Saturday’s bout in Jacksonville will move Stephens to third place in the all-time UFC appearances chart, and he remains a man never to shy from a challenge.
“This is fun,” he says of being in the octagon. “When I’m in there, that’s me being Jeremy Stephens — ‘Lil F*ckin Heathen’ — for 15 minutes. I still get to be that guy and I love it. I was born for this sh*t, man.”
Stephens is coming off one of the worst runs in his career, losing to UFC icon Jose Aldo, Mexican Yair Rodriguez, and in between those fights, rising Russian contender Zabit ‘Zabeast’ Magomedsharipov.
But the loss to Zabeast was only on points, and in many ways that brawl showed that Stephens still has it in him to duke it out with the best.
The same goes for his opponent Kattar, who also lost on points to Zabeast in a close-run encounter in Moscow.
Both Kattar and Stephens pushed the Russian to the limit in their defeats, and it will be fascinating to see them pitched together on Saturday evening.
Stephens, who is 33 and fights out of San Diego, is a year older than Kattar and has a lot more UFC bouts under his belt.
He’s added powerful kicks to his arsenal – which could help him against the man from Massachusetts who can be vulnerable to attacks low down – and this addition can have devastating effects as Stephens’ win over Gilbert Melendez in UFC 215 showed all too clearly.
As for ‘The Boston Finisher’, the 32 year-old is also coming off a loss – that hard-earned defeat on points to Zabeast at UFC Fight Night 163 in Moscow last November.
But many feel had the fight gone on another couple of rounds the Russian could well have been defeated, such was the display from Kattar. He also had two first-round KOs coming into that fight.
Similarly to his opponent, Kattar likes to stay standing rather than wrestle and he will hope his two-inch height advantage over Stephens will help him when it comes to exchanging blows.
He has to be the favorite in this match up, given his 20-4 overall MMA record and 4-2 UFC record since his debut in 2017. He could well be the best boxer in the division, with devastating combinations and a killer jab.
After the fight was cancelled twice due to injury and the coronavirus, Kattar has had a long build-up to finally meeting Stephens which has meant some unusual training routines and last minute disappointment. But he remains optimistic.
“Adapting and overcoming. I feel like that’s what a true champion does. I pride myself on holding myself to that level,” he says. “That’s what I’ve had to do, adapt and overcome, and we’ll be ready to go.”
As for Dana White’s ‘Fight Island’ – the $20 million haven being constructed as a place to host UFC events safely for the considerable future, Kattar is definitely on board.
“It sounds awesome,” Kattar says. “I can’t wait. Sign me up. We get to compete and then maybe we can even quarantine there. Sounds like a great time!”
With both men desperate for a win, Stephens versus Kattar could well end up being one of the most exciting match-ups of a stacked UFC 249.