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How fear turns UFC Fight Night 124 headliner Jeremy Stephens into a 'ferocious tiger'


ST. LOUIS – Jeremy Stephens will enter the octagon for the 27th time in his career on Sunday when he meets Dooho Choi in the UFC Fight Night 124 headliner. Even this deep into his UFC career, Stephens is still learning how to cope with the emotions of a professional fight.

Stephens (26-14 MMA, 13-13 UFC), who meets Choi (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) in the FS1-televised featherweight main event at Scottrade Center in St. Louis following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass, considers himself a fighter in the truest definition of the word. He’s been doing it at a competitive level since he was 16 and has been part of the UFC roster since his debut as a 21-year-old in May 2007.

Even with all that experience, though, Stephens admits stepping in the octagon still strikes fear in his heart. He thinks what’s made him a promotional mainstay for so long, though, is how he channels that fear and attempts to use it in the most violent way possible.

“I want to beat your ass, I want to bust your head open, I want to brutally knock you out, I want to hit you again when you’re down,” Stephens told MMAjunkie. “Why? Because I know what you signed up for. Since I was 16, I knew when I signed that dotted line, ‘Yeah, you could get knocked out. You could break your arm.’ I live for that (expletive). That (expletive) scares the (expletive) out of me, but that makes me go out there and perform like a scared tiger. I’m a very ferocious tiger and when you back me into a corner I’m going to strike. I’m going to launch out at you. I’m going to try to take you the (expletive) out. You know what you’re getting with me. You can look at all the tapes, but the one thing you don’t see is my mindset.”

In a world where fighters picking and choosing matchups is becoming more common, Stephens is still a traditionalist. He said he accepts every fight offer presented to him so long as he can safely make weight, and the bout with highly touted South Korean prospect Choi was no different.

Choi, like Stephens, goes after his opponents on the feet and carries significant power in his hands. Stephens has by no means taken his opponent lightly, but he said he’s highly confident in his approach and doesn’t foresee himself slipping up.

“They know what they’re getting with me: They’re getting action-packed, people going to sleep – it’s too-hot for TV type (expletive),” Stephens said. “I don’t take people lightly in this division or in this sport. I’ve seen the craziest things happen. I’ve seen turds come up off the couch and knock a top-10 guy out. That happens in this sport. I respect my martial arts background. I respect anybody who gets in there. That’s why I’m well prepared. With that said, I’m going to go in there and beat that ass, though. It’s me or him. It’s kill or be killed. I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old. This isn’t a (expletive) game. I’m for real.”

Although Stephens considers himself superior to “The Korean Superboy,” he knows the reality of the situation. Stephens is the veteran of the sport who has been in the UFC longer than Choi has been fighting, and “Lil’ Heathen” is aware of what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation. He, however, doesn’t plan on allowing Choi to gain fame at his expense.

“This kid, he basically has nothing to lose,” Stephens said. “He can go in there and have a performance. He’s in the situation that I was, and I’ll never forget that. I still enjoy this process. Every time I come to the UFC, it’s still like my first time. These first-time vibes I’m getting. I trust the process now. I’m a lot more experienced. I have a great fight IQ. But all that can go out the window when you’re getting punched in the face.”

Stephens has experienced many highs and lows in his storied UFC career. He still has a lot left that he wants to accomplish, though, and a win at UFC Fight Night 124 would benefit those aspirations. Stephens is not thinking about what beating Choi would do for his career but instead only placing his focus on what will happen in the octagon Sunday night.

“I want to make a ton of money and invest in houses and get all that cash flow and all that money working for me,” Stephens said. “Later on, be a commentator. But all those go out the window. I definitely want to be world champion. Those are all the main goals. But right now, my only focus is very small right now, and that’s on Choi. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 124, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.



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