(Stephens works for a guillotine against Spencer Fisher at the TUF 7 Finale.)
On Saturday night, Des Moines, Iowa’s Jeremy Stephens will step in to the Octagon to take the place of his friend and training partner, Hermes Franca, in a main event bout against Joe Lauzon. Things got personal between Franca and Lauzon in an internet forum feud, so it seems only fitting that a friend of Franca be the one to replace him in an attempt to win bragging rights for his side.
In our exclusive interview Stephens talks about what this fight means, how it will be won, and what’s next for the “Lil’ Heathen” in the UFC.
CagePotato.com: You’re stepping in for Hermes Franca on somewhat short notice, but you were training with him to help him prepare for Lauzon, right?
Yeah. I was down in South Beach training with him, and in Ft. Lauderdale, as well. I travel a lot to train.
How did you guys get hooked up? And is that why the UFC asked you to step in for him, because you guys were training partners?
No, we have the same manager. My manager, when he mentioned that he had Hermes, I said, ‘He’s a great fighter. I’d love to train with him.’ And when he told Hermes that he had signed me, Hermes said he had a fight coming up and he was going out to San Diego to train and since I had a fight coming up too we connected out there and started training together.
But when he got hurt I actually called up my manager, Reed Wallace, and requested the fight with Joe Lauzon.
Did it have anything to do with the little feud that erupted between Joe and Hermes on the UG?
Yeah, Hermes is like a brother to me now and Joe Lauzon was talking a bunch of crap about him. I know Hermes was training really hard for that fight and he was ready to kick his ass. Hermes doesn’t talk a lot of smack, man. He just does his job. I just felt like I wanted to be the one to step up there for him and take the opportunity.
So then the bad blood between them on the UG, that was real?
Yeah, he was talking trash on Hermes. You know, Hermes is not the kind of guy to talk bad about anybody. He’s a respectful dude. He gives everybody credit and he just fights. So I didn’t like to see that.
How do you think you match up against Lauzon?
Joe Lauzon’s just another fight for me. A lot of guys want to try and take me down and work their jiu-jitsu, and then once they find out that they can’t submit me they fold. I bring a lot of pressure. So I think it’s a good match-up for me and it’s a good opportunity. I’m just ready to get in there and shock the world, brother.
I saw your fight with Rafael Dos Anjos and it looked like he was using jiu-jitsu pretty effectively and might be on his way to a decision until you knocked him out in the third. Did you feel like you had to knock him out to keep it from going to the judges?
No, the turning point was when he tried to armbar me and he couldn’t and then I landed those elbows on him. I think I broke his will. I think that’s when he realized he couldn’t submit me and he got blasted with a bunch of elbows and in the third round, even without the knockout, I feel like I would have taken control. But I’m always looking for the knockout, always looking to throw the lead that I have in my hands.
Do you think you’ll be able to break Joe Lauzon’s will?
I think so. He’s been TKO’d three times. I think that shows a weakness. I’m not trying to talk trash on him, but to me if you’ve been TKO’d three times it means you fold when the pressure’s brought on you. And he’s going to feel my pressure. He’s going to feel how hard I hit.
Yeah, I asked my manager to make sure I’m still good to fight Efrain as well. You know, I’d like to fight every three months, if I could. It keeps me going, keeps me in shape, and keeps me on top of my game. I want to get better every time I step in the Octagon. Every time I fight I want to make sure people see my improvements and see that I’m working my ass off to get closer to the top.
Are you not at all worried that you’ll be too banged up after this fight to get back in the gym and prepare properly?
No, I’ve fought banged up before. I’ll take a week or two off if I need to, and then I’ll get right back in there and train hard again. I’m young. I heal very quickly. I’m not one of those guys who takes a lot of time off. I take a week off, then that’s it. I’m right back in the gym and getting in shape.
How did you get started in MMA?
My grandfather was always watching these videos of ultimate fighting type stuff, real old school stuff. I was always drawn to it. I think I was a born fighter. When I was sixteen, there’s a place out [in Iowa] that was like an amateur, underground fight thing. Josh Neer was just destroying everybody and I heard about him and he told me to come out and watch. I did and I thought, ‘Man, I’m a better fighter than that.’
I came back the next week and I fought and I won. Ever since then it’s like I’m hooked. My grandfather has passed away now, but he was a big inspiration to me. I think he’s why I got involved.
Did you wrestle growing up in Iowa?
I wrestled as a little kid. Then I moved out to Norwalk when my dad got custody of me and I kind of steered away from it because my mind wasn’t right. I was going through a lot of stuff. But then I wrestled again my senior year of high school. I was never the best wrestler or best athlete or anything like that, but I worked hard and didn’t quit.
Okay, one last thing I have to ask you. The nickname “Lil’ Heathen” is pretty sweet. Where did that come from? And please don’t tell me it’s just because it rhymes with your last name.
That was something that I got when I was a little kid. My mom gave it to me, actually. I was just really wild, so my mom called me a little heathen because I was always crazy and getting into trouble, doing things other kids didn’t do, just really rambunctious and troublesome. So that’s what I was. The little heathen.