Before a big fight, lightweight Joe Stevenson is normally in a relaxed, joking mood. A fighter by trade and comedian by nature, the 26 year old rarely tense and relies on his calm, fun-loving demeanor to carry him through a tough training camp.
However, heading into a pivotal bout against Kenny Florian at UFC 91, Stevenson’s pre-fight approach has been drastically altered. As he prepares to fight Florian in a bout that may very well determine the number one contender to the lightweight title, the nine-year pro is angered by negative comments he has read on the internet, and regardless of where the comments are rooted, Stevenson said the fight on November 15 is now personal.
“I haven’t felt this upset since I fought Melvin Guillard,” Stevenson said, referring to comments made by Guillard prior to their bout last year. “I made excuses for Melvin because he was young and ran his mouth about me and had a lot of strife in his life. I understand why he did that. But this is different. This is personal.
“I am a little pissed off,” Stevenson continued. “I’ve been reading some of the internet stuff and people think I’m the underdog. People are making it sound like he’s going to run through me. I have no idea why they think I’m the underdog. Maybe it’s a popularity contest. Maybe Kenny’s face looks better on television. Not taking anything away from him, but people have taken something from me by making me the underdog. So I’m going to take it away from him. It’s personal now.”
On top of being declared the underdog by some, Stevenson (34-8) had issues with Florian’s recent proclamations that he “finishes fights.” The father of four believes that Florian has no chance of stopping him and feels his opponent’s declarations are growing old. Simply put, Stevenson thinks that Florian is talking a game that he can’t back up.
“He talks about finishing fights,” Stevenson, who has stopped four out of his last six opponents, said. “That upsets me. If you look at my record, I finish fights and I finish good people. Maybe I should have been more vocal like him. But it gets on your nerves to hear him say that. He can’t knock me out. He can’t submit me. I don’t know what he thinks he can do.
“Kenny isn’t saying anything too negative directly about me, so I’m not so upset with him,” Stevenson added, mentioning that his only issue with Florian is that he thinks he can win the fight by knockout or submission. “I’m more upset with the things surrounding it. I’m upset that people are counting me out. I’m going to have to take Kenny out. He likes to say that he finishes fights, but who has he finished? I finish fights. Look at my record, I finish fights.”
Anger and frustration aside, Stevenson plans on leaving emotions behind on fight night and being completely prepared for the task at hand. He understands that Florian will have a ton of confidence given that he has stopped four out of his last five opponents. Moreover, “Joe Daddy” knows that even the smallest loss of focus or conditioning could spell problems against a versatile opponent like Florian.
“Kenny is a well-rounded fighter with good attributes everywhere,” Stevenson said. “He always comes prepared in good cardiovascular shape. He’s got some momentum and that makes him mentally tough to break. He’s a good grappler and has good standup. He has awesome heart. That makes him even more dangerous.”
After watching Florian’s last bout against Roger Huerta at UFC 87, Stevenson knows that the Bostonian will look to display his vastly improved boxing technique at UFC 91. Having struggled in the stand-up game when he fought BJ Penn at UFC 80, Stevenson understands that “KenFlo” may want to capitalize by keeping the fight on the feet. Still, he argues that it may be a miscalculation on Florian’s part.
“My standup has continued to improve,” Stevenson said. “However, I don’t know if he (Kenny) had great standup (in his last bout) or if Roger made him look good because he was frustrated by getting taken down. Roger was really focused on defending the takedown and his standup suffered.
“In this fight, honestly, I have got to hit him hard everywhere, whether it’s on the feet or on the ground. I have to be careful of his striking ability and his grappling. He is talented. But I don’t think he has fought a guy like me. Except for Sean Sherk, he hasn’t fought a guy who will put him on the ground and keep him there.”
Whether on the feet or against the cage, the Stevenson-Florian bout will also feature two fighters who love to throw elbows. For Florian, the preferred elbow strike is often the “hellbow,” an offensive assault that comes on the feet when two fighters separate out of a clinch. Stevenson, on the other hand, likes to mash opponents with elbows in the guard. Considering both have trademarked devastating elbow strikes, Stevenson is out to prove that his are more potent.
“The difference between his elbow and my elbow is that I’m going through him with mine,”
Stevenson said. “I don’t try to cut people to get wins. I try to break whatever I hit. I try to finish people with my elbows. My elbows are sore for weeks after a fight because I throw them that hard. I literally spend weeks before a fight conditioning my elbows and working on my ground and pound.
“I’m definitely cautious of his elbows, but getting cut only happens when you sit there and hold him. If I’m on the bottom, I’m looking to grapple and get up. And if we’re standing, I’m going to be hitting him. He’s not going to be able to push away and hit me with an elbow. He’s not going to be able to time those shots.”
In the end, Stevenson reiterates that he is none too thrilled with the idea of being an underdog. While some fighters relish the thought of being overlooked or underrated, Stevenson believes his accomplishments inside the Octagon warrant more respect.
Boasting a 8-2 record in the UFC, he’s clearly not a rookie, nor is he an inexperienced fighter. Thus, the underdog status does not sit well with Stevenson. On November 15, he plans on showing that he deserves another shot at BJ Penn. And he plans of displaying all of the reasons why he should have been considered the favorite against Florian.
“I’m training with better strikers, better grapplers, and cardio machines,” said Stevenson, who trains at the Cobra Kai facility he owns in Victorville. “I’m not saying that they are or aren’t more well-rounded than Kenny, but I’ll definitely be prepared. It has to be an impressive win. I’m looking to finish him in each round and make a point.”