Steven Peterson makes his debut at UFC Austin this coming Sunday, and his goal for 2018 is clear. “I’ll be 3-0 in the UFC by the end of the year. Without a doubt” he tells us.
Steven ‘Ocho’ Peterson is making his UFC debut this Sunday at UFC Austin (UFC Fight Night 126). With original opponent Humberto Bandenay encountering VISA troubles, Peterson, a former LFC bantamweight champion, now meets Brandon Davis in a featherweight showdown. Cageside Press got a chance to speak to Peterson ahead of his debut, about how he got the call, getting started fighting in back yards, and more.
‘Ocho’ (his nickname comes from his high school football days, where he was number 8) fought to a spirited split decision loss against Benito Lopez at Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series 7 last August. He bounced back towards the end of the year, however, and will look to make a splash during his debut at UFC Austin later this week. It’s an opportunity Peterson has been ready for for some time. “After the contender series, there was talk of signing both of us” he told us. “They ultimately decided not to, they didn’t want to take me off that loss. They told me to go get a win, and then they picked me up.”
Win is exactly what Peterson did, a TKO of Dustin Walker at LFA 28. “December 8, I got that win at Legacy, and got the call the day after Christmas” Peterson said. It was a heck of a Christmas present. And he “couldn’t ask for anything better.”
It was also a bit of a relief, as back when the UFC originally told him to go out and get a win so they could give him another shot, “I wasn’t sure what that meant, if they would give me another shot at the contender series or what.” It helped that his DWTNCS opponent Lopez was successful in his own UFC debut. “Benito did well in the UFC in his debut, and I had impressed in December, so they went ahead and gave me the full deal, four fight contract.”
From 2013-2016, ‘Ocho’ went on a six fight winning streak, and it felt like he was on the cusp of breaking into the UFC back then. Still, “I feel like everything happens for a reason” he said. Though he was, he believes, ready for the step up. “I feel like I could have been in the UFC years and years ago, when I was 8-1, 8-2. I was ready. But now I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve fought a high level of competition.” Explaining that each and every fight is a learning experience, he added “win or lose, I always take something from it. I try to improve, and try to be the best me I can be the next fight.”
The best Steven Peterson yet will have home court advantage when he makes his debut on the big stage. “I’m excited to debut in front of my crowd, I’ve got a lot of people driving up to Austin” Peterson said. “All my biggest supporters, my fans are going to be there.”
What he’s looking to do in that environment is simple: “I’m excited to give them a show, and let the world see what I’m capable of.”
It doesn’t hurt to just go up a weight class, the guys aren’t that much bigger.
His promotional debut almost came a few months earlier. “The day after Christmas, when they called me originally, they offered me a fight on about three days notice” he explained. That would have been UFC 219, the promotion’s big year-end spectacle. “They wanted me to fight that Saturday. I said yes, I was cutting weight, getting ready. One opponent’s name came up, he didn’t take the fight. Next guy, didn’t take the fight. Next thing I knew there was no longer a fight available.” Being a gamer, however, pays off. “Sean [Shelby] said since I was game and stepping up on short notice, it was exactly what he was looking for, and he was going to go ahead and give me the contract.”
Despite being a former bantamweight champion back in Legacy, Peterson will be fighting at 145lbs at UFC Fight Night 126. It’s a new home for ‘Ocho,’ who plans on sticking around in the weight class. “I feel like I’m better off at 145” he said. “Less weight to cut. I feel like I’ll feel better, I’ll perform better. And in between fights, I won’t have to worry about constantly drawing myself out to make that weight. I can put on some strength, put on some muscle, really just focus on my health rather than just cutting weight all the time.”
Pretty much any fan following the sport for more than a few weeks has heard the horror stories of weight cutting. While it wasn’t as bad for Peterson as for some, it was still rough. “I’ve been making that weight since I was 19 years old. Now I’m 27. A lot older, a lot bigger, my frame has grew up since then. It gets tougher and tougher every time” he said. “The last few times have been extremely taxing to say the least. I wouldn’t say like horror story, I didn’t end up in the hospital, I didn’t die, so that’s a good thing. But that’s what I’m trying to prevent. That would be tragic to see, me or any other fighter die cutting weight. It’s just very avoidable. It doesn’t hurt to just go up a weight class, the guys aren’t that much bigger. I’m a big bantamweight, I’m a regular, good sized featherweight. I just want to stick around there and see how far I can take it.”
“I’ll be 3-0 in the UFC by the end of the year. Without a doubt.”
When Steven Peterson enters the octagon for the first time in Austin, it will be the culmination of a journey that began as a kid in his own back yard. There, he took part in some after school street fighting that “got pretty crazy. We’d go in my backyard. I’d have all the kids from school over, everybody that said they could fight. We’d throw on the gloves and go at it.” It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the real deal, or even safe, but it was his way into the sport. “Nobody really knew much, we’d always end up all bloody, beating the crap out of each other. We’d get drunk, put on the gloves, no regulation — it definitely wasn’t safe, but it gave me experience to say the least. I was very comfortable fighting. I am very comfortable fighting. And once I started fighting amateur, I was like ‘man, I was made for this.'”
The impressive thing is that Peterson went from MMA’s equivalent to backyard wrestling to the real deal, and in surprisingly little time. So how did he make the jump from a kid fooling around to training as a fighter? “There was this one kid, he would always catch me in a triangle choke or some sort of submission” Peterson told us. “I’d be on top of him, beating the crap out of him, and he’d catch me on something. And I’m like ‘what is this you’re doing with your legs?’ and he was like ‘well it’s jiu-jitsu.'” The thirst for knowledge instantly took hold. “So I was like ‘well I’ve got to learn that.’ I went to where he was training at the time, which was actually a garage called Second Chance gym.” Once there, the rest, as they say, was history. Incredibly, six months later, Peterson fought in his amateur debut. He lost that, but won his next five. He has “continued to grow ever since.”
That growth has taken him all the way to the UFC, where he makes his debut Sunday. From there, “I’ll be 3-0 in the UFC by the end of the year. Without a doubt.”
Steven Peterson faces Brandon Davis at UFC Austin (UFC Fight Night 126) on Sunday, February 18. The fight goes down live on UFC Fight Pass, where it serves as the featured preliminary fight on the streaming service. UPDATE: Peterson vs. Davis has been promoted to the main card on Fox Sports 1.