EDMONTON, Alberta — Last weekend was supposed to be a big one for Jeremy Stephens.
The veteran featherweight is leaving behind his “Li’l Heathen” days and settling down. Now 31, Stephens was scheduled to get married last Sunday.
Then the UFC called and offered one of the few fights that would have gotten him to even consider changing the date.
“I got the call and I said, ‘alright, who’s the opponent?’ Stephens said at Wednesday’s UFC 215 open workouts at Rogers Place. “They said ‘Gilbert Melendez,’ and I said ‘hang on, let me call my fiancee real quick’ and see if she’s willing to do it.”
Stephens’ better half was fine with the idea, and the wedding was rescheduled for a bit down the road.
“Of course, she supported me 100 percent,” Stephens said. “And you know, it may cost a little bit more for the wedding, but this is something I definitely wanted to do.”
In Melendez, Stephens has an opponent who could help bring in a Fight of the Night bonus to help offset those costs. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion is coming down to featherweight for this fight, and there’s little secret that this bout promises fireworks.
“I have a great opponent in Gilbert Melendez which I know is going to be exciting for the fans,” Stephens said. “Especially in Canada, I feel the Canadian fans are a little bit more exciting than the American fans, they’re wild, they’re rowdy, they love a good fight and it’s an honor to be there.”
The mutual admiration society ends there, though, is this is also a significant fight for both competitors’ futures. Stephens (25-14) has dropped two straight fights and three out of four, with all his losses coming by decision.
Melendez, meanwhile, dropped three straight before going down to featherweight, the last two via decision, and has only competed once in the past 26 months, with a PED suspension and a knee surgery complicating matters.
“He knows what he’s getting,” Stephens said. “It’s not like you have to look this up through YouTube. We’ve both been around a long time, he’s been a fan of me, I’ve been a fan of him, we’re great exciting fighters. I feel like I’ve evolved with the new age, I’ve adapted to these top guys at 145 pounds. He’s in new territory and he’s gotten older.”