by Tim Haran
The following article was put together by the Tribune and Tim Haran

Joe Stevenson landed in Las Vegas and put himself in position to achieve greatness.

Not with a lucky pull of a slot machine or a natural blackjack, but by fighting his way to the top.

Television cameras had chronicled the lives of Stevenson and a handful of other mixed martial arts contenders over the past several months. Millions viewed their journeys each week on Spike TV and now even more would watch as the “Ultimate Fighter: Season 2” live finale crowned its champions.

Only one more win and reality television would help Stevenson’s dreams become real.

“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could win,” said Stevenson, less than a week after earning a unanimous decision over Luke Cummo for the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title.

The victory gained Stevenson a six-figure UFC contract and a Toyota Scion, according to a UFC news release, and helped to put the sport in the spotlight.

“It’s primarily a melting pot of all forms of martial arts competing against each other,” Stevenson said. “We’ve found this new hybrid of mixed martial arts. It’s well-rounded.”

Stevenson, a former wrestler for Silverado, recently moved to Las Vegas to work on earning his black belt in Jujitsu. He is planning to buy a house for himself and his three children.

“This show has been able to grant me some financial capabilities,” he said.

Throughout the duration of the reality show, fighters trained and competed in an elimination bout each week. Those still standing took a break before the live finale.

“Right now I’ll be at different events to keep my face in the limelight,” said Stevenson, who’s been fighting professionally since age 16. “But as soon as (UFC) tells me who I’m going to fight, I’ll get back on the horse and work to be a 10-times better fighter.”

Stevenson said he visits friends in the High Desert about once a month but anticipates continuing his career and life in Las Vegas.

“The reality show gave me my 15 minutes of fame,” Stevenson said. “But now I know I have to work even harder to remain successful.”

Stevenson, 23, previously helped coach Victor Valley’s wrestling team and worked at a Goodyear tire plant before signing up to compete on “The Ultimate Fighter.”

The reality show brought together several fighters to compete in in various weight classifications. The contestants spent several months living and training together under the watchful eye of Spike TV cameras.

Stevenson — characterized as a grappler rather than a striker — utilized his wrestling background to battle three rounds against Cummo in the Nov. 5 live finale at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

“Joe pretty much controlled the fight, although Luke surprised him by giving him a battle,” read a Spike TV recap. “Joe’s ability to take Luke down with ease helped him rack up the points and earn the victory.”

The finale, which was seen by more than 2.6 million viewers, brought back fighters for one last bout after a hiatus while the reality series aired.

“The toughest thing was keeping it a secret,” Stevenson said.