by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Joe Stevenson has quickly become one of the top contenders in the UFC lightweight division. He will get his chance to improve his prospects for a title shot when he faces Kurt Pellegrino this Saturday at UFC 74 in Las Vegas.

Stevenson, who is well known from his victorious season on The Ultimate Fighter, dropped to lightweight after a tough loss to Josh Neer in his first fight after winning the contract on the show.

Now on a three-fight winning streak, Stevenson has been training in Big Bear, Calif. to prepare for the upcoming bout with Pellegrino.

“I’ve been in Big Bear,” said Stevenson. “Gray Maynard came up and Tyson Griffin, Jay Hieron, Eric Schambari, Marc Laimon, Jeff Glover, so many guys.”

Also training out of Marc Laimon’s Cobra Kai gym in Las Vegas, Joe “Daddy” told MMAWeekly Radio recently that he is well prepared for this fight.

“My weight has been stupendous, my training partners have been phenomenal, my cardio work is great, my state of mind is great, my son just turned 2 the other day, and I’m ready to rock and roll.”

While his focus is on this fight, Stevenson’s name is brought up constantly when talking about top contenders for the lightweight title. Currently ranked as the #10 lightweight in the MMAWeekly World MMA Rankings, the 25-year-old is confident, but knows what kind of competition is out there.

“I think there are a lot of #1 contenders out there,” said Joe about the lightweight division. “I think I’m one of many that can be drawn upon and taken as a contender. I’m glad people are thinking it’s me and I hope to prove them right.”

With this fight taking place in August and the UFC having multiple shows left to take place this year, Stevenson hopes to fight again before 2007 ends.

“I definitely want to fight before Christmas,” Stevenson stated. “I’m missing birthdays left and right and anniversaries and other important holidays. If definitely I could, I’d like to fight before Christmas.”

While the lightweight division has been good to Stevenson so far, he has also stated he wants to eventually move back up to the welterweight division, which is the weight class he dominated on The Ultimate Fighter reality show.

“I’m very excited and I’m very happy,” said Stevenson about his move to the lightweight division. “I think I made the best decision at the time. Eventually, I want to move back up and let my body grow into a 170lb fighter.

“I’m just excited to be where I’m at and there’s no one that can say that the lightweight division isn’t one of, if not the best division in all of mixed martial arts.”

Focusing on this fight, Stevenson is confident that he will come out on top and feels like Pellegrino has only one distinct advantage over him.

“He’s got better hair,” said Stevenson laughing. “He always comes in there colorful. I’m expecting him to maybe look a little better than me.”

The lightweight division has produced some of the best fights so far this year and one aspect that seems to always show true is that the 155lb fighters seemingly have cardio for days. Stevenson says that while cardio is important, its experience that means the most.

“I think I have a distinct advantage later on in the rounds,” said Stevenson. “There’s no amount of preparation you can do for your cardio except experience to know what that feeling is in the third round, knowing you have to dig, come back and accomplish what you want to do.

“And he just doesn’t have that. I’ve been fighting way too long, way too hard, to lose that, to lay down in the third round and let it go easy. I know what it takes and I put it out there.”

Many expect this fight to be another spectacular showing for the lightweight division. Stevenson is ready for anything.

“I hope he’s ready because I’m ready in every aspect.”

Joe Stevenson will face Kurt Pellegrino on Saturday night at UFC 74 in Las Vegas.