On the first day Jeremy Stephens arrived in the featherweight division there were a lot of curious eyeballs on him wondering if one of the most prolific knockout artists at 155 pounds could translate his power down a weight class.
After bludgeoning Estevan Payan for three rounds, which resulted in one of the bloodiest fights in UFC history, Stephens proved cardio and conditioning wouldn’t be a problem at featherweight. One fight later, Stephens sent Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner Rony Jason packing in just 40 seconds with a thunderous head kick knockout.
It was a sign of the times – once a middle of the pack lightweight, Stephens announced his presence with authority and now he’s ready to send another message to the featherweight division this weekend via Darren Elkins at FOX UFC Saturday in Chicago.
Stephens has always been a solid fighter throughout his many years competing inside the Octagon, but his best known weapons have been the two bricks he carries in his fists that usually rattle an opponent’s brain and leave them laying on the ground, snot bubbles festering outside of the nose after biting down hard on their mouthpiece. Stephens doesn’t knock out every opponent he defeats, but what he can count on before any bout begins is the weapon of fear that everyone who faces him feels knowing that the end is only one punch away.
I have them shook before we even fight, and I know this guy’s going to try to take me down, try to keep me on the fence, he’s going to try to utilize his grappling so I know his game plan.
Author George R.R. Martin, famous for his books that are the source of the HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’ once wrote, ‘fear cuts deeper than swords’. It’s a psychological advantage, and Stephens enjoys it each and every time he steps foot in the Octagon, especially at 145 pounds.
"I know guys are probably going to fear going into a fight like ‘hey this guy can knock me out with one punch’ so I know a lot of guy’s game plans," Stephens told FOX Sports. "I have them shook before we even fight, and I know this guy’s going to try to take me down, try to keep me on the fence, he’s going to try to utilize his grappling so I know his game plan. It makes me feel a lot more relaxed and more confident."
Knowing what an opponent is going to do before they do it can play well into Stephens’ own preparation, and so far in his featherweight career the end result is a perfect 2-0 record. As much as Stephens enjoys putting fear into the hearts of the men he faces, he never forces his own strategy to adapt where he’s only trying for the knockout.
Stephens knows that if he connects with one good punch the fight is over, but he prepares for a 15-minute war of attrition where he’s scrambling on the feet, on the ground, going for submissions, escaping takedowns and every other facet of mixed martial arts. The benefit is knowing exactly what the guy standing across the Octagon from him is thinking, what his coaches are thinking and that’s a leg up on the competition before the referee ever says go.
"I think it opens up a lot more than them just fearing the knockout. When they’re fearing my hands, it opens up a lot more in my mixed martial arts game. I’m a smart fighter I know how to utilize that. I know what they’re looking for, I know what the coaches game plans are against me," Stephens said.
"I don’t ever look for it necessarily, I just know it’s going to come. Because I know if I connect and utilize my speed and athleticism, it’s just going to naturally happen. I don’t really go out there and look for the knockout. If I just go out there and connect with you, connect solid, I’m going to land."
I don’t really go out there and look for the knockout. If I just go out there and connect with you, connect solid, I’m going to land.
As for his upcoming matchup with Darren Elkins, Stephens is well aware that he is a wrestler with suffocating takedowns and ground heavy attack. It may be Elkins’ strategy from the start of every fight to put someone on their back and out wrestle them for three rounds, but Stephens has no doubt that’s exactly what he’s going to try to do on Saturday night.
Stephens is confident, however, in his ability to shut down Elkins’ wrestling and simultaneously take another step forward towards his goal of cracking the top ten of the featherweight division after this fight.
"I see a lot of holes in his game. He’s a grinder, he’s a very tough guy and I respect him, which is why I trained very hard for this fight. But I’m going to go out there, I’m going to outclass him, I’m going to put on a great performance," Stephens said about Elkins.
"The best is still yet to come. 2014 is going to be a good year and I’m going to start it off with a bang in Chicago."