Making the best of things is a lot of what the UFC 249 fight week appears to be about. There will be no face-offs. No fans. Far less pomp and circumstance. And a noticeable lack of media — at least on-site in Jacksonville, Florida. Instead, a virtual media day unfolded Thursday, with outlets around the globe — Canada, Japan, Argentina, the U.S. and others — joining a teleconference.
Suddenly, journalists used to clustering around fighters were taking crash courses on screen capture software. For the parade of fighters marched in front of a webcam in Jacksonville, meanwhile, things were no doubt equally stranger. The first of those was Jeremy Stephens, however — about as unwavering a fighter as you’ll find, in a sport full of tough-as-nails athletes.
“It’s a great opponent. Couldn’t ask for a better opponent, someone who’s going to fight and be there,” Stephens told reporters including Cageside Press on Thursday, as part of he virtual media event. Stephens (28-17, 1NC) will be fighting Calvin Kattar, a competitor “Lil Heathen” called “Boston Strong” and who will “bring out that raw fighting. That’s the way I like to fight too. You put two and two together, and that makes one heck of a fight.”
That heck of a fight will come in an empty venue — the Vystars Veterans Memorial Arena. Some fighters have expressed concern about their opponents being able to hear their corner’s calls. Jeremy Stephens, frankly, is not concerned.
“He doesn’t know the calls, and honestly it doesn’t matter,” he told Cageside Press on Thursday. “Even if he does, take the corners, and everything out of this, this COVID right now. If Kattar walked in here right now, I’d whup his f*cking ass. If he’s going to come in here, say break into my house, what am I going to do? Stretch out? [Say] ‘Give me a minute, I need to get wrapped up?’ No. That’s not a fight.”
“My intentions are, beat your f*cking ass before you beat mine. Kill or be killed,” he continued. “Take coaches out of it. I don’t care. He can hear the calls.”
Besides which, Stephens went on to point out, “what happens when you hear the call, and then I feint, and do a different call? It’s not going to stop it. I’d give him my corner to even fight against me.”
What matters, Stephens summed up, is heart. “It’s in your heart. It’s in your mind. And what I have in my heart and in my mind is my will to win, and my precision, to just go forward and do anything at all costs and just dominate Calvin Kattar.”
That’s not to say the featherweight hasn’t made any adjustments during this fight camp. “I’ve kind of gone in and trained empty [in the gym],” he revealed. “But I do that anyway. I train alone a lot of the time. My coaches are always telling me to pull off, pull off the reigns, but then I go off and do my own thing. I can’t sit at home. If you sit at home, you die. You start thinking of crazy stuff. Instead of sitting there thinking, I’d rather go out there and take action and do, do, do.”
This fight week, however, has been different for the fighter with the company since he was all of 21 years old — but believe it or not, that’s not a bad thing. “During this fight week, it’s been normal at my Air BnB, but this, with a camera in front of me, I’m on a virtual interview, getting a swab test in my nose, that’s a little bit different,” he said. “But it makes it that much more exciting. I’ve been here so many f*cking times, that this is a little bit different, this is kind of like that new feeling again.”
Jeremy Stephens returns this Saturday, May 9 against Calvin Kattar at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, FL. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims on ESPN/ESPN+ (TSN in Canada).