UFC Belem’s Maia Stevenson Says Women’s MMA is Wide Open: “Everybody is Good Now. Rose Proved That.”

Maia Stevenson makes her promotional debut at UFC Belem
Maia Stevenson vs. Rachel Cummins Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

After a stint on The Ultimate Fighter 26, Maia Stevenson was one of the few fighters not paired up with a partner at the finale. You haven’t heard the last of her, however — she was simply getting ready to drop down to strawweight.

Maia Stevenson ran into TUF 26 finalist Sijara Eubanks early on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter. Submitted via kimura by Eubanks, who would be forced out of the finale due to weight cut issues, Stevenson nevertheless held her own against one of the toughest women in the house. Now, as she prepares for her upcoming promotional debut against Polyana Mota at UFC Belem, she reflects on her experience with the women’s flyweight season of TUF, her upcoming fight, and being part of a fighting family.

“I had a great experience” she told Cageside Press of her time on TUF 26. “The house was full of like-minded girls. Everybody in there was very respectful, we were all there to do a job. Obviously to fight for the belt. I very much enjoyed my stint,” she continued, adding that “in fact, I keep in touch with all of my teammates, even some of the girls on the other team. We’ve all grown really really close.”

It’s not entirely surprising, given how relatively drama-free season twenty-six was. A nice change of pace for viewers, and for Maia, who had husband and Ultimate Fighter 2 winner Joe Stevenson supporting her, it was “probably one of the best experiences. It brought the best fighter out of me.” Which means that going forward into the UFC, “it gives you a lot of confidence coming out of the house.”

Though she lost to eventual finalist Sijara Eubanks, the success of her opponent didn’t take any of the sting off. “Not really. I wanted to win, I thought I could have won that fight.”

In her estimation, Eubanks was one of the fighters who grew the most during the season. “She just got better and better. Looking at that, I was really fortunate to be able to fight her. I’m proud of her for getting all that way.” And there’s a lesson to be learned from the experience, of course: “It just shows me where I can be, and the level I need to get to, being in the cage with her already. It gives me a little bit of confidence, it doesn’t really take the sting off anything, but I feel good going forward.”

“Every opportunity I have to finish the fight, I have to capitalize on.”

Her upcoming debut at UFC Belem will put that to the test. It was a bit of surprise to see Stevenson not included on the TUF 26 finale, but she says the UFC’s goal was to put the spotlight on the flyweights. “I was afforded the opportunity to take a fight in the strawweight division, which is more – it’s my weight class. I guess I can just put it like that” she said. “With doing that, though, I wasn’t able to fight on the finale, because they wanted mostly the girls in the 125 division on it.”

Which takes us to her fight in Belem against Polyana Mota. Fighting a Brazilian in Brazil, Stevenson is looking for the finish. “Especially going into Brazil and fighting a Brazilian girl, you’re looking to finish the fight and not leave it up to the judges. It’s almost crucial in your mind that you’ve got to do that” Stevenson admitted. “So every opportunity I have to finish the fight, I have to capitalize on.”

It’s her first fight outside the USA, and first time to Brazil, though when her and husband Joe’s roles were reversed, she traveled with him abroad for his bouts.

On the fight with Mota itself, Maia Stevenson estimates that “I’m a pretty tough match for anybody.” The TUF 26 stint has also helped, as “I’ve been able to take my experience, and take working with the girls on the show, and they obviously exposed some things I need to work on. Coming into this camp, I had some new perspective on things that I needed to do.” Game planning and tape watching, meanwhile, she leaves to her coaches.

With a husband who is a two-time TUF veteran and winner of season two, Stevenson has been around the fight business day in and day out for years. Yet despite that, it hasn’t become overwhelming for the former boxer. “I stopped boxing and competing right before Joe and I had our first son” she explained. “So I was around the environment, but I never really committed to it until about four or five yeas ago. So I had my break, unfortunately I’m a little bit older, but I still have a lot left in me, and I didn’t take all that wear and tear of competing for so long.”

The support of Joe is a huge plus. “Not only is he very supportive of me, but he’s also very critical too” she said, explaining that “I think he sometimes might be a little harder on me than anybody else. Really it’s been amazing — you know, we get home and I’m able to go over the techniques and things with him, and any questions that I have that pop up in my head he’s right there. He’s so good, Joe, he’s a phenomenal coach and a phenomenal fighter.”

One of the biggest benefits is that “the experience he brings to me, I feel like I’m able to catch up with everybody else because I have that with him.”

As a fighter, wife, and mother, Stevenson wants to be the best she can be at all three. “Fighting is obviously very selfish,” she stated, “so me committing to fighting right now, it puts a lot of burden on everybody at home. So I’m not feeling like the best mother or wife right now.”

That said, “when Joe was fighting and I was staying at home, I helped around the house and made sure everything was taken care of so he could focus on the camp.” What role she’s better at depends on where her focus is at a given moment. Still, her children tug at the heart strings. “My boys will call me and be like ‘mom we miss you’ and I’m like ‘oh, no, mommy’s gotta train!'”

That training has her at San Diego Combat Club with the likes of former UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche and current Bellator MMA flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. It was a move made because the team has “a lot more females, so Joe and I decided it was probably better to run my camp out here.” She spends weekdays training, but goes home to see her boys on weekends.

“Women’s MMA in general is pretty much blown wide open. Everybody is good now. Rose proved that.”

Speaking of her children, would she be supportive of them embarking on their own fighting careers? MMA is now at the point where it has become a generational sport, much like hockey and basketball before it. “I’m hoping that they decide to maybe wrestle in college, and get a degree, because I do know that after your career in combat sports is over, real life happens” she told us. “I would hope that they would set themselves up for a future after fighting, but I’ve got some really talented boys, and I’d hate to take that away from them, if that’s what they wanted to do.” Ultimately “I can just offer my advice and be supportive of them.”

For the time being, however, she carries the flag for the Stevenson family. The goal is to “pick up this win, and then hopefully pick up one or two more after that.” Stevenson feels like she simply doesn’t have time to lose, given she started in MMA later than many. “I just don’t have time to take a break right now. I’m just going to push forward and push through.”

The people around her are driving that mindset. “The harder I work right now and the better that I do, it’s going to make it better for my family, for everyone that’s sacrificing for me to do this. So I’ve got to make it worth it for them.”

At UFC Belem, Maia Stevenson joins a division turned on its head when Rose Namajunas dethroned Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Her take on this wide open division is that it’s a symptom of the women’s side of the sport developing. “Women’s MMA in general is pretty much blown wide open” she explained. “Everybody is good now. Rose proved that. It’s gotta be your day. Each one of the girls in the strawweight division is so dangerous, so talented, and so technical now that the fights are getting better and better. The opponents are getting better and better. To me the strawweight division is one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC.”

She then added something many fans will agree with: “Every potential match-up in the division is fireworks.”

As for the women at the top, “not only am I proud of Rose, I just think she did a lot for the division. But same with Joanna. It’s one of the toughest [divisions], I’m sure.”

Maia Stevenson joins the UFC strawweight division Saturday at UFC Belem (UFC Fight Night 125) against Polyana Mota. The bout kicks off the Fight Pass Preliminary portion of the card at 7PM EST.