Joe Stevenson began his UFC career on the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” On Saturday night he returns to fight another TUF alum, Nate Diaz, on the season nine finale in what might prove to be a make-or-break outing for him. In our exclusive talk with him, Joe “Daddy” tells us why he changed training camps after his decision loss to Diego Sanchez, whether he’s worried about being cut, and why he might be hesitant to appear on a new season of TUF if he were coming up through the ranks today.
CagePotato.com: So you’ve been in New Mexico with Greg Jackson’s team preparing for this fight. What made you decide that it was time for a change of training camps?
JS: Honestly, I’ve been here for going on seven weeks now and it’s been great. I was feeling a little stagnant and I knew that if I didn’t try something different I would regret it. If you don’t try all your avenues you’re going to end up when your fifty wishing you’d done something different and I don’t want to be that person. On top of that, there’s great coaching here, great strategy, and they’ve given me a different outlook on the way I fight. I’m just excited to let people see it now.
You mentioned strategy and that’s something a lot of people talk about when it comes to Greg Jackson. How is his way of strategizing for a fight different from what you’ve been exposed to in the past?
The strategy isn’t too much different in the sense of looking at an opponent and figuring out how to fight him, but it’s the little things, the quirks having to do with how to execute that plan and when to execute it – that’s a big difference. But that’s about as much as I can say about that right now.
After your loss to Diego Sanchez you took some heat for how you fought, maybe relying too much on your boxing and not using enough of your other weapons. Do you feel that was a crucial mistake that you made in that fight?
No, I thought my hands were good in that fight. I got a little tunnel vision and forgot that it’s MMA, not just trying to go out and knock someone out. Also, I felt like I was winning at points because I was being the aggressor. When you’re losing a light goes off in your head and you start thinking, ‘Man, I’ve got to do this and this right now,’ and I didn’t feel that. I haven’t even watched that fight, to tell you the truth. I just felt like something was wrong and I came out here to train with Greg Jackson.
I’ve heard that they’re a very close group and they don’t let just anyone show up and train there. How did you end up there?
I called up Greg two days before I flew out here. I said, ‘Hey, would you mind if I came out and trained with you for my fight? ‘ And he said, ‘No, I just like to know a guy before he comes and trains with us and I know you and you’re cool. So when would you like to come out?’ And I was like, ‘This weekend.’
When I landed he asked me how long I was going to stay and when I was going home and I told him it was a one-way ticket. Ever since then it’s been great. It’s a tight-knit group and the thing is, they’re about everybody on the team doing well and getting better, not just themselves. That’s the great part. Iron sharpens iron.
Now you’re going up against Nate Diaz, who is a tall, lanky guy for 155 and will have a considerable reach advantage against you. How are you planning to deal with that?
Well I was going to start off with a groin strike.
Nice. He won’t be expecting that.
Yeah, because then, his mindset will be totally changed. It will completely take him out of his game. And it’s not going to be like an inside leg kick that just slips up into his groin, either. I’m going to do the splits and then just uppercut him. Other than that, I can’t say too much about my approach, other than that everyone is going to be happy with my performance and how I go about it.
This is by no means an easy fight, and since you’re coming off two straight losses, does it ever cross your mind that you could be close to being cut by the UFC if you don’t win this?
Honestly, in the very back of my mind, that is a thought. But the way that I fight and my reputation as a fighter, I feel like even if they were to cut me I’d find a home somewhere. Financially, I’m not scared anymore. I’m not worried. I’m just going to go out there and execute. I know the UFC cares greatly about their fighters when they’re on top, but it’s different when you’re losing. You have to win fights. I don’t duck anyone and I don’t take any easy fights. But I don’t even worry about getting cut at this point.
Do you think the UFC’s habit of cutting guys who have lost a few fights in a row changes the approach or the mindset of fighters who have been going through a rough patch in their careers?
I’m sure that it does and that it wears on people sometimes. Like I’ve heard Dana say about certain fighters, ‘If he loses he’s out of the UFC.’ And I’m sure that does get to some guys. But for me, I don’t care. I’m going to fight my butt off every time, regardless of the situation. It’s not like I’m going to somehow fight harder only if I think I’m going to get cut, so I can’t let that stuff worry me.
You won season two of “The Ultimate Fighter” and went on and fought B.J. Penn for a title, and now you’re back fighting on a TUF Finale show. How do you think the TUF franchise and everything around it has changed since you were on the show?
Well, we were better looking back then. That’s the most obvious difference. But I think a lot of guys were there more to learn and to improve themselves. I think it’s a shame on the new guys that some of them don’t.
You think the new guys aren’t taking it as seriously?
Yeah, some of them still seem unprepared and unfocused. When I was on the show I had fun, but I also realized that some day my kids would be watching this, or my mom or my wife. I think it’s really important how you conduct yourself in that situation, and some guys seem unaware of that.
If you were an up-and-coming fighter now do you think you’d still want to go on the show?
I actually went on the show after a little hiatus from fighting. People were telling me I should try it and I did. It was a fun thing for me and an opportunity to learn. I don’t know if I would do it again if I was coming up now. I can’t say that I’d want to go do it again right now.
What was the most memorable part of your experience on the show?
You know, the most memorable part for me was, before I went on the show I was living in Vegas and I was going through a divorce and living with my fiancée. We had my boys for the summer and I had to be on the show for half of it, and she was pregnant with our first child at the time. And every time we would drive from the house to the gym we would drive right by my apartment. Just right by it. I couldn’t say hi to my kids or see my pregnant wife or even let them know I was driving by each day. That’s what killed me, was doing that every day. That’s why I can’t stand the people who act the fool or jump ship or freak out over their girlfriend back home.
Thanks, Joe. Anything else you’d like to add?
No, I just hope everybody enjoys the fight. I’m turning 27 on [June] 20th, so I’m going to have to give myself a little birthday present.