by Brian Lopez-Benchimol – MMAWeekly.com
First bursting on to the mainstream MMA scene due to his stint on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, former King of the Cage champion Joe Stevenson quickly made a name for himself in his new home with the UFC. Winning the second season’s welterweight title against Luke Cummo in what Dana White described as “…in my opinion, ladies and gentlemen, that was Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin, only on the ground,” a remark that speaks volumes of Stevenson’s character and ability.

While an eventual drop to the lightweight division was eminent once the UFC re-introduced the forgotten weight class, Stevenson originally took the opportunity by storm. Going 4-0 at 155 – racking up wins over veteran Yves Edwards, Melvin Guillard, and Kurt Pellegrino – had cemented his spot at the time as the clear number one contender for the than vacant title.

Though he fought valiantly, it wasn’t meant to be as B.J. Penn went on to win their bout at UFC 81 in New Castle, England, to capture the title.

Since then, Stevenson has had his share of bad luck, sandwiching a win over Gleison Tibau between the loss to Penn and two more consecutive losses to top flight competition in Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, respectively.

Coming on the heels of two losses, the former title challenger was in dire straits. A man who once adorned the rank of a top ten fighter in his weight class, he was looking to recapture some of the luster that had been missing from his career as of late.

Not only was the move from his Las Vegas surroundings to Greg Jackson’s camp down in Albuquerque, N.M., a necessity, but it proved to be the difference in his most recent performance (picking up a unanimous decision victory over fellow TUF winner Nate Diaz this past weekend at the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter Season 9).

“It was pretty much everything,” Stevenson stated of the difference made in his performance with his time spent with Jackson’s camp.

“Everything that I had was already there; it was just putting it together and understanding myself better. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of myself but evidently I didn’t.”

Singing Jackson’s praises now, Stevenson admitted that the idea of traveling to New Mexico and staying there for an extended amount of time was a bit taxing. Without the persuasion of good friend and fellow TUF 2 winner Rashad Evans, the move may not have ever happened.

“Rashad had called me and we were talking and he was like ‘you should come check it out’ and I was kind of like ‘yeah, yeah. Sounds cool; I’ll think about it.’ Then a week later he was like ‘hey I thought you were gonna think about it, what’s up?’ ‘I mean I think it’s a good idea; I don’t know.'”

Eventually Joe “Daddy” warmed up to the idea and made Albuquerque his home away from home for a good two months, which allowed him to focus solely on the fight without any outside distractions, perfecting his game day-by-day under the tutelage and watchful eye of Jackson and his stock of fellow top-level fighters, which is what Stevenson believes was the biggest asset earned.

“The strategy, the game plan, implementing, perfecting our styles a little bit, doing all those things and being relaxed from all the distractions, and I mean it showed in the fight, I had fun. It looked like I was tired when I was doing the interview in that third round, but it was more emotion, like trying not to get emotional.

“It came off as fatigue. But honestly, I could have done 10 rounds at that pace.”