Heading into this weekend’s UFC 249 main card meeting with Calvin Kattar, Stephens sits tied with Demian Maia for the second most appearances in UFC history, two behind both Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller. Those twin ties will be broken on Saturday and the top four will become clearly delineated, with “Cowboy” reclaiming first place, Miller remaining in the second position, and Stephens moving one ahead of Maia.
While he’s a dozen years deep into his UFC career, Stephens’ early start means that the perennial featherweight contender is still only 33 years old (he turns 34 later this month), and he’s been fortunate enough to compete two or three times per year every year since his rookie season in the Octagon, meaning that with a couple more years of things going the way they have, the hard-nosed kid from the Iowa capital could very well end up having the most fights in UFC history.
“I didn’t want to be one of those guys that went 0-2 or 0-3 in the UFC and called myself a ‘veteran,’” said Stephens, who spent the first five years on the roster competing in the lightweight division before relocating to the 145-pound weight class at the start of 2013. “I honestly didn’t call myself a “veteran” until I beat Marcus Davis, I believe.
“I didn’t like that word because I’d go to a local show and they’d be like, ‘This veteran of the UFC’ and I was like, ‘That f****** dude went 0-2!’
“I’ve been doing this since my 21st birthday in the UFC,” continued the permanently fired up featherweight. “People keep telling me how great this is and how awesome this is and I don’t really sit back and appreciate it because I don’t really have the time to. I just stay in the moment, stay in the work.
“Now that I can take this time, this moment, I’m very thankful for the fans, my family and everybody who has supported my career; they know how hard I’ve worked.”
Stephens paused momentarily, before adding, “But keep watching because I’m going to keep going.”
When you’ve managed a permanent place on the UFC roster for more than a dozen years, a statement like that last one isn’t really necessary, especially not when you’ve endured the ups and downs the Alliance MMA representative has experienced during that time.
Despite such a rollercoaster ride, no one would argue that the fiery Iowa native isn’t one of the top featherweights in the promotion, and that more than perhaps any fighter on the roster, Stephens’ win-loss record isn’t an accurate reflection of his skills, abilities, and standing within the weight class.