It wasn’t a challenge Stephens was particularly pursuing at the time, but when his manager made the offer, he was more than happy to accept. At the time, Stephens was a few months removed from his third fight in the PFL, but rather than return for another season, he jumped at the chance to box instead.
“My management, we had three fights with PFL and we could have re-signed or gone on with them, but then this boxing opportunity presented itself,” Stephens told MMA Fighting. “My manager Lloyd [Pierson] was like, ‘What about Jeremy Stephens?’ And he called me with eight-and-a-half weeks [to go] to fight Jose Aldo, who is just a tremendous legend in the game.
“It was such a challenge to make the 147 pounds, to actually get down, and it was a challenge that actually got me up, and riled up, to get out of bed and become a really good boxer and to just go out there and prove myself.”
While Stephens built his reputation in MMA through a series of vicious knockouts, he still had to learn a lot about boxing before his pro debut. He ultimately battled to a razor-thin draw against Aldo, but he expects even more out of himself when he makes his return against Chris Avila on Saturday as part of the Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz fight card.
“Watch my last performance,” Stephens said. “That was on eight-and-a-half weeks’ notice, and I cut a tremendous amount of weight. I was up in the 180s, got down to 147.
“I’m sparring guys that make me nervous. I’m excited. I’m in the process of becoming the best, and having the best performance on Aug. 5, and have everybody talking about my name that night and the night after. Stay tuned. You guys are in for a real treat.”
As far as MMA goes, Stephens isn’t closing the door on returning. But he’s also fallen in love with boxing during his past two training camps. To add to that, the wear and tear on his body is far less when preparing for a boxing match versus MMA, which has allowed him to feel healthier than ever.
That’s another reason Stephens is so excited about his matchup against Avila, and he hopes to parlay that into even bigger opportunities in boxing.
“The only thing I can do is one step at a time,” he said. “I’m looking down at the menu right now and it’s boxing. So it’s 100 percent of my focus on becoming the best boxer, falling in love with the process, enjoying it. I’m falling in love with it. One day at a time.
“I had a buddy today, I was at the gym, and he tried to grapple me up and I kind of out-wrestled him. It was just a short little two minutes but I had to let him f****** know I still got it. Opportunity, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m a prize fighter.
“When I was with the UFC, [UFC President] Dana White put me on the big cards with Brock Lesnar and all these guys, and I’d go out and highlight former champions like Rafael dos Anjos, all these guys, and to main event on Fight Nights and pulling big cards.”
Stephens hopes the fans who enjoyed his MMA career continue following him in boxing, where he wants to put on equally entertaining fights — and add even more accolades to his résumé.
“I want the fans to just enjoy it, embrace it, take a deep breath and enjoy boxing,” Stephens said. “It’s going to be an honor to be out there.
“I feel like it’s rejuvenated me in a sense. I love it. I actually fell in love with boxing, the training, the intellect you get from sparring better boxers, learning between rounds on the techniques. I’m really enjoying it.”