Jeremy Stephens is feeling good ahead of a new career chapter.
The longtime fighter makes his promotional debut April 20 when he takes on Clay Collard in the PFL’s 2022 lightweight season. It will be the first fight for Stephens (28-19) outside the UFC since 2007.
Stephens fought for the UFC for 15 years and amassed 33 fights in the company. The 35-year-old had a lengthy career in the Las Vegas-based organization, to say the least. He said he is proud of what he built in the UFC, but is ready to turn the page.
“I had an incredible run with the UFC, but it just – at the end, I thought I wasn’t getting fought frequently,” Stephens told MMA Junkie. “I had a lot going on in that time period of my life. I just had to deal with everything the way I had to deal with it. I felt like the best move for me was to have something new, something refreshing, a golden opportunity.
“I feel like what I have done and what I have created in the UFC, I have my own name and my own followers and people tuning in. I’m excited for that rejuvenation and that recreating of Jeremy ‘Lil’ Heathen’ Stephens. I’m still the same savage that I am. I’m excited for this opportunity and this is a step forward for me.”
The move to PFL doesn’t just come with a new stage and opponents to fight. It also gives Stephens a shot at a $1 million prize, along with the title, if he wins the playoff tournament.
For Stephens, that’s “life changing” money and was part of the decision to leave the UFC.
“The best decision for me and my family is PFL,” Stephens said. “We’re headed into new fights and exciting adventures and new opportunities. And when it’s all said and done, brick by brick, it’s a shot at $1 million. Who doesn’t want to take that? I’m a risk taker. Everyone knows I like to swing for the fences, and I made a career of that.
“I was able to support my family (from) a lot of the bonuses I received – not by getting paid by the UFC. The pay I was making, that was more the (way) that I could fight and I could live off my bonuses.”
With the UFC chapter officially closed, Stephens leaves with many fond memories. He won 10 post-fight bonus awards, headlined five UFC events, and shared the cage with some of the world’s best fighters, including Jose Aldo, Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar, Charles Oliveira, Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.
Out of all the experiences, Stephens thinks his flying knee knockout win at UFC 189 might be the highlight of his UFC career.
“One of the biggest moments that I can remember that was all-around amazing was when I flying kneed Dennis Bermudez,” Stephens said. “I got to shake the boss man’s hand afterwards, the hopping over the fence flexing on Arnold Schwarzenegger, to taking pictures in the back, traveling.
“I actually drove back to San Diego because my dad and a lot of family had come out to San Diego to visit me so we drove back. It was just an incredible experience. Conor McGregor fought on the card. The Irish fans, I think they’re the best fans in the world. They’re riding down your hotel lobby at 9 a.m. and they’re respectful as they can be, calling you legend. They took care of my grandma just because she’s my grandma. It was a very amazing atmosphere.”