Joe Stevenson weighs-in for UFC 74: Respect. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
It’s no surprise as to how B.J. Penn received his nickname of “The Prodigy”. After all, it only took him three years to earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, making him the fastest American to do so in history. (It usually takes a normal person 1-2 years of training just to earn their blue belt.) However you can also consider Joe Stevenson a prodigy himself. By the age of 16, Stevenson was already fighting professionally and took on then-future UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver in just his third career fight.
The two are set to clash for the vacant UFC lightweight title when the Ultimate Fighting Championship travels to England for the third time in the last two years for UFC 80: Rapid Fire, which will take place this Saturday at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle.
What was originally slated to be a battle for the interim lightweight championship became a fight for the real thing after the California State Athletic Commission decided to reduce the suspension Sean Sherk received for a positive steroids test rather than overturning it and clearing his name. Following the CSAC’s decision, UFC president Dana White had no choice but to strip Sherk of his belt. The Minnesota native will now have to wait to face the winner of this weekend’s title bout in order to get a shot at regaining his prized possession.
Interim or not, the fact that this fight is for the title means something to Stevenson.
“The fight being for a title, it definitely has a lot of meaning behind it,” Stevenson said during a recent interview session. “It’s something that I’ve aspired to have ever since I started watching and following this sport.”
Just looking at Penn’s credentials, one can only assume that Stevenson is the underdog in this fight. After all, Penn is a former UFC welterweight champion and has defeated elite fighters in three different weight classes. Penn has to be the favorite, right?
Stevenson doesn’t believe that for a second.
“I don’t really understand why people think I’m an underdog in this fight,” said Stevenson. “I feel that I can win, so does my family and friends, so do those that I train with, so a lot of other people I talk to. Everyone has the right to form their own opinion and I respect that but I’ve worked very hard in preparation for this fight. It’s definitely going to show when I step in there against B.J.”
The Penn-Stevenson match-up is one that features two of the most well-rounded fighters in the world, let alone in their respective weight class. Both are immensely talented on the ground but both have shown the ability to hang with the best around in terms of striking and wrestling as well.
In any fight that pits two athletes with similar styles and strengths together, you have to expect that it has the potential to go the distance. Stevenson claims that he’s already well-aware of the situation.
“B.J. is a great fighter and it’s going to be a big challenge for me,” Stevenson said. “I mean, he’s always fought the top guys and done really well for himself. It’s going to be a war. I have to be ready to go all five rounds and be aware that this fight could go anywhere.”
With the exception of Matt Serra who had already fought in the UFC multiple times prior to being on the show, no former cast member of The Ultimate Fighter has ever been victorious in a title fight. Will Stevenson be the first?