by Tom Hamliin – MMAWeekly.com
It’s the bane of a striker’s existence: you line up the big punch after chasing down your opponent, only to end up on your back when your feet are planted.
Twenty-two-year-old Jeremy Stephens is still young in the game of MMA, and loves to go bombs away whether on the feet or standing over an opponent. But when matched against a fighter with a strong jiu-jitsu or wrestling base, he’s learned that he needs to back off a bit.
“I’m going to be a lot more patient,” Stephens says of his new outlook. “I’ve been too aggressive in the past, chasing people, getting taken down.”
He took his last opponent, jiu-jitsu specialist Joe Lauzon, on 12 days notice when friend and training partner Hermes Franca injured his knee. Lauzon was ready for Stephens’ aggressiveness on the feet, and scrambled to dominant positions on the ground.
Stephens wanted to scrap in that fight, and paid for it when Lauzon caught him in an armbar off a scramble.
“I have to work my footwork and timing instead of just coming straight forward and pressuring,” he says of the lesson learned.
And when things go south, be ready.
“More or less, just be prepared at all times,” he continues. “I kind of got lazy in the second round, and he was able to capitalize when I was exhausted, trying to relax and go to the third round.”
Stephens is staying at a hotel across from his training camp at Team Nogueira in Miami, on the other end of a short notice fight against Gleison Tibau at Ultimate Fight Night 18 on Wednesday.
Tibau, an American Top Team regular, is stepping in for an injured Efrain Escudero on three weeks notice, and as one of the bigger lightweights in the division, faces a big weight cut. But he’s another dangerous player on the ground – albeit with a more well-developed stand-up game – that’s a serious threat.
Ironically, it’s Tibau’s patience that Stephens thinks will be a key to victory.
“I’m not worried about once he gets on top,” he says about Tibau’s ground skills. “He’s real strong, but he doesn’t look to be aggressive when he gets on top. When I’m on top, I’m trying to cut you open with some elbows, land some big bombs, and look to get you in a bad position. Gleison’s more patient. I’ve just got to try to get back on my feet, look for a submission, or just wait for the standup.
“He throws some good knees and good punches, but he’s a big guy, and gets a little gassed out. So I’m going to look to put pressure on him and pick my timing.”
Stephens has proven to be devastating when his timing is on. After struggling early against Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 91, he threw a knockout uppercut that was tattooed to his highlight reel.
Recent setback aside, the Des Moines, Iowa, native is confident he won’t get ahead of himself next week.
“It’s all part of the game,” he said. “I’m living and learning. I’m living the dream. I’m here in the UFC, and my last fight, everybody sees that I’m getting better from the Spencer (Fisher) fight. I didn’t have that much time to develop against Lauzon.
“When I step back into the cage, I want to show people that I’m getting better and I’m progressing as a fighter. I have my whole career ahead of me, and I’m just looking to progress and get back on top of things.”