PITTSBURGH -- When Joe Stevenson steps in the Octagon for the first time as a featherweight on Sunday, he will look much different than the fighter most MMA fans have known over the past several years.
The look will have nothing to do with his slimmed body (he will have shed 10 pounds from his lightweight frame) but everything to do with his prefight demeanor. Fans shouldn't expect the huge, 100-watt smile on Stevenson’s face and Vasquez had better not expect any good lucks, well wishes or other friendly gestures to his opponent once they enter the Octagon at Consol Energy Center.
The cuddly, loveable "Daddy" is gone -- replaced by a more stern, hardened, no-nonsense figure.
“I’m a lot more angry and aggressive at this weight,” Stevenson told ESPN.com. “I’m a very happy person, but you won’t see me touch gloves on Sunday. I’m just going to go out there and handle business.
“I’m going out there to break him with every strike, break him with every submission. It’s a fight; I definitely have bad intentions.”
Several factors have contributed to Stevenson’s change in attitude. He’s only 29 but has been fighting since his early teenage years against much older men. And while he’s found success as a mixed martial artist, Stevenson (31-13-0) feels reinvigorated by the move to 145. He’s faster, stronger and more mentally prepared for the leap to becoming a UFC champion.
These things happen when you spend more than two months away from the wife and children to train at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M. Stevenson isn’t happy he wasn’t able to celebrate his 29th birthday or Father’s Day at home in Victorville, Calif., with his family.
Someone has to pay for this, and Vazquez drew the short straw.
But defeating Vazquez (15-5-0) won’t mark a return to the old Stevenson. There is much more unfinished business that needs his attention.
“Kenny [Florian] is a great person; I really respect him a lot,” Stevenson said of his former lightweight counterpart who recently made his featherweight debut at UFC 131. “But I would love a rematch against Kenny, or maybe a shot at that Diego [Nunes] kid that he just beat.
“But first things first, I’ve got to get through Javier. He’s a dangerous opponent on the ground, on the feet and he’s got a big heart.”