UFC 160 vs. Estevan Payan
Following his loss to Pettis, Stephens dropped two more lightweight bouts before deciding to relocate to the featherweight ranks. This was his debut in the 145-pound weight class and it didn’t take long for the Alliance MMA product to make it clear that he was going to be a factor in his new division.
Payan entered having gone unbeaten in his last eight and Stephens ran right through him, opening Payan up with a sharp elbow midway through the first round en route to a three-round unanimous decision victory.
UFC Fight Night 32 vs. Rony Jason
If his first bout at featherweight showed he had the potential to eventually be a factor in the division, Stephens’ sophomore appearance in the 145-pound weight class served as an express lane to contention, as he ventured to Goiania, Brazil and starched the wildly popular Jason in under a minute.
If the Stout fight is representative of the whole of Stephens’ career and the Pettis contest was the one that set the tone for the last eight-plus years, this is the one that illustrates the explosive potential that has helped him remain a fixture in the Top 10 and someone fans always want to tune in to see compete.
Lots of athletes have power, but there is something different about the way Stephens can end a fight instantly. He possesses the kind of sudden, compact power that puts you on edge as soon as the fight begins because you know that at any minute, with any shot, momentum can shift or the fight can be over.
This was one of those moments where that sharp, dynamic power was on full display as he quickly closed the distance and silenced the partisan crowd, walking Jason down and flattening him with a right high kick as the Brazilian looked to throw an overhand right.
This might have been the quickest I’ve ever heard a crowd go from chanting “Uh Vai Morrer” in full throat to being completely speechless.
UFC 189 vs. Dennis Bermudez
Another quality offering in the Jeremy Stephens “Sudden Displays of Power” exhibit is this effort at UFC 189 against fellow Top 10 staple Bermudez.
Stephens had dropped two straight after earning victories in each of his first three featherweight appearances, while Bermudez had his seven-fight winning streak snapped in his most recent outing. They were each hovering in the middle third of the featherweight rankings and eager to secure the kind of victory that would keep them in marquee fights going forward, and that showed through the opening 10 minutes as they engaged in a tight, competitive back-and-forth battle.
With the outcome hanging in the balance as the third round began, Bermudez looked to be the aggressor, backing Stephens into the fence. Suddenly, Stephens elevated in place and caught Bermudez on the chin with a knee, kicking off the sequence that would bring the fight to a close seconds later.
This was the kind of victory Stephens could just never quite get during his lightweight run — a memorable triumph over a ranked opponent that solidified his place in the pecking order — and it remains one of the best performances of his lengthy career.
UFC 215 vs. Gilbert Melendez
Stephens entered this meeting with former Strikeforce lightweight champ Melendez on a two-fight slide. Not that either of the performances were particularly bad — he’d lost to Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision and Renato Moicano by split decision — but he was in need of an effort that would re-affirm his standing as one of the best fighters in the featherweight division.
To this day, this remains my favorite performance of Stephens’ career.
His knockouts of Dos Anjos, Jason, Bermudez and others are etched in my brain, but when I think of the fight where Stephens looked his absolute best from start to finish, this is the one. After 29 fights and a decade after making his UFC debut, Stephens walked into the Octagon in Edmonton and delivered a patient, measured, dominant performance.
From the outset, Stephens attacked Melendez’ lead leg, chopping him down with kick after kick after kick. Rather than chase a knockout or press to create an opening that wasn’t there, Stephens stayed on task, landing kick after kick after kick for 15 minutes, emerging victorious with scores of 30-26, 30-25, and 30-25 in his favor.