Some know Jeremy Stephens as one of the 10 best featherweight fighters on the planet, and others only know him as that guy who got shutdown by Conor McGregor like some C-list celebrity trying to enter an A-list party.
The Viking beard and buzz cut created a fitting look for McGregor as he unleashed all kinds of savagery on Stephens at the UFC 205 press conference held in New York in September. A question was presented to McGregor, asking if anyone onstage would be a good challenge for him. Stephens came out of left field and voted himself as the best candidate to dance with the hottest commodity in the UFC.
It was a train wreck that could be seen coming a mile away. Stephens was probably the only person in the room blindsided by the featherweight champ’s perfectly chilled, assassin-like response. Everyone else scooted to the edge of their seats and waited for it.
“Who the f—k is that guy?” McGregor asked. “Who the f—k is that?”
Stephens did all he could to bait McGregor into verbal exchanges, but the Irishman ignored the brief disruption and moved onto bigger names. It was a moment of infamy in the 11-year professional career of Stephens, who quietly faded into the background to a sea of laughter after his short-lived moment in the spotlight.
While his outburst may have been ill-timed, Stephens wasn’t lying about his knockout power. He has left nearly as many foes concussed as McGregor, and on a good night, he possesses the kind of one-punch power that could turn the lights out on any fighter in the featherweight division.
But he still hasn’t actually proven himself to be a legitimate contender in the division. There is no question that Stephens is one of the most exciting fighters to watch inside of the octagon, but his checkered resume has kept him out of big fights. The timing of his call-out of McGregor was the most peculiar part about short press conference exchange.
McGregor is competing at lightweight right now, not featherweight, and Stephens is 2-3 in his last five fights. One of the losses came against a man McGregor has already beaten.
And then there’s the Frankie Edgar problem. Stephens shined an even bigger light on his fight against Edgar, who is easily the No. 2 fighter behind former champion Jose Aldo in the featherweight division. The lopsided betting odds tipped in Edgar’s favor already suggest he has bigger problems to worry about than picking a fight with McGregor.
On the contrary, a win would propel his career to places it has never been. Not only would it validate him as a serious contender, but it would also add substance to his call-out. He will no longer be that guy if he beats Edgar. McGregor would still cut him down to size with his tongue because that’s what McGregor does, but he would have to respect him as a featherweight contender.
All else would depend on the outcome of the lightweight title fight and whether McGregor chooses to stay at 155 pounds or drop back down to 145.
But first comes the Herculean task of defeating Edgar. Stephens is the underdog for a good reason, and he’ll need the best performance of his professional career to convince the MMA world otherwise.
Until that happens, he’ll continue being that guy from the press conference.