Jeremy Stephens hasn’t won in the UFC since February 2018.
Over his past four fights, Stephens (28-17 MMA, 15-16 UFC) lost three times and had a no-contest against Yair Rodriguez. Looking for inspiration, he found it in an unlikely source: former NBA star Charles Barkley. The Hall of Fame basketball player was recently featured in the Michael Jordan documentary series “The Last Dance.”
“I was watching (Michael) Jordan in ‘The Last Dance,’” Stephens told MMA Junkie at a virtual UFC 249 pre-fight media day Thursday. “He goes up 2-0 against the Phoenix Suns. Then Charles Barkley in the third game, they were just a little bit more hungry. Jordan is up two games and he kind of lays off the gas a little bit. Charles Barkley had that hunger in that third game.
“You can’t stop that hunger. That will to win. I don’t think anybody has the will to win more than me. I love this sport. I love fighting. There’s nothing more than winning and getting that win. My will to win is super strong – my spirit, my soul (are) on fire right now. I just can’t wait to go in there and unleash on Calvin.”
His UFC 249 opponent Calvin Kattar is the matchup Stephens thinks should lead him to victory. Prior to the fight’s initial booking in March, Stephens and Kattar (20-4 MMA, 4-2 UFC) ran into each other in Las Vegas. With a UFC matchmaker on the premises, Stephens brought Kattar to Sean Shelby and requested the fight.
“(I asked) just because he’s a fighter,” Stephens said. “These other guys kind of dance around and pick and choose. Calvin is one of the (real) guys. He’s ‘Boston Strong.’ He brings out that raw fighting. That’s the way I like to fight, too. Put two and two together. That makes for one heck of a fight. That’s what the fans want to see. They want to see a really good fight. He’s a guy who thinks he can match my skills. I’m going to put him to the test.”
Operating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC has added numerous safety protocols to fight week procedures. Despite the irregularities, Stephens said he remains solely focused on beating Kattar. Nothing else matters.
“Take the corners and everything out of this – this COVID,” Stephens said. “Right now, if Kattar walked in here right now, I’d whoop his (expletive) ass. If he’s going to come here and, say, break into my house, what am I going to do? Stretch out? ‘Give me a minute. I need to get wrapped up.’ No. That’s not a fight.
“A fight is (when) my intentions are to beat your (expletive) ass before you beat mine. That’s it. Kill or be killed.”