Jeremy Stephens is one of the heaviest hitters in the lower weight classes, a guy who's gone toe-to-toe with the best of them in a UFC stint which dates back nearly a decade.
So he's willing to give former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao credit for his toughess, as the two slugged it out in a Fight of the Night performance Sunday at UFC Fight Night 88.
But he also believes he broke Barao's will in the latter's featherweight debut, making the difference in Stephens' unanimous decision win in Las Vegas.
"He's pretty tough, he took a lot of big shots tonight, shots I put guys out with," said Stephens (25-12). "But yeah I feel like mentally I did break him in the Octagon, the game plan was to put it on him, go forward, pressure, pressure, pressure, and he didn't have the cardio tonight to keep up."
Stephens pointed out that he wasn't able to do what T.J. Dillashaw did too Barao twice at 135, which is finish Barao.
"Yeah TJ Dillashaw, another great former champion, he just put it on him, didn't allow himself to be bullied and utilizes a lot of swift techniques and he broke Barao," Stephens said. "He was able to TKO him twice. I hit a lot harder and I wasn't able to knock him out or TKO him. It just goes to show that the true champion Barao is."
For his part, Stephens, who has been through several ups and downs in his UFC stint, said he put himself into Barao's mindset as he approached the fight, which proved to be a winning mental approach.
"I really put myself in Barao's shoes this camp," Stephens said. "Me and my team had a tremendous game plan and we just wanted to go into that beast mode tonight."