Jeremy Stephens, in his long and mostly illustrious MMA career, has faced five men who have held UFC championships, so it’s no big deal from that standpoint that on Saturday on Fox in Calgary he’s facing ex-featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Aldo is among the greatest fighters in UFC history and he’s a yardstick by which his peers can measure themselves.
The significance of the fight from Stephens’ standpoint, though, is that he’s at his absolute peak as he takes the fight. After making a full commitment to trainer Eric Del Fierro, Stephens has reeled off three consecutive victories and looks like a developing star.
A win over Aldo would put him at the top of the division.
“Jeremy Stephens, man, he’s on a roll and has been just incredible recently,” UFC president Dana White said.
White has been so impressed by Stephens’ recent work, which includes dominant victories over Gilbert Melendez, Dooho Choi and Josh Emmett, that he offered him an interim title fight against Brian Ortega at UFC 226 when Max Holloway pulled out of the bout.
Stephens accepted the offer, but Ortega decided not to fight him, much to White’s (and Stephens’) consternation.
Even after a couple of weeks had passed, Stephens hadn’t come around to Ortega’s way of thinking.
For Stephens, it’s not about the “who,” it’s more about the “what,” and if you sign a contract to fight, you should be down to fight anyone, at any time, anywhere. It’s a philosophy in which he’s in sync with the boss.
“This guy [Ortega] was training for a striker in Max anyway,” Stephens said. “He was preparing to fight. His best chance of beating me was then and now. What do we sign contracts for in this business? To fight. So why aren’t you fighting? You want to complain, ‘Oh, I didn’t make money.’ What? You did interviews. I do interviews for free. I ain’t getting paid for this. Just because you promoted a fight doesn’t mean you’re going to get money.
“Quit [complaining]. You signed a contract to fight. You got offered a fight. You’re not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere. Aldo has had his two shots and he’s lost, so I’m the next guy in line. I stepped up. [Ortega’s] best chance to beat me was probably at that time. … Mr. Long Hair is [expletive] scared. That’s what it is, dude.”
No one has accused Aldo of ever being afraid, but he hasn’t looked like the prime version of himself in a while. He’s lost back-to-back fights and three of his last four, going back to Dec. 12, 2015, when he was knocked out in 13 seconds by Conor McGregor.
Stephens unloaded on Aldo and said it will be a continuation of Aldo’s downward spiral.
“Conor took his head, Max took his heart and I’m going to take his soul,” Stephens said. “Look at his face: It’s drooping. He’s been in a lot of wars. He’s been in a lot of fights. He’s got a lot of damage [from fights] but not only that, it’s also from the training camps that he’s had. I’ll get my chance to expose him and I’ll do exactly what I said.”
He blasted Aldo and said he had no regrets for calling things the way he sees them, despite Aldo’s stature.
“I plan on taking this guy completely out and dismantling him, and people are going to talk about that for a long time,” Stephens said.
Stephens has the tools to be among the elite. But his inconsistency killed him. But with that seemingly fixed by working exclusively with Del Fierro, Stephens is in a position to do big things.
He’s talking the talk, but Saturday, he’ll have to walk the walk.
If he does it, he’ll be on the verge of fulfilling his dream, because it would be very difficult to deny him a championship fight.
For as long as he’s been around and for as much as he’s given of himself for the company, if he beats Aldo on Saturday, White’s going to be hard-pressed to deny him a championship fight in the very near future.
The key is turning talk into action, which, as any longtime fight observer knows, is always the toughest part.
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