Peace, Joe Stevenson says, is a beautiful thing.
And though the UFC lightweight contender says bluntly that he has "huge, big problems" in his life, he acts as if he doesn't have a care.
He and his wife, Maia, don't sweat even the most significant ordeals they may face. He's been through so many monumental issues in his life, he says the ordinary day-to-day problems that plague any young couple don't even register.
An old Christian prayer says, "God grant me the courage to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
At 25, Joe Stevenson says he definitely has the wisdom to know the difference.
"Man, I've been through some things in my life that nobody should have to go through," he says softly. "Tough things. Real problems. This stuff now, hey, it's a piece of cake. I'm at peace."
He's preparing to fight Kurt Pellegrino on Aug. 25 at UFC 74 in Las Vegas. UFC president Dana White concedes that Stevenson may get a shot at the UFC lightweight championship later this year pending the resolution of a steroids complaint filed against champion Sean Sherk by the California Athletic Commission.
Stevenson knows the signficance of the fight with Pellegrino, even though Pellegrino isn't widely known.
Stevenson has a reputation of occasionally slacking off in training camp, but a slip like that against Pellegrino could be fatal to his chances.
"He's a very talented guy and he can beat pretty much anyone on a given night, but his weakness is that he sometimes shows a desire not to train," White said. "His standup could be better, but the big thing with him is making sure he comes in ready to fight. If he's ready, there's not too much reason to worry about him. But he's shown that you have to wonder whether he's going to be in the kind of shape he needs to be in."
Stevenson is aware of that reputation and says he's working to eradicate it. Words, he's aware, won't change that perception of him.
It will only occur by what he does in his fights. And he's training with an all-star cast in Big Bear, Calif., with the intent of being at his peak on Aug. 25.
He declined to say who his training partners are, other than to say they're big-name fighters and that someone would be shocked to hear the lengthy roster of stars he's working alongside.
But he said the fighters have pushed each other to perform at a higher level.
"Even when we walk to our cars, we race, because there is that sense of competition and pushing yourself to be the best," Stevenson said.
He's 28-6 and was the welterweight winner of Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's reality show, so he already has an impressive resume.
But his record is more impressive considering what he's overcome in his life. He had a rocky childhood in which he watched his father, who was bipolar, die an agonizing death due to bone marrow cancer.
His mother was briefly incarcerated and he bounced around from family member to family member.
He became a professional fighter the day after his 17th birthday and became a father at 18, when his income was about a $1,000 a month.
He was divorced from his first wife, but the divorce was anything but simple and he'd have to drive seven hours one way just to see his children.
With that as a background, little now, he says, can distract him from his goal of winning the title or break the bond between he and his wife, Maia.
"Sometimes I can dwell on what I've been through, and that's the bad part of it, but I prefer to look at my background as something that makes me a stronger person and, by extension, a stronger fighter," Stevenson said. "If I'm in a tricky situation, I can step back and look at it and realize I've been there before or I've gotten through something just like it.
"And on the other end, you've had such bad things happen to you in the past that when something little comes up on a given day, it's not even a worry. My wife and I have huge, big problems right now and we couldn't care less about them. That's because we've been there, done that and we know that somehow, it's going to turn out right."
His coach, the highly regarded Marc Laimon, has worked with Stevenson for about four years and thinks things will turn out fine for him against Pellegrino because of the work he's put in over the last several years.
Stevenson was young but had plenty of experience when Laimon first met him.
"It wasn't like he was a guy who was struggling and really needed to be turned around," Laimon said. "He was already a pretty solid, pretty complete fighter. I just added a few things, a few positional things, that kind of helped him to become more well-rounded."
Since a loss to Josh Neer last year, Stevenson has won three in a row, stopping Yves Edwards on cuts and submitting Dokonjonosuke Mishima and Melvin Guillard.
He needed just 27 seconds to stop Guillard, who before the bout had accused Stevenson of using HGH and who had predicted a first-round knockout.
Stevenson was calm in the face of Guillard's threats and went on and manhandled him. It didn't escape the notice of White, who may have to find someone to fight B.J. Penn for the vacant lightweight title if Sherk is stripped.
Sherk's appeal before the California commission will be in October. White said he hadn't made up his mind what to do because he said he believes Sherk's denials, but he said if Sherk is suspended by the commission, he would probably strip him of the belt.
That would open a spot for someone to fight Penn for the then-vacant belt in November.
Stevenson knows it's getting ahead of himself to think of that, but says he can't help himself.
"The motivating thing for me is, pushing myself to be better every day knowing that I'm getting near that (title shot) and that it's becoming more and more of a reality for me," Stevenson said. "Now is the time more than ever I can't afford a slip. I totally understand that. Sometimes, when you have a bad fight or whatever, you say to yourself, 'Well, there's another time.' But I can't afford right now to think that way. "I have to be on top of it. I have to be impressive in everything I do now, because I know my chance might depend upon it."
- Joe Stevenson
- Kurt Pellegrino
- Sean Sherk