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LAS VEGAS – On the surface, things might not look great for Jeremy Stephens, but the veteran slugger says the truth is really the exact opposite.
Despite being sidelined for the last 11 months and mired in a four-fight losing streak, Stephens said he used the time away to make some very significant life changes.
“It’s been an experience,” Stephens told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at Wednesday’s media session at the UFC Apex. “I’ve been fighting since I was 16 years old, and even back then I was probably fighting three, four times in a month, so it was good to take a step back. I had to do some mental stuff. I had a lot of things to really close out personally.
“I’ve been doing a lot of different type of work outside of this. It’s been really good for me. I’ve really left no stone unturned. I had a lot of personal stuff going on. It was a good year to take off and just kind of take some time, really set myself up for success. I kind of had to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.”
When Stephens mentions major changes, it’s not hyperbole. He reconnected with his estranged mother, a longtime drug addict whom he says nearly died and is now in need of constant supervision and assistance. He also addressed his own habits and elected to stop drinking.
“It’s been a journey,” Stephens said. “Believe me, I’ve left no stone unturned. I’ve never been happier in my life. I’ve never been more clear. I’ve never been more focused. Saturday night, you guys are in for a treat. I’m telling you, this is going to be my best performance.”
Stephens (28-18 MMA, 15-17 UFC) also changed weight classes, returning to lightweight at UFC on ESPN 22 following an eight-year stint at 145 pounds. He takes on Drakkar Klose (11-2-1 MMA, 5-2 UFC) at Saturday’s event at the UFC Apex, which airs on ESPN following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
It’s a move Stephens hopes will allow him to perform at his best and hopefully bring him back to the win column.
“It’s not about the show; come Saturday night, it’s all about the win,” Stephens said. “Win, win, win, no matter what, and having my hand raised. I don’t like going out there and being one of those ‘performance’ guys: ‘Oh, I still put on a f*cking show.’ I got a family to feed, bro. I’m not making top dollar like I should be. I’m not making these red panty nights.”
And with his personal life in order, Stephens is hoping his professional life follows suit. With an incredible 14 years of experience in the UFC, Stephens believes, at 34, it’s time for him to maximize his potential, both in performance and earnings.
“I’m moving up a division because I want these exciting fights,” Stephens said. “I want these matchups. F*ck a belt. I’m looking to fight a Nate Diaz, a Conor McGregor, calf-kick him clear the f*ck out of here, as well. I’m looking to get paid and laid, bro, so that’s why I’m here.
“I don’t like losing. It’s all about the win come Saturday night, and I’m going to prove to the world once again why you don’t ever count Jeremy Stephens out.”
To see the full interview with Stephens, check out the video above.