvas.
“I’m looking to get into a fistfight. I’m hoping he shows up and gives 110 percent because I know I’m going out there looking for the best performance of my life. I’m going to give the fans and everybody my all like I always do. I’m going to show up in the best shape and focused as I ever have been. I know when I go out there and do that and perform the way I can perform at 110 percent, he’s going to sleep.”