Cape Town - Jeremy Stephens has been given the opportunity to welcome a former champion to his new weight division.
Renan Barao (33-3) will be making his featherweight debut on Saturday against Stephens in what is, for Barao, a must win bout. After going on a very impressive 9-year undefeated run in which he also captured the UFC’s bantamweight championship Barao has found it hard to get himself on a winning streak of any kind after losing his belt in violent fashion to T.J Dillashaw at UFC 173 in 2014.
Dillashaw was a huge underdog coming into the fight but it he who handed out a one sided beating in which the Brazilian was stopped by a vicious head kick in the fifth-round. Since the bout Barao has had two contests of which one he has won (Mitch Gagnon) and the other he lost, again in violent fashion to T.J Dillashaw in a rematch for the bantamweight title.
Long time lightweight vet Stephens (24-12), who moved down to featherweight in 2013 has had some strong words for Barao in the lead up to their highly anticipated match-up. In a recent interview with MMAjunkie Radio Stephens called the former champion “mentally broken” after losing his belt and then failing to reclaim it in a rematch.
“Him coming up to featherweight to fight me, a knockout artist, he’s been knocked out twice by a littler guy who doesn’t hit nowhere as hard as me. It’s going to be a great night. I’m going to go in there and knock him out and give the fans what they want.”
The power that Stephens talks about has been on display all throughout his career where he has dispatched the likes of Dennis Bermudez, Rony Jason, Marcus Davis, Rafael dos Anjos and Cole Miller. A striker who lives by the saying, “ If you live by the sword, you die by the sword” he has captured five post fight bonuses.
Since the move from lightweight to featherweight Stephens has gone on a 4-3 run where he was most recently bested by the streaking Max Holloway. A fight in which Stephens believes he has the upper hand, a win over the former bantamweight champion would be huge for his future title aspirations.