by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
At just 20 years old, Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens looks to make an impact in the UFC’s deep lightweight division. The Des Moines, Iowa fighter recently signed a contract to debut at UFC 71 on May 26th.
Stephens is scheduled to face Din Thomas, a veteran who will prove to be one of the toughest tests in the up-and-coming fighter’s young career. Jeremy took time out of his training to speak with MMAWeekly about his Octagon debut.
MMAWeekly: How’s your training coming along?
Jeremy Stephens: Everything is going well. So far, so good.
MMAWeekly: Who are you training with for your UFC debut?
Stephens: Right now, I’m just training with fighters in the gym. I’m training with Josh Neer, Spencer Fisher, Jens Pulver and Corey Hill.
MMAWeekly: So pretty much all of the Miletich guys?
Stephens: I’m training in Bettendorf, Iowa right now.
MMAWeekly: Iowa is synonymous with Miletich Fighting Systems. I was going to ask you if you’ve trained with MFS before but it looks like you have.
Stephens: I’ve trained with MFS a few times; this is like my third time coming up here. I should be here for two and a half weeks and then I’ll be down in Vegas to train with Randy Couture’s camp before the fight.
MMAWeekly: What do you think about the MFS guys? What’s it like training with them?
Stephens: It’s probably one of the toughest camps in the world. They spar really hard up here. It’s about intensity and about improving. I’m definitely seeing some progress as I come up here.
MMAWeekly: Come fight time, who will be in your corner?
Stephens: I’m taking John Halverson, Josh Neer and Victor Moreno.
MMAWeekly: You’re definitely an up-and-coming fighter and there are a lot of fans that don’t know about you. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Stephens: I’m young. I need a little more experience, but I train with the best. I’m very exciting. I just don’t know how to quit. I don’t know how to fall down. I go 100% all of the time and most people can’t keep up with my pace. The people that do keep up will feel the power in my hands. I’ve got good power in my hands from what they say.
MMAWeekly: What’s your martial arts background?
Stephens: Wrestling and boxing.
MMAWeekly: Do you hold any amateur or professional titles?
Stephens: No amateur titles. The only titles I hold are the Midwest Cage Championships 155 [pound] belt and the Universal Gladiator Championships 155 [pound] belt. The MCC is the Midwest belt and the UGC is the New Orleans belt for MMA.
MMAWeekly: When you were growing up, were there any fighters that you looked up to?
Stephens: Muhammad Ali was a fighter I looked up to. [Ray] “Boom Boom” Mancini, Jack Dempsey, guys who hit hard and move like Floyd Mayweather Jr.
MMAWeekly: Any fighters in MMA?
Stephens: Josh Neer. He opened the door to the MMA world [for me]. He’s a good teacher. He leads his class well and he knows what he’s talking about. I was always improving and I was always seeing a difference. If it were anyone else, I don’t think I would have caught onto MMA as much. Watching on some of the old tapes… guys like Mark Kerr and Pat Miletich. It definitely opened up my eyes more.
MMAWeekly: Congrats on your deal with the UFC. What does it mean to fight in the Octagon?
Stephens: It means everything. The sport always caught my attention and it means everything to show the world what I’m all about. It’s an up-and-coming sport and a lot of young guys are getting involved too. It means everything in the world to me… especially since it will be on my 21st birthday [laughs]. It doesn’t get much better than that.
MMAWeekly: How did your UFC deal come about?
Stephens: Joe Silva called my manager and said he wanted a highlight tape sent in and some information on me. He called back, said he has a match and wanted to know if I would take it. It’s against Din Thomas; it’s a good opportunity. I had the opportunity before. I got hurt before the Ultimate Fighter 5 tapings so this time around, I had to take it and go with it.
MMAWeekly: So you were supposed to try out for Ultimate Fighter 5?
Stephens: Yes, I was supposed to go down there. I had a pretty good opening. Josh put in a good word for me. I thought I had a pretty good shot at getting on the show. I thought it would be a good start for me. With my fight with [Chris] Mickle, I injured my rib a week before. During my fight, I thought I broke my rib and wouldn’t be able to perform [for the show].
MMAWeekly: What do you think about your opponent Din Thomas?
Stephens: I think he’s a pretty boy. I don’t think he likes to get hit too often. For anyone who’s seen me fight, I throw hard and I take my shots too. I think he’s a very good fighter and I respect him outside of the ring. In the ring, I’m going to brawl him and test his chin.
MMAWeekly: Do you see any weakness in Din’s game?
Stephens: I see his wrestling as being his weakness. He’s got really good jiu-jitsu. He’s got good boxing but like I said, he doesn’t like to brawl.
MMAWeekly: You’ve fought Chris Mickle three times. He is the only fighter to defeat you and you have since defeated him twice. Tell us about those fights.
Stephens: Chris is a tough dude. He made it to the WEC. Chris in my eyes is a true fighter. He fights anytime, anybody, any place, anywhere. When I first fought him, I was inexperienced. Josh [Neer] told me not to take the fight, but I wanted to prove to people that I wanted to be one of the best. I just turned 18 and it was one of my first professional matches. I took the fight and my inexperience got to me on the ground.
MMAWeekly: What do you think of attempts to deregulate MMA in Iowa?
Stephens: I think they truly don’t understand the sport. They see it as barbaric. The sport is motivational; it’s keeping kids off of the street. It creates opportunities for people. It’s a positive and motivational sport right now and I don’t think they’re seeing that.
MMAWeekly: Do you ever see yourself fighting in Pride?
Stephens: That’s one of the shows I want to fight in. The UFC has bought them out.
MMAWeekly: Any particular fighter you would like to face?
Stephens: Not yet. I’m young; I’ve got a long way ahead of me. Anybody that gets in front of me is one more guy in the way of my dream of being the world titleholder at 155. I’ll fight everybody I can and who they put in front of me is the person I have to face.
MMAWeekly: We really appreciate your time Jeremy. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Stephens: Thanks for all of the support. The fans are part of the reason I blew up so fast. Thanks to my family for supporting me from the beginning and giving me the opportunity to follow through with my dream. Thanks to everybody!