Jeremy Lil' Heathen Stephens has been in training for nearly half of his life. Stephens, one of the longest tenured fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), is also one of the most exciting and dedicated fighters of all time. He has appeared in over 20 UFC fights, a number eclipsed by only 32 fighters in the organization's 23 years of existence. Sometimes entering the Octagon three times in one calendar year, his desire to fulfil a dream is an inspiration.
At The GM's Perspective, we were lucky enough to speak with Stephens about his career, his goals, and what drives him each and every day.
The GM’s Perspective: Jeremy, you’ve done this a long time (going on 10 years). What’s the secret to your success and what keeps you going after all these years?
Jeremy Stephens: Definitely good health. I'm really blessed with good health. I always tell everyone in the gym to take good care of their bodies, participate in rehab, and always stretch. I've taken care of my bumps and bruises and it's blessed me with a long career. It's allowed me to come out and perform at a high level consistently over the years.
GMs: You have fought a who’s who during your career (Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Sam Stout, Anthony "Showtime" Pettis), and most recently, you defeated the former Bantamweight champion, Renan Barão. After all these years and highlights you put together, what keeps you motivated?
JS: My beautiful family. We're growing and I want more kids in the future. When I fight I get to just be me. I get to go in there and be young and free. I get to do what I love and do what I'm passionate about. They pay me to knock people out! If Dana White, the boss calls and says "hey take on this guy and we'll pay you loads of money to take him out", I'm on it. I'm motivated by my family and providing for them in the future.
GMs: Jeremy, you probably know this, but I’m sure there are other fighters that look up to you and want to be the next Jeremy Stephens. They’ve seen how you’ve handled yourself and want what you have. How does it make you feel to know that you could be leading a whole new generation of fighters?
JS: Michael Jordan once said "Don't be like me. Be better than me." The sport is always evolving and if I can inspire people along the way, that's fantastic. You have to lead by example and be a doer, work your butt off, keep your mouth shut, and open your ears. I grind, I love the work, and I'm passionate about it. If I can reach people's hearts God bless them. Keep moving forward, change, evolve, and adapt.
GMs: I’ve worked with Myles “Fury” Jury for the past couple of years and have learned a lot about the fight game. Myself, coming from a professional baseball background, understand that the sports are different, but we are both very familiar with the underlying attributes; hardwork, dedication, and sacrifice. I know you and Myles have worked together for a long time, what’s it like seeing someone that you’ve trained with for so long have the type of success he’s achieved?
JS: It's truly amazing. I was there to support Myles a long time ago when he was just starting out. I've always believed in Myles and knew he would be where's he's at probably before he did. I would help him out, but he would be working his butt off training with Tony Palafox, his striking coach. He wasn't back home slacking and resting on his laurels. He stayed here and kept grinding. He went out there and did it. He's worked his ass off. Everything that Myles has he has because of great support and believing in himself. He's sitting really good right now. He's about to have a son any day and I'm super happy for him. This is just a small portion of the journey and the friendship me and Myles have. He's like a brother to me and we'll always be like that.
GMs: You've dedicated your life to being the best. Do outsiders really understand what you do to prepare to go into the Octagon, sometimes up to three or four times a year?
JS: No they don't. That's why you get all sorts of people making negative comments. Everyone thinks they can fight, but not everyone can. Fighting is a beautiful art and only a handful of people like fighters, wrestlers, and those who compete in a one on one sport, can understand. Behind all the physicality of it comes the mental aspect. You talked briefly about your professional baseball days. Baseball, just like fighting, is very tough emotionally and you have to very mentally strong to succeed. You must believe in yourself and believe in the team.
My coaches; I believe in them. I believe in exactly everything they're telling me. Even if it doesn't make sense, I believe that if I go out there and do it, it's gonna happen. We're very organized as a team and we have a great family. A couple guys left, but it really shaped up our team. We're still working hard, we're getting stuff done, and it's amazing to have that support. You go in the cage alone, yet there's a huge supportive team behind you. It's great to have that feeling to know that when you're struggling during those strength and conditioning drills, your best friend is on the right and your best friend is on the left pushing you forward. I'm not alone and there's always more you can give. We do it we get it done and that's why we're kicking ass right now.
GMs: It's got to be a great feeling to know that it's all paying off for you.
JS: For sure. I've seen Angela Hill, previously in the UFC, but she fights in Invicta FC. She just won the Strawweight championship. I've see her fight two or three times during a period of time where while I only fought once. I looked over to her and told her she's inspiring me. When I was young and literally fighting for food and to just pay my bills, I was fighting in January, February, March...taking on all comers. Eventually the UFC called me and I got the shot. I was fighting every single month and staying in the gym. People would ask me how I got sponsors? I told them I'm winning and I'm in the gym. I was putting everything into the gym. That was my grind. I didn't go out or do anything. Just seeing someone working that hard really got me motivated. It's good to feel the hunger again. You get a good paycheck and you have that feeling of security and want to take time off. You can't do that. I haven't taken any time off since the Barão fight. I was in the gym three or four days later and back at it. The grind never stops. Like I said, you have to evolve and adapt.
GMs: Speaking of dedication and the never ending drive to succeed, everyone goes through tough times and experiences a loss. How do you stay on point after months of training and sacrifice and the end result isn’t what you expected?
JS: You need a positive outlook and must move forward. After a loss, it's only a setback. It's like the Great Wall of China. It's another stone to the wall you're building. It's all about enjoying it. This could all be over for me one day. I had my buddy Jordan Parsons pass away and it put a lot of my goals and objectives into perspective. The time is now and I need to get things done. I have a world of experience and it's about believing in yourself when no one else does. It's about dedicating your life to a clean healthy MMA lifestyle. You need to stick around good people and have your family by your side believing in them as well. You must always be grateful for what you have and give back because it could all be taken away at any giving moment. I'm blessed to go out there and do something I love to do. I can support my family, give thanks to them. Hopefully I can inspire fans along the way.