It didn’t take long for Jeremy Stephens to find a new MMA home — and now that he has one, he’s looking to put together a comeback for the ages.
On Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, Stephens announced that following his departure from the UFC he had signed with the PFL, where he will be taking part in their upcoming lightweight tournament. It will be the first time that Stephens has competed outside of the UFC since 2007, and “Lil Heathen” said the move came as a result of his issues with the promotion, namely that he felt they weren’t looking after him.
“I asked (the UFC) to give me a favorable matchup,” Stephens told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I’ve been fighting beasts, a murderers’ row for two decades, and I just felt like I was getting iced out. Only fighting once a year, that’s not good on the bank account. I’m just trying to be typical, just like you — I’m trying to provide for my family, and the only way I can do that is to fight, and they weren’t really fighting me.”
Stephens made it clear that he doesn’t harbor any hard feelings towards Dana White for how things have gone, saying that he and White have a a good personal relationship; however, the fact that he has only fought twice in the past two years was a big sticking point for Stephens, and the way the UFC kept booking him didn’t help either.
“You know how hard it is to fight on one paycheck once a year?” Stephens said. “I’m just like any normal human being. I just want an opportunity to go to work, earn my paycheck. I felt like I deserved that. I’ve earned that right. I’ve fought nothing but the best. Two-week notice, main event? Take the fight. Back-to-back, take the fight. I’ve done everything for that company and I don’t feel like they had my back in return in giving me a favorable matchup. I feel like anybody from the outside looking in would be like, ‘Damn, why don’t you give Jeremy a f*cking favorable matchup?’ Michael Johnson, Cerrone, Jim Miller, somebody who has been around as long as him and let’s see how I do then. You’re giving me top beasts.”
Stephens has had a particularly difficult run of late. He’s lost five of his last six bouts, with one no contest, all against top 15 level opposition. At 35 years old, it’s fair to wonder if Stephens’ best days are behind him. But instead the new PFL signee is viewing this as an opportunity to author one of the best second acts in MMA history.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve done and looking back, I’m just more grateful,” Stephens said. “Now I’m looking to, like I said, I’m just a man like you. I’m really looking forward to earning a paycheck with PFL and boosting myself up to making it a Cinderella story. Come back, that would be an awesome story — 34 fights in the UFC, he was kind of down in the dumps, now he comes over to the PFL and turns his life around. My big bro, Anthony Johnson, he got cut from the UFC, he turned his career around, and that’s what I’m looking to do.
“I’m inspired by those types of people. Turn it around and that million dollars is going to look real f*cking nice when it’s in my bank account.”